The Dark Herald Recommends – LuckThe Dark Herald
Whoopi Goldberg would not have been my first choice to play a leprechaun.
Luck felt a lot like old Pixar, it had that much going for it. I could have taken the kids to see it at the theater and not been worried about any mind control experiments being performed upon them by the filmmakers.
This was John Lasseter’s first feature-length animated film after his short Blush. Blush felt like golden age Pixar, the magic was somewhere to be found even if it wasn’t at Lasseter’s old studio. So there was a lot of anticipation for Luck. I’m afraid it wasn’t really worth the wait.
The protagonist is a girl named Sam; she is an orphan who never got adopted. The story begins the day she turns eighteen and graduates out of the foster system. She is the unluckiest girl on Earth. The toast always lands butter-side down for Sam. If she flips a coin, it will always land in the storm drain. If she goes into a public restroom, she brings her own toilet paper with her because the roller in the stall will always be empty.
She tries not to let her bad luck get her down. Although, what she does feel terrible about, is her little friend from the orphanage, Hazel. She was supposed to have a visit and it didn’t happen, so Hazel won’t get adopted again. Sam feels rotten about this and after a rough, ill-fortuned first day on her new job, she sits down on a curb and unloads all of her troubles on a stray cat that is sitting next to her. She ends her diatribe by saying if she had any good luck she would give it all to Hazel.
The cat exits stage left but leaves a shiny penny behind him. Sam ‘sees a penny and picks it up,’ and her world changes instantly. The toast always lands butter-side up. She throws random rolls of ribbons at a shelf and they land in a perfect rainbow sequence of colors. Her life is all sevens and elevens. She plans to give the supernaturally lucky penny to Hazel but then she takes it out of her pocket for a moment, and she loses the penny.
Sam runs into the cat and starts complaining again, but when she gets to the part about losing the penny the cat demands to know why she did something so careless. Talking cats are as uncommon in her world as they are in ours. After unsuccessfully denying his ability to speak, the cat takes off with Sam hot on his heels and ends up following him into the Land of Good Luck. The place where all the good luck in the world is produced and distributed randomly. Bob the Cat had a lucky penny because you have to take good luck with you when you enter the human world. And Whoopi the Leprechaun keeps careful track of those pennies. Bob needs a replacement penny or he gets banished.
First act concluded now we find out what the question of the story is: Can Sam and Bob the Cat get another Lucky Penny, so Sam can use it long enough for Hazel to get adopted and then give it to the cat, so Whoopi the Leprechaun will be none the wiser?
As you can tell from the question of the story, the plot has some problems. The question of a story needs to be a simple question and this one isn’t. The question needed to be, can Sam ever learn to accept her bad luck? The problem here is that the film does provide the answer (and it’s yes) but it never actually asks that question. There is no journey to get to that answer, Sam has no character arc. For that matter neither does Bob the Cat. Bob almost had a B story, at the end of the movie he leaves the Land of Luck to live in the human world with Sam. Which would have been fine if there had been any kind of build-up to that at all and there just wasn’t. Okay, Bob, you want to live with Sam now, that’s nice or whatever, I guess.
Bob was originally from the Land of Bad Luck, found a Lucky Penny taped it to the inside of his collar, and pretended he’d always been a good luck cat. He didn’t have any friends and no one in the Land of Luck really liked him, whereas he had plenty of buddies in the Land of Bad Luck, again you have something that could have been developed but wasn’t.
All you have here is an A story, but there is no B story in this film. There were the various elements of a B story that could have been incorporated into a narrative, but they weren’t. You may have also noticed there is a plot hole you can drive a Kenworth through. Why did they spend the whole second act trying to find a lucky penny when Bob had one all along? Everything they did was pointless.
This story has every hallmark of being a first draft. The B story always takes a bit of time to develop because you have to develop the characters and these characters didn’t. They are too flat.
Here is an example of some early development work on Toy Story:
Woody was originally a mean-spirited and self-serving ventriloquist’s dummy. He eventually developed into a character who was nice enough but given to jealousy when he was displaced by Buzz. When he did bad things to Buzz, he came to regret it because at the end of the day he was a good person/toy. My point is this, it took him some time in the bottle to develop into a fully rounded character.
The fundamental problem with this film is that it was underdeveloped. An early draft got rushed into production.
I suspect there were a number of factors involved here. Skydance Animation is a new subsidiary, so they have to produce something quick. It has a contract with Apple TV+, and all of the streaming services need new content the day before yesterday.
But I think the biggest problem was John Lasseter himself, he is starting over again from scratch at 65. Doable, but there is a lot more road behind him than in front of him and he knows it. He had a well-oiled machine that was tuned to his specifications at Pixar, and he was used to that level of performance by his underlings. He doesn’t have that at Skydance. Not yet anyway.
Finally, I suspect that the story suffered from Lasseter’s attitude towards it. The whole of the narrative is about bad luck. A story needs to ring true and it doesn’t because John Lasseter is lying either to himself or to everyone else, (or both) about what happened to him at Disney. It wasn’t bad luck, it was naked betrayal. His people turned on him because he valued storytelling over Wokeness and he did little or more likely nothing to promote it. But he has to pretend that it was bad luck that did him in because Hollywood is repelled by Truth.
Is it Woke? No, but it is quite Woke-washed. Hey, it’s an Apple product! Sam, while identifiably female has the Jessica Alba all-purpose ethnicity. The voice cast is honestly pretty weak because of Lasseter’s ‘please forgive me’ casting choices. Major roles were badly miscast for the sake of his political mea culpa. Jane Fonda’s Luck Dragon needed to be voiced by a woman with a middle-aged but still warm and sexy contralto, not a hag in her mid-eighties. And Whoopi Goldberg was a ridiculous choice for a part that probably should have gone to Saoirse Ronan. Simon Pegg played Bob the Cat and while it isn’t a bad choice, there were better out there. I will say that John Ratzenberger was fine in his role as the bartending monster in the Land of Bad Luck, so they got that one right.
The mainstream critics don’t like it which has become a reliable mark of quality. The audience score at RT is 70% approval which I would have to say is fair.
Direct comparison to Pixar films is warranted here. Luck is easily better than Turning Red. It’s also better than Onward. Although if I’m being honest, Soul is a marginally better motion picture, even if Luck is more enjoyable. Luck is not anywhere near as good as Pixar’s best movies, but it is certainly better than its worst.
It is an Apple TV+ exclusive, which begs the question, is it worth the subscription? At $5.00 a month it is probably worth a one-month sub if you had wanted to check out Foundation, or For All Mankind, or (especially) Blush. Also, if you want to give Disney the finger it might be worth it to you.
Luck was entertaining but flawed family fun. Certainly, safer for children than anything Pixar is producing now, but I expected more from John Lasseter.
In summary: The Dark Herald Recommends with (measured) Confidence.