We aren’t having a lot of luck these days. The pandemic. Monkeypox. Droughts. Wildfires. Do I need to go on? Our collective willingness to be able to roll with what life brings us and maintain a positive outlook is continually being tested.
So the movie Luck, from Apple Original Films and Skydance Animation, arrives at an extremely timely moment. Eighteen-year-old Sam (Eva Noblezada) has always been unlucky. Her keys fall down a manhole. Her bike has a flat tire. She inadvertently locks herself in the bathroom. Her toast always lands jam side down. But perhaps her biggest misfortune is that she never found her “forever family” and grew up in the Summerland Home for Girls. (The movie kicks the cliché of killing parents off up a notch: Sam never had parents at all!). It’s a rather heavy and—dare I say confusing—starting point for the movie’s young audience, who might be introduced to the idea of orphans and orphanages for the first time without a lot of context.
Sam’s luck changes when she meets talking black cat Bob (Simon Pegg) who accidentally leaves behind a lucky penny. The penny turns Sam’s life around. Suddenly she’s stocking the shelves at her job at Flowers and More with aplomb. Her toaster works perfectly and even lands her toast jam side up. When Sam accidently flushes the lucky penny down the toilet (what is a kid’s movie without a little toilet humor?), she is desperate to find another one and follows Bob down the secret portal to the Land of Luck. How are you doing? Are you with me so far?
Sam wants another penny for her young friend Hazel (Adelynn Spoon) who is also at the Summerland Home for Girls. Sam wants to make sure Hazel finds her forever home. (In the movie, prospective parents stand these kids up a lot). The Land of Luck is where things like “happy accidents,” “right place, right time” and “front row parking” are manufactured. It is full of magical creatures—including lucky rabbits and leprechauns (of course)—overseen by the Captain (Whoopi Goldberg). A beautiful dragon (Jane Fonda) makes sure that bad luck never comes into the Land of Luck.
No one wants to be in the Land of Bad Luck where you will find things like “smelled it but can’t find it,” “computer keeps crashing” and “tracked it in the house.” Between these two lands is the In-Between where a unicorn named Jeff (Flula Borg) randomly assigns good and bad luck to the human world. Still with me on the movie’s version of heaven, hell and purgatory?
I’m going to be honest with you: That’s really my top-level understanding of Sam’s adventures in the Land of Luck. The plot of Luck is far too dense and convoluted. I suspect the movie’s target audience won’t have the patience for it. Maybe they will be distracted by the sparkly crystals and funny unicorns. But at 106 minutes, the movie’s length and intricate plot will probably leave most kids slightly bored. (In my very unscientific study of two children, the movie kind of lost them at the midway point.)
And that’s too bad. Because inside Kiel Murray’s complex script, there is a positive message: The idea that bad luck is just the mirror image of good luck, and that bad luck teaches you how to adjust and respond to what life brings. That some of Sam’s best experiences and friendships began with bad luck. That perhaps our bad experiences help make us who we are. Everyone fears the goats, roots and goblin inhabitants of Bad Luck. But they are also friendly and adept at making the best of a bad situation. The idea that you need to look beyond your surface understanding of someone and challenge your own stereotypes is a pretty terrific takeaway.
Tony nominee Noblezada is terrific as the voice of Sam. She brings just the right mix of levity, curiosity and gravitas to the role. Twice she gets to sing Madonna’s “Lucky Star” and it’s so fun you will almost wonder if Luck should have been a musical. The soaring, uplifting score by composer John Debney is one of the movie’s biggest assets.
I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that perhaps producer John Lasseter has been the most lucky. In 2018, John Lasseter, who directed Cars and Toy Story 2 and was behind so many of Pixar’s hits, left Disney-Pixar after allegations of misconduct which he acknowledged as “missteps.” But in 2019, he was hired as head of the new Skydance Animation. Luck is Skydance Animation’s first film and represents Lasseter’s return.
Luck is nowhere near the greatness of some of the most beloved Pixar films, but it’s not for Lasseter’s lack of trying. Murray wrote Cars among other Pixar hits. Director Peggy Holmes directed Pirate Fairy and Secret of the Wings, two of the most beloved Tinker Bell movies. Luck even has John Ratzenberger, who has long been Pixar’s lucky charm (he’s had roles in 25 Pixar films) as the voice of Rootie, the owner of the Lucky Shot Tiki Bar in the Land of Bad Luck. But even with all of that, the movie still lands in the In-Between.
Director: Peggy Holmes
Writer: Kiel Murray
Starring: Eva Noblezada, Simon Pegg, Jane Fonda, Whoopi Goldberg, Colin O’Donoghue, Lil Rel Howery, Flula Borg, John Ratzenberger, Adelynn Spoon
Release Date: August 5, 2022 (Apple TV+)
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer and a member of the Television Critics Association. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal).