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Heads up: I was able to watch this film via a screener sent to me from Apple. I received no other form of monetization other than the screener. Thank you, Apple for this opportunity.
Well, before we can get to one of the best-animated films of 2022, we have to go through another animated film that has some unfortunate bad luck and baggage that comes with it. Yes, just like Paws of Fury, there is a development history attached to what is Skydance Animation’s first attempt at giving Apple some theatrical quality feature films for their streaming service. It’s just too bad that the main studio behind the film decided to start off on the exact wrong foot by hiring a known sex pest, terrible boss, and ex-founder of Pixar, John Lasseter. It doesn’t help either that when he was brought on board, the original director and one of the actors involved with the film walked out, alongside many other ex-employees who couldn’t believe the head of the company decided to hire a guy who was a known sex pest. It’s never not jaw-dropping how many of the monsters that plague the industry still get work and aren’t permanently blacklisted. Still, you feel badly for the animators and people who worked on this new film by Skydance Animation, because all of that baggage is going to be hanging over the release of their first CGI animated feature, Luck.
Directed by Peggy Holmes, written by Kiel Murray, Jonathan Aibel, and Glenn Berger, and produced by Skydance Animation Madrid (which used to be Illion Studios, the same studio that made 2019’s Wonder Park and 2009’s Planet 51. It stars a teenager named Sam Greenfield, voiced by Eva Noblezada, who is leaving the orphanage system to try to live a fulfilling life. Unfortunately for her, she is also the unluckiest person in the world. Everything she tries to do and be normal at, ends with comedic results with how bad her luck is. One day, she encounters a black cat that drops a lucky penny. Sam uses the penny to get a positive restart in her life, but shortly after she uses it, she loses it. She encounters the black cat again, and finds out that he’s a talking cat named Bob, voiced by Simon Pegg. Sam tries to capture Bob and ends up back in the World of Luck, where all of the world’s good luck and bad luck is made. Can she find a way to get a lucky penny back? What kind of mysteries will be uncovered in the world of good luck and bad luck?
So, you get that the mindset with Skydance Animation is that when they hired the man who directed Toy Story, was a co-founder of one of the world’s most famous animation studios means your films will be hits right? Well, let’s just remember the other side of Lasseter that was an intensely terrible boss that also made some bad decisions like greenlighting their first big failure with Cars 2, and strong-arming many projects. Well, that’s what feels like happened when watching this film. The overall theme of the film is one that everyone has seen before, where they want a life that’s all easy street with good luck, and that bad luck is objectively terrible. It takes the perspective of how bad luck can be a good thing, depending on how you look at it and how it can help pivot your life. It’s a philosophy of needing a balance between good and bad luck. The film sort of tackles this from time to time, but its main use of this theme is near the end, and getting to that solid moral is not the best journey. For a film that wants to feel grand in scope and has this majestic whimsical music by John Debney, the film is very small in scale. Maybe it’s because the director has mostly worked on DTV films, or they wanted it to take place in one location, or maybe they had some production troubles with having the major location have a copy-and-paste look for the area of bad luck. Whatever the reason was, it just feels small, and the story wants to be more than it is. It doesn’t help either that you are taken through a lot of the World of Luck and how everything works, and that’s cool, but it feels like a rollercoaster ride at points. Not that it’s ever a bad thing, but the world itself feels like it doesn’t have much going for it. It has some fantastical modes of transportation, but that’s about it.
Maybe it’s also the fact that the designs aren’t all that impressive. For a film that may or may not have had a reported budget of $140 mil, the designs look very simple. Simplistic designs aren’t deal breakers to most people, but there is very little whimsy with many of the designs of the characters you encounter in the film. The dragon design is fun and that’s about it. Something about this studio has yet to impress on a technical scale, and it shows that the rest of the world still has a ways to go with crafting animation in CGI on the scale of more US-based studios. This is why many of them try more abstract and cartoony designs to help cope with the fact most studios aren’t working with a $200 mil budget like a normal Disney and Pixar film. The size of the budget can matter, but it’s also how you use it, and it doesn’t feel like it’s been used well here. The overall animation quality is fine, the characters move well, and the designs are appealing enough, but there isn’t a real wow factor to the overall look of the film. Some texture work looks great, but other times the film looks a touch too polished or there was something with the lighting and shading. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what the issue is unless you watch it in motion and compare it to other films that cost about as much or around that much.
Character-wise, Sam is a decent enough protagonist, but her big angle of how much bad luck she has is inconsistent. With the way the antics are framed at points, you are amazed that she has been able to make it to the age of 18 with how her luck plays out. There also seems to be a plot purpose button to how bad luck is implemented, because it is never consistent with how bad her bad luck is in the human world or the World of Luck. Sometimes she causes old-school cinema levels of comedic antics, which to be fair, can be funny, but other times, she can walk around and function without the bad luck ever being an issue. The other characters aren’t all that memorable either with the only two characters that do leave an impression being Flula Borg’s Jeff, a unicorn, and Jane Fonda’s Babe the Dragon, because they have a history together, but outside of those two and a few quips from Simon Pegg, no one leaves an impression. The cast is full of talented people like Simon Pegg, Jane Fonda, Flula Borg, Lil Reil Howery, Eva Nobelzada, and Whoopi Goldberg, but again, they could have easily been replaced by voice actors who could have offered something more distinct. It’s a film that needed another jab at how to make the story feel more impactful or flow better, because it feels like a first draft at points or there was lost potential within the film’s world and story to be more gripping. Some stakes are set, but then quickly solved. It feels very Illumination Entertainment in that regard, where their films also have the issue of having problems setting up proper satisfying stakes and conclusions. Luck also has an obvious couple of spots where they are plugging in a pop song that they want to sell the movie on, but the song itself is very forgettable. It’s frustrating sitting here and looking at the potential the story could have had if they were able to focus on other aspects more than focusing on the lore of the World of Luck. There is something there with how Sam feels like she was given a consistently bad hand in life after her parents abandoned her at an orphanage and then thrust into life when she didn’t find a family, but it’s told in such a straightforward fashion that it feels like an afterthought. There are some potentially interesting twists that happen, but are then never touched upon again or are solved right then and there. They could have added a few fun animation details to characters and either they didn’t think that through or there wasn’t enough time. There were a few moments where they do add in a fun little background gag, but it’s rare, and you will miss them if you aren’t paying attention.
With this being the first major CGI animated feature for Apple+ and Skydance Animation, it’s a decent start, but one that will be left forgotten by the time that award season begins. It might have a known creative individual producing the film, but it’s also got a known sex pest who may be doing more damage to the films he’s assigned to help craft may be in trouble. Maybe it’s time to realize that maybe Lasseter peaked by the time Toy Story 2 came out, and everything else was mostly on the shoulders of the other talented individuals in the company. He might actually be doing more damage than good for the company. However, with all that said, Luck isn’t the worst film of the year or anything like that. We have seen films like Marmaduke this year, and the most offensive thing about this film is how it’s just okay. It’s at best, a middle-of-the-road experience of how everyone needs to take the good with the bad. At worst, it’s a film that maybe could have been better if they let the original director finish up the project. Who knows what exactly happened behind the scenes, and maybe their next film Spellbound will be better. That’s all we can hope for, because they will definitely need to start competing with other services and theatrical animated features that are coming out. Hoping for the best for the teams of animators working on the future films for Skydance, and here’s hoping Lasseter is not up to his old tricks for long. For now, let’s move on to something fun and different with the Netflix series Super Giant Robot Brothers.
Rating: Rent it