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Luck movie review: Apple’s animated adventure has the misfortune of being a middling Pixar clone

Luck movie review: The disgraced John Lasseter's return to animation is an occasionally delightful but disjointed affair that will remind fans of better Disney-Pixar films.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5
Written by Rohan Naahar | New Delhi |
August 5, 2022 8:43:52 am
A still from Luck. (Photo: Apple TV+)

Luck, the new animated film on Apple TV+, conveys its central conceit with an expertly crafted early scene. It’s physical comedy at its best — driven by story and rooted in character. Sam is the unluckiest person in the world. An orphan who grew up in a home for girls and never got adopted, she’s introduced to us when it’s time for her to leave the nest and find a place in the world. But Sam can barely accomplish basic tasks; what chance does she have at living a normal life?

Directed by Peggy Holmes and produced by former Disney chief John Lasseter — more on him in a second — Luck takes the ‘show don’t tell’ approach to its sprawling story, which after opening in a recognisable reality spends most of its short-ish runtime in a fantasy land a lot like the ones in Inside Out and Soul. To explain just how unlucky Sam is, the movie doesn’t lazily just have somebody tell this to us, nor does it show Sam sulking about it in two-to-three scenes. Instead, it shows us how frustrating life can be for her.

Not only did Sam never find her ‘forever family’, her toaster never works, she keeps losing her keys, and is the sort of person who’d manage to lock herself in a room without walls. Holmes invites us to witness Sam’s day-to-day struggles in that excellent scene I spoke about earlier. This doesn’t just set up the conflict — wordlessly — but also makes us aware of her resourcefulness, foreshadowing its importance later in the plot. Having always lived life on the back foot, Sam has developed ways to wiggle her way out of sticky situations.

But when a stray black cat appears to give her a ‘lucky penny’, she finds that her fortunes have turned. Sam is able to get to work on time, her lost socks suddenly reappear, and her kitchen shelves don’t spontaneously self-destruct at her slightest touch. And then, Sam makes a crucial decision. She doesn’t keep the penny for herself, despite the welcome changes that it has brought to her life, but instead — and this is very Pixar of the movie — she decides to give it to her (much younger) best friend at the home for girls that she grew up in, so that she isn’t left unadopted like her.

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Sam is the rare movie protagonist whose motivations are truly selfless, which wins her more than just brownie points. She takes the entire cake. But the movie doesn’t do this in a cynical, manipulative manner. There is genuine feeling here, and the first 45 minutes are some of the best you’ll see in a children’s film this year. Things begin to wobble, however, the minute Sam accompanies the black cat to the fantasy Land of Luck, where society has been divided in heaven and hell-like communities based on good luck and bad luck. Sam also learns that it is the job of a well-oiled corporation run by magical creatures like leprechauns and dragons to manufacture and randomly assign luck to humans, while other creatures — like the black cat — roam the real world and carry out various luck-related assignments. This is where the film begins to resemble another Pixar classic — Monsters Inc.

The farther the story gets from the central mission — securing a lucky penny for Sam’s friend — the more frequently it begins losing its grip on its central themes. But more unfortunately, the longer it spends in the Land of Luck, it makes itself more vulnerable to unfavourable comparisons to better Pixar films.

Which brings us to Lasseter. The animation legend served as the core member of the Pixar Brain Trust before taking over Walt Disney Animation. He was dismissed from Disney in the wake of the #MeToo movement, when it was reported that he had a history of misconduct at the company. Two years later, Lasseter was hired to head Skydance Animation. Luck is the first of four planned films that Skydance will produce for Apple. All this is to say, you’re really going to need to separate the art from the artist on this one. But animation, as a medium, and especially at this scale, is historically less auteur-driven than virtually every other kind of filmmaking. Lasseter’s involvement as a producer, although significant, isn’t all-encompassing.

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What he probably brought to the project, which was in production before his arrival, is a storytelling sensibility that fans of Disney and Pixar will instantly recognise. There is a warmth to Sam’s adventure despite familiar tropes. But while the best Pixar films can often feel revolutionary, Luck, of its own free will, chooses to play it safe.

Luck
Director – Peggy Holmes
Cast – Eva Noblezada, Simon Pegg, Jane Fonda, Whoopi Goldberg
Rating – 2.5/5

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First published on: 05-08-2022 at 08:43:52 am

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