Skydance Animation’s first movie for Apple TV is some of the most unfortunate kids fare of the streaming age.
Sam Greenfield is the unluckiest person on Earth, and she has been since the day she was born. It’s bad enough that Sam’s biological parents di lei left her at the Summerland Home for Girls shortly after she came into this world, and that she’s about to age out of the program after going a full 18 years without finding a forever home. But a more banal sort of calamity seems to follow Sam on a day-to-day basis, as well: This poor girl can’t make a sandwich without dropping a slice of bread on the floor jelly-side down, take a shower without knocking over a broom that locks her in the bathroom, or shoot a lip sync video with her “little sister” Hazel without the set crashing down on top of her. Rotten luck essentially follows Sam with the same Rube Goldberg-inspired relentlessness that Death stalks the teens of the “Final Destination” franchise, just minus the sadistic creativity that makes those movies so much fun (or any other kind of creativity, for that matter) .
Alas, the true source of Sam’s existence is owed to a darkness of a different sort: By no fault of her own, she has the profound misfortune of being the lead character in the first movie that John Lasseter has produced since the disgraced Pixar godhead accepted his new job at Skydance Animation, and every charmless minute of “Luck” seems to betray the mutual desperation of that arrangement. No matter how much Sam’s fortunes may seem to improve by the end of this story – no matter how sincerely she comes to the inevitable conclusion that having someone like Hazel in her life is the ultimate stroke of serendipity – our hapless heroine will still be trapped in a charmless, half-baked, and fully un-engaging “Monsters Inc.” knockoff for all eternity. The only silver lining for her di lei is a lack of talking cars.
As is the case with most bad movies, luck has nothing and everything to do with what went wrong here. As is the case with only an extreme sub-section of bad movies, however – a certain flawed (but still far superior) Lindsay Lohan vehicle being chief among them – luck plays an unusually literal role in explaining the failure of this hand-me-down headache.
On the one hand, it doesn’t boil down to bad luck that Lasseter hasn’t been able to bottle the Pixar magic and bring it with him to his new gig. On the other hand, the concept of luck itself is at the crux of why this sub-Netflix streaming fiasco is such a chore. Specifically, the misconception that anyone might care about “where it comes from,” let alone be intrigued enough to sit through a two-hour tour of the generic Wonka-like underworld where ladybugs deliver luck leaves to pig luck-makers who create luck crystals for specific luck events (ie “had a good hair day” or “stepped in dog poop”) that are then filed into a machine that scatters them at random throughout our universe. In fairness to director Peggy Holmes, who’s been saddled with a screenplay that lacks any trace of an animating spark, I had never considered how thoroughly dull the notion of luck would be to explore until I watched Sam follow a black cat named Bob (a Scottish -accented Simon Pegg) into the wonderland where it’s made.
The Luck World or whatever it’s called is an unappealing bore from the moment that Sam arrives, and the movie has nowhere else to go once it gets there – except down, and into the hellish Bad Luck world that exists below. Voiced by a valiant Eva Noblezada, who maintains the peppiness of a birthday party princess despite her character being afforded all the personality of a GPS, Sam is determined to stay in the Land of Luck until she can find enough of the stuff for Hazel to get adopted, but there’s never any sense of weight or purpose to her quest.
The magical world of “Luck” has none of the workaday creativeness that allowed “Monsters Inc.” to tickle the imagination, none of the narrative integrity that allowed “Inside Out” to conflate characters with emotions, and none of the wonder that allowed the bathhouse in “Spirited Away” to seem like a real place that existed just out of sight. Credited to Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger, and Kiel Murray, the film’s script isn’t arranged like a story so much as a parade of semi-related stimuli. Here are some bunnies in hazmat suits, there’s a dragon voiced by Jane Fonda, now Sam has to pretend that she’s Latvian (don’t ask). That building seems copy-pasted from Asgard, those two are connected by high-speed bumper cars, and all of them seem to be made out of plastic.
Bob has some handy exposition to justify most of these things – usually something far more convoluted and less interesting than “five-year-olds have short attention spans” – but “Luck” sure raises a lot of questions for a movie that was designed to keep children quiet for 100 minutes, and every new detail only strengthens the suspicion that luck is too defined by its lack of internal logic to sustain a story that so heavily depends on explaining how it works.
Very young kids might be amused by the film’s overeager pacing, and even by some of the more outlandish characters it races past along the way (it’s hard to go wrong with Flula Borg voicing a unicorn named Jeff), but older ones will struggle with the lack of anything to hold onto, and also perhaps with the feeling that they’ve seen a version of this story done better so many times before. “Luck” is a terrible idea for a movie, executed poorly, and by someone who used to know better. The best thing I can say about the finished product is that, unlike most forms of bad luck, this one is wonderfully easy to avoid altogether.
Grade: D +
“Luck” will be available to stream on Apple TV + starting Friday, August 5.