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Jane Fonda and Whoopi Goldberg Enliven Apple TV+’s Sweet, Familiar Animated Feature

A chronically unlucky woman teams up with a magical cat in hopes of turning her and her friend's fates around in this first film from Skydance Animation.

Sam Greenfield (voiced by Hadestown’s Eva Noblezada) might just be the world’s unluckiest person. The 18-year-old protagonist of Apple TV+ and Skydance Animation’s wholesome film Luck is an expert in poor timing, unhappy accidents and minor disasters. (Sometimes major ones, too). Random objects fall on her head, she slips and trips, and almost everything she touches breaks. Despite her general misfortune, Sam is a perennial optimist — a woman who prefers to look on the brighter side.

Luck tells the story of how Sam momentarily comes into better fortunes, loses that opportunity and sets out to find it again. If Apple’s extensive marketing campaign has got you doing a double take, you aren’t alone. Luck is the kind of hopeful, detailed tale Pixar would release, but this is not a product of the animation behemoth — not really. It’s the brainchild of Skydance Animation, which hired Pixar co-founder and controversy-mired John Lasseter in 2019. (A year before the announcement, Lasseter resigned from his position at Disney Pixar after employees accused him of egregious behavior, including inappropriate touching and kissing.)

Lasseter’s hire brought dramatic changes to the project, which had already been underway.  Alessandro Carloni, the film’s original director, and Emma Thompson, who was supposed to voice a character that no longer exists, left. (Carloni was replaced by Peggy Holmes and Thompson quit because Lasseter was hired.) The version of Luck we have now, streaming on Apple TV+ on August 5, possesses some of the same world-building vividness as Monsters, Inc. and Inside Out— Pixar projects that capture the mood and atmosphere of never seen, or imagined, worlds.

Luck’s sweetness comes from the details of Sam’s story and subsequent adventure. Early in the film, we see the young protagonist moving into her own apartment, starting a new job and taking online college courses. She is a foster kid who was never adopted and has now, at 18, aged out of the system. Her departure from the Summerland Home for Girls is a bittersweet one: She’s leaving the only home she’s ever had as well as her closest friend, Hazel (Adelynn Spoon), a young foster girl at the center.

Life outside of Summerland is not easy because Sam attracts disaster. On her first day as an official adult, she misses her morning class and wakes up with less than an hour before she must clock in at Flowers & More, a garden retailer where she works. Everything that could go wrong — locking herself in the bathroom, toast falling jelly-side-down on the floor, a deflated bike tire — does. Work doesn’t go well either: Sam destroys so much merchandise that her boss (Lil Rel Howery) assigns her to cart patrol, a job she can’t possibly mess up.

Sam remains optimistic despite the first-day flubs, which are accompanied by John Debney’s upbeat score. In fact, she doesn’t wish for luck until she goes back to see Hazel, whose weekend visit with a potential family was cancelled. Hazel’s despondent mood upsets Sam, and she promises Hazel (a collector of charms) to find her a lucky penny so the next couple scheduled to see her might adopt her.

Finding the penny doesn’t prove to be as hard as Sam thought. Sitting on the sidewalk in front of a bustling café later that evening, talking to a stray black cat, she comes across a lucky coin. Sam’s fortunes take a turn the next day, and suddenly everything in her life goes right: She wakes up in time for class, successfully uploads her assignment, finds a pair of matching socks on the first try and doesn’t drop her toast. Armed with this stroke of good luck, Sam decides to give the coin to Hazel. Her plan hits a snag when she — in a predictable moment of poor timing — drops the token in the toilet.

To make matters worse, she runs into the cat again. Not only can he talk (his name is Bob and he’s voiced by Simon Pegg), but the coin was his good luck charm. The surprising interaction leads to a vigorous chase through the streets of this unnamed but richly detailed city. When they reach a quiet alley, Sam watches Bob jump through a mysterious portal. She follows suit, ending up in the Land of Luck.

The Land of Luck is a composite of items and animals representing good luck across the globe. Like the monster world in Monsters, Inc. and the emotional world in Inside Out, it is a place of rules, systems and extensive monitoring of the human world. Leprechauns polish good-luck tokens. Pigs create lucky four-leaf clovers. Cats go out on randomized assignments in the human world. A team of rabbits track how much luck is in the human world and search their realm for traces of bad luck. 

And the whole operation is helmed by a benevolent, giggling pink dragon (voiced by Jane Fonda). Underneath the Land of Luck is the Land of Bad Luck, which operates similarly but with a more sinister edge. The worlds are distinguished from one another by a vibrant color palette — Good Luck is filled with bright greens and blues, while Bad Luck is marked by deep purples and violets.  

Humans aren’t allowed in the Land of Luck, which forces a reluctant Bob and an eager Sam to team up. The plan is simple: Get a new token to give to Hazel and get Sam out of the Land of Luck before the Captain, a senior leprechaun voiced by Whoopi Goldberg, finds out. It seems straightforward enough, except even when surrounded by the makers of good fortune, Sam manages to get herself in hot water.

The duo’s adventure takes several turns — some right, but most wrong. Kiel Murray (Raya and the Last DragonCars) packs the screenplay with enough jokes to keep the film feeling light and energetic, which helps toward the middle when Sam’s repeated mishaps start to feel repetitive, slackening an otherwise tightly conceived story. Fine performances from Noblezada, Pegg, Goldberg and Fonda are a bonus. Their characters feel distinctive, with Goldberg and Fonda delivering especially memorable turns.

Sam and Bob decide to enlist more people for help, including Bob’s only friend Gerry (Colin O’Donoghue), a leprechaun and, later, other magical creatures like Jeff, a cheeky unicorn (Flula Borg). The mission of the rag-tag crew goes from just helping Hazel to saving the Land of Luck. But what’s important during their expeditions and throughout the film are the lessons Sam learns along the way — about friends, about chosen family and, of course, about luck. 

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