John Lasseter made his directorial debut with Pixar’s Toy Story in 1995. From there, his life was like a fairy tale moving on up to become the Chief Creative Officer at Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios and releasing multiple hit movies every year. However, in June of 2018, he and Disney announced that they had decided to part ways. Lasseter had just returned from a six-month sabbatical after allegations of sexual misconduct had emerged. According to NBC News these included “unwanted hugs that made employees uncomfortable.” For the rest of 2018, Lasseter served as a consulting role at the Walt Disney Company. It was all done swiftly and quietly. At the time, Lasseter gave this statement:
“While I remain dedicated to the art of animation and inspired by the creative talent at Pixar and Disney, I have decided the end of this year is the right time to begin focusing on new creative challenges.”
So, what has Lasseter been doing since then? In 2019, he became the Head of Skydance Animation whose first animation project, Luck is releasing this week on AppleTV+ and select theatres across the country. Though the company has been promoting the movie with the tagline “From the creative visionary behind Toy Story and Cars”, they don’t mention visionary’s name and you’ll have to look hard to find it during the credits. Although, it is easy to spot his influence in Luck from character design to storytelling. In fact, some families might even think that Luck IS a Disney/Pixar movie because the look and feel are so similar.
Luck is a story about Sam Greenfield (Eva Noblezada) who has got to be the unluckiest young woman in the world. She has spent her whole life in an orphanage waiting to be adopted. Eventually, she just aged out of the system and finds herself embarking on her own as an adult. At the same time, one of her young friends, Hazel (Adelynn Spoon) is about to go on a trial weekend with new, potential parents. Hazel is afraid that she’ll have the same bad luck as Sam and be stuck in the orphanage forever.
As Sam moves into a new apartment and start a new job at a craft store, we get to see just how unlucky she is. The movie goes to great lengths to show just how unlucky she is from locking herself out of the bathroom to failing to toast a single slice of bread. The bad luck continues with Sam’s first day on the job., which ends in disaster. While humorous, the gimmicks continue way longer after we get the point.
On her way home, Sam stops for a bite to eat and settles in for dinner on the sidewalk curb. Drawn by the aroma of her hot, Panini sandwich, a black cat named Bob (Simon Pegg) investigates. Sam gives him some of her sandwich and when he leaves, she finds a penny and thinks of the old saying, “Find a penny, pick it up and all day, you’ll have good luck.”
The next day, Sam is surprised to find that everything goes right for once and she decides to give the penny to Hazel as an insurance policy on the potential new parents. But as luck would have it, she loses it in a most inventive way. That evening, she meets Bob once again and finds out that he isn’t a regular cat. He can talk, he’s Scottish and he’s searching for that lost penny. Sam tries to follow him with an extended scene that is the funniest in the whole picture. (Seriously, I could watch those few minutes over and over again.)
Like Alice following the White Rabbit going down the rabbit hole, Sam follows Bob through a porthole to where good luck and bad luck are created. Unfortunately, much like the Alice in Wonderland story, where Alice spends half of her time trying to find that darn rabbit and the other half trying to get herself home, Luck follows a similar path.
While in this beautiful, magical land, Sam pretends to be a leprechaun from Lithuania (they are especially tall there) and meets a number of colorful characters in her quest including an angry leprechaun captain (Whoopi Goldberg), a friendly dragon (Jane Fonda), Bob’s good-natured friend Gerry (Colin O’Donoghue) and an overweight unicorn named Jeff (Flula Borg).
The visuals are amazing and the characters likeable, but Luck loses it way weighing down the story with lots of gizmos, gadgets and objects used for good luck. With each new gimmick, there is a lot of explanation which slows the story down to a crawl. There is just so much information thrown at you that you just want the storytellers to get on with it. Add that to the fact that there isn’t a villain wanting the rule the world, and Luck becomes pretty dull that no amount of dancing bunnies is able to fix.
Simply put, Luck has a good beginning and a touching ending, but it’s the middle part that could really use some editing. Yes, there are a few laugh-out-loud moments, but running close to two hours, this movie could do with about 15 minutes of editing.
Dragging out a story is one of Lasseter’s faults. All three of his passion projects, the Cars movies, all ran too long as well. In addition to the length, there are a few clunky lines and gimmicks that didn’t further the story along. They could have been left out without sacrificing the final product. Luck is pretty to look at, has a good message but everything in it is just so…nice. It lacks conflict. Even during the “exciting” scenes, tension is never built up and for some families that will be just fine. With the exception of some literal toilet humor, it’s a very “safe” movie.
Directed by Peggy Holmes (who has worked on many Disney productions, but mostly in the area of choreography), Luck isn’t a failure by any means. For a studio’s first animated feature, it’s pretty good. But with Lasseter’s years of storytelling excellence, it is a bit of a disappointment. It’s a great idea that could have been so much more. Luckily, Luck has Bob the cat who steals the show. And that might be enough.
I write about pop culture, arts and entertainment in the greater Seattle area.