It would be easy to state the obvious that Luck, the first animated feature from Skydance Animation and producer John Lasseter since his controversial departure from Pixar and Disney, isn't destined to become a classic along the lines of such noteworthy Lasseter pics as Toy Story and Cars.
Let's be honest. There aren't a lot of animated films that will ever achieve that level of commercial and critical acclaim.
Luck is a decent film, both a reminder of Lasseter's magical touch when it comes to animation and an overly ambitious effort that gets bogged down narratively amidst a story that is practically crying out for simplicity. Luck centers around Sam Greenfield (Eva Noblezada), a young woman aging out of the foster care system whose daily life is filled with decidedly, well, bad luck. Having never been adopted, she's now facing her young adult years ill-equipped for the world that surrounds her.
There's a deep compassion at work within Luck that is impossible not to love, a genuinely good heart that radiates throughout the film even if it does occasionally get lost within convoluted narratives and a storyline that feels like a cousin to Inside Out and characters, I'm thinking specifically of the Phil the Pig Foreman and the other pigs, who feel like they crossed over from Universal's Sing films.
While the well of compassion runs deep, director Peggy Holmes struggles to make sense of Kiel Murray's script based upon a story by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger. Lasseter is here as Skydance's Head of Animation and a producer on this film, though Luck lacks the spark of even Lasseter's lower end work. While the film's visuals are captivating, they seem content to razzle dazzle rather than actually serve the story. Characters lack the emotional resonance that we've come to expect from Lasseter's films and even our beloved Sam looks and feels like she should be a Disney princess rather than a vulnerable eighteen-year-old.
Now then, here's the thing.
Despite all its flaws and despite the fact that Luck never quite reaches up to Lasseter's greatest, Luck is still a pretty good film telling a coming-of-age story likely to resonate with audiences and likely to especially click with anyone who has ever felt like a perpetually unlucky human being. While Holmes, a veteran of two animated straight-to-video Tinkerbell features, may struggle to tell a cohesive story heer what she does do incredibly well is create a story that is warm and genuine, quite funny and maximizes Noblezada's incredible singing voice. While expectations may have been higher considering Lasseter's name is attached to the film, Luck is still a good film that tells a familiar story with its own original voice.
In the case of Luck, it's Sam's stumbling into a unique land known as the Land of Luck where everyone from those familiar leprechauns to rabbits, cats, and those aforementioned pigs spend their days creating lucky pennies and assorted other forms of luck. Sam stands out, of course, being a good deal taller than everyone who surrounds her yet does so in a way reminiscent of Will Ferrell's goofy but charming Buddy the Elf. The animation here is a somewhat mixed bag, occasionally lacking the immersive and emotional resonance that would really sell this story but other times feeling inventive and enveloping. As a dragon who serves as the de facto CEO of the Land of Luck, Jane Fonda's warm and confident vocals perfectly companion the dragon's fluid, confident movements. Simon Pegg's vocal work as bob, a cat reminiscent of Jiji in Kiki's Delivery Service, is deliriously inventive and fun and easily the highlight of the film. The film's best scene, however, is an early chase scene that arrives before Sam's arrival at the Land of Luck involving herself, Bob, and a lucky penny that Sam unluckily loses.
While Pixar's Lightyear stole much of the animated spotlight this year, it's practically undeniable that the film fell woefully short of its predecessors and lacked the warmth of those films. Instead, that warmth and ingenuity is present inside Luck even with all its narrative chaos and inability to clearly explore the concept of luck in a way likely to be understood by its target audience of younger kids.
While Luck may never be quite the film we'd hoped it would be, there's still a wealth of compassion beating inside its animated heart and the joy of watching a young girl whose luck may finally be about to change.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic