Movie review: 'Luck' (2022)
The story follows Sam, an extremely unlucky 18-year-old. After years in an orphanage and never being adopted, she moves into her first apartment. When she encounters a black cat, her luck suddenly changes, becoming good - and when it reverts to her previous bad luck, she follows the cat into the magical Land of Luck, the source of all luck in our world (both good and bad).
Most of the film revolves around Sam trying to regain luck - not for herself, but to help a younger girl at the orphanage - while a series of evasions and accidents escalate into circumstances that threaten the Land of Luck itself.
It's an ok film, with a really nice magical world, although the story has tons of holes if you think about it too much. Furry-wise, besides the cat, most of the characters are leprechauns. Here and there are some cartoony bunnies and pigs, plus a couple of other background creatures that you don't often see anthropomorphized (goats and root vegetables). And a large, pink, six-limbed dragoness, in charge of good luck. She's not in too many scenes, but she's definitely one of the highlights!
Interestingly, this film lacks a clear antagonist; most of the conflict is situational in nature. I wouldn't say this movie is a must-see, but it's fine to pass the time with, and I think it shows a lot of potential for what Skydance could make in the future, if they polish up their writing a bit.
(Spoilers and griping under this cut.)
Production-wise, Skydance is a relatively recent production company who have been building up momentum. With Luck as their first animated feature, they picked up John Lasseter to co-produce it, previously of Pixar. The high point of his career was probably directing Toy Story in 1995 - after that... uhh... Cars? And after that he became an executive producer. At least, until the accusations of sexual misconduct, leaving the company, and having to lay low for a little while.
Writing-wise, the film tries to be very safe, with a committee-like feel to its overall tone. I was expecting obvious visual placement of Apple products, but no! So that was nice. The plot didn't quite follow story beats I would have expected either, that was a good surprise. Some explanations felt a little contrived, and one important plot detail was only foreshadowed fleetingly (I didn't even notice it, I had to go back and check). Someone almost goes evil, then doesn't. Wha?
Several people are credited with the film's concept, which was then given to three people to write. Two of them, Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berge, had written Kung Fu Panda, Trolls, and The SpongeBob Movie. The third writer also did Luck's screenplay: Kiel Murray. She had been part of the story crew behind Raya and the Last Dragon, and did screenplay work for Cars. I'm glad to see more women getting work in the animation industry (despite people like Lasseter). And Luck's director was Peggy Holmes, whose previous work as a director includes a couple of Disney direct-to-video films.
The music of the film is pretty unremarkable. For voice-acting, everyone did a decent job, with accents all over the place. Sam, the main character, was voiced by Eva Noblezada. The cat is Simon Pegg, the dragon is Jane Fonda, and Whoopi Goldberg is the leprechaun in charge of of security. For some reason I had a difficult time believing the characters were speaking in their own right (I kept thinking of them as voice actors speaking through the characters), until about 75% of the way into it, then suspension of disbelief kicked in. Weird, not sure what caused that. Maybe I was distracted by Sam's eyebrows, or because everyone's got really big eyes that don't blink enough? Seriously though, my brain's just odd like that. I think you'll be fine with the character designs! Well, not sure about the overweight unicorn, but at least he's in an open-minded relationship.
The story has a lot of unfortunate implications if you think about it. The Land of Luck is divided into two halves, good luck and bad luck. We don't spend much time in the bad half, but oh boy do things go wrong, constantly. In fact, at this rate I'm surprised that entire half of the world doesn't spontaneously burst into fire or explode. When Sam goes in, just by trying to get from point A to point B, she injures about ten people.
There are contradictory elements. On the one hand, luck is said to be distributed randomly, but in Sam's case it is definitely not random, it's outright cruel, and no explanation is ever given, nor sought for. (Bad luck attracts more bad, but by that argument, a large portion of the population should all be like Sam.) A pep talk during the film's lowest moment - "I was wrong to ever tell you not to try, because every time you do, you make things better" - is in direct opposition to everything that's happened.
In the Land of Luck, skill appears to be irrelevant. If you're lucky, you can do anything, recklessly, without a care in the world. Things automatically work out perfectly. Everyone's so happy, but can there truly be a sense of accomplishment, if you already know everything works in your favor, like throwing a ball through a hoop? What motivates the people in the bad luck half of the world to do anything? Is anyone actually in charge of bad luck production (besides that one guy)? We meet at least one character who's glad to have gotten out of there.
That being said, this film does a lot of positive messaging, that bad luck can bring people together, create friendships, build strength and resilience - I'm really happy they included this! (Another indirect lesson, carry lots of tools you can improvise with, and have two of everything, so when something breaks you'll have a backup.) Sam, also, is an exceptionally strong female character. She's obviously put up with a ton of bad luck and depression, but she goes on, she stands up, and she also has a strong sense of selflessness. Her priority isn't to get more luck for herself, but for another girl at the orphanage, so she won't have to go through the same hardships that Sam did. Good stuff.
Something I liked very much was the visual design. You can see the animation team was allowed to have a lot of creativity here. Much of the humor is physical and situational, with the way unexpected bad luck can manifest at almost any moment - the storyboarders obviously had a lot of fun with this, including the force of gravity! And there are little details in the world I noticed on going back to re-watch, like things to help smaller critters get around. A freeze-frame of one of the good luck security vehicles revealed a happy sign inside: "Lucky you! You've been arrested!"
For the furry characters, a lot of them looked alike. The bunnies were short and cartoony, with a comedic tendency to fall over. The pigs were rotund. The goats, we didn't get to see them much. The walking root vegetables were a change! And the dragoness had elements of both Eastern and Western design. Some characters had piercings. The black cat, the second main character - had his moments, but remained surprisingly stoic for most of the film, he didn't physically express much emotion until the end. He reminded me a bit of Jiji from Kiki's Delivery Service. I felt more invested in the cat in the computer game Stray, watching it walk around.
Finally, in terms of humor, there were a lot of visual gags that happened to the characters. I don't think there was much background humor going on. Still, a lot of the situational stuff felt rather contrived in terms of what the main characters were able to achieve without anyone noticing - it bordered on farce. If only the story writing could have been a bit more cohesive, the situations a little less idiotic... I wish the audience's intelligence had been given more respect, instead of taking a safe committee approach. I think this studio has a lot of potential! It's not a bad start, but we'll see if they challenge themselves in the future, or if they'll stick to one level of storytelling from here on out, like the Minions franchise has largely been doing.