Review by C.J. Bunce
Once in a while an animation company will release a film that reminds you of the best Disney classics. Perfect for any crowd and any age, count brand new production studio Skydance Animation’s new movie Luck in that mix–the first film from the company. It even has Toy Story’s John Ratzenberger voicing a talking root. Eighteen-year-old Samantha “Sam” Greenfield is on her last day at her foster girls’ home, never having been adopted to be part of a “forever family.” A younger girl named Hazel she has taken under her wings faces a weekend ahead with a potential family. Hazel has a good luck box full of international totems/talismen, but it’s missing a lucky penny. Sam, known for her bad luck, tells her that if she finds one she will bring it to her. Not only does Sam find one, she learns of a shadow world run by leprechauns who control the flow of good–and bad–luck to our world. In a cleverly constructed theme park ride-inspired world of Rube Goldberg pitfalls, Tomorrowland style, and Zootopia-esque critters, Sam partners with a black cat named Bob to change her stars and the luck of her little friend back home. In the running for the year’s best animated movie and comedy, Luck is streaming now on AppleTV+.
In the leading role, Tony Award-nominated AAPI actress Eva Noblezada provides the gleefully hopeful voice of Sam. You cannot understate the level of Sam’s bad luck, and several of John Lasseter’s army of brilliant animation magicians go to incredible ends to show her daily strife. In one scene Sam simply tries to toast bread, she tries to take a shower, in another she tries to close the windows on her new apartment to avoid a leaf blower filling her apartment with leaves, she tries to get to work, then she tries to stock shelves (Lil Rel Howery is the voice of Sam’s supremely supportive retail store boss at Flowers & More)–bad luck just keeps tripping her up. It’s the same level of pitfall action as a Final Destination movie, but this is all laugh-out-loud, endearing humor. Sam is easily one of animation’s best young female characters.
Sam doesn’t know what to think when a black cat enters the picture in a gorgeously drawn setting that evokes the Italian restaurant scene in Lady and the Tramp. The lucky black cat is Bob, voiced by Simon Pegg in his best Scottish accent. The generous young woman shares her panini with him, and somehow he leaves behind the four-leaf-clover stamped penny. Sam is surprised to find her luck has changed, seemingly in every way, until she loses the penny and tries to reclaim it in one of the year’s funniest scenes. She returns to where she met the stray cat, only he doesn’t want to be pursued. She pursues him anyway, to follow this talking cat into a They Live-type portal to a brightly colored Land of Oz–a parallel realm. It turns out the penny is not only lucky, but a special token of travel to The Land of Luck.
And yes, the Land of Luck has talking cats, and it’s led by leprechauns. It also has a dragon voiced by Jane Fonda, a head leprechaun voiced by Whoopi Goldberg, and a gut-bustingly funny unicorn engineer voiced by Flula Borg.
Luck isn’t a quick, throwaway 80-minute cartoon. At an hour and forty-five minutes you get time for some serious drama, some adventure plots, and lots of action hilarity. Sam learns that Bob is going to be relegated to the Land of Bad Luck if he doesn’t come up with the lost lucky travel penny. Sam and Bob come up with a plan to get a new one, first by borrowing a leprechaun costume for Sam and trying to liberate one from a cleaning station. That doesn’t work.
So they keep trying other ways, with the help of Bob’s “leprechaun assistant” Gerry, voiced by Colin O’ Donaghue, with the aid of the pink dragon, and the help of the Jeff the German-accented unicorn, who runs the good luck/bad luck Randomizer. Jeff is another laugh-out-loud addition to this visual party, a film full of colorful cheer.
Pegg, Fonda, and Goldberg create some memorable characters here, on par with Robin Williams, Mike Myers, and Eddie Murphy’s animated creations from other classic animated films.
Directed by Peggy Holmes (The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning), this is a CGI-animated movie that looks good. Each character’s eyes bring everyone to life. And Lasseter’s team leaves out the crude stuff and gross jokes you find in every other animated kids’ movie. The script by Kiel Murray (Raya and the Last Dragon, Cars) also doesn’t need the filler, the extraneous musical numbers of most movies in the genre (although we get a few fun rounds of Sam singing Lucky Star–actually sung by Noblezada and not dubbed over–as part of the actual story of her and her friend back home.
If you loved the fun of Monsters, Inc. the fantasy of The Wizard of Oz, and the good feeling vibe of the non-traditional family of Shazam!, you’ll love Luck. It’s one of the best films of the year. Don’t miss it. It’s streaming now on Apple TV+. Come back tomorrow for a deep dive into the artwork and production behind Luck. And look for a review of Disney’s new animated Zootopia TV series here at borg soon.