John Lasseter’s First Full-Length Film With Skydance Animation “Luck” Is Now Streaming
Anyone who spends any time on social media has likely seen advertisements for the Skydance animated original Luck. It’s hard to miss Simon Pegg’s adorable kitty brogue or Flula Borg’s flamboyant unicorn getup. Although it was just recently released, Luck has been on the back burner at Skydance animations for several years, with fans of Pixar anxiously waiting to see how this piece would compare to the animation giant’s movies. The movie is just one of several in an exclusive deal with Apple TV+. However, for former Pixar head John Lasseter and the Skydance Animation team, Luck was a project filled with firsts.
Luck is the first full-length animated feature from Skydance Animation, as well as the first full-length animated feature released by John Lasseter since joining Skydance. There were a lot of other firsts having to do with the movie as well—including a pandemic – which may have meant the demise of several projects at Skydance Animation were it not for the help of a seasoned leader in animation. Here are the behind-the-scenes of the making of Luck and the rise of the Skydance Animation company under the guidance of John Lasseter.
The Making Of Luck
John Lasseter joined Skydance Animation in late 2019, much to the celebration of the studio. Although Skydance Animation had some plans for its animation studio before his arrival, he was the one who spearheaded many of the major projects slated for the company, including the recent prestigious Apple TV+ deal. The script and concept of Luck existed before this deal – and even before John Lasseter signed onto the Skydance team – but began development in 2021 under the guidance of the new head of animation.
In February of 2022, Apple TV+ and Skydance Animation developed an exclusive deal resembling a “put deal” – wherein a production studio agrees to produce the content requested by its partnering company. Luck was the first full-length animated feature to be released through the Apple TV+ deal. But the making of the movie was almost an act of luck itself: anyone who lived through 2020 may be nodding their heads in familiarity.
Right after the former Pixar head of animation joined the team, the world was completely altered by the global COVID-19 pandemic. For companies, including the fledgling animation company, to survive, they had to completely change the way they did things. Although movie production – as did all things – ceased for a little bit, the crew found a way to make CDC stay-at-home guidelines work for their production timeline.
But how do you make a blockbuster-level movie from home? Luckily for the Luck team, animated features lend themselves to solo work. Animators can consult over Zoom, and voice actors can and do often work alone. These things required minor adjustments or moderate at-home-recording-studio adjustments. But for some, like director Peggy Holmes, they had to adapt how they typically worked to ensure the success of the movie. Holmes described the process,
“We made this movie over Zoom; it’s been very, very challenging. One of the things is, you just don’t have your team right next to you. We’re describing a scene or a moment or an emotion, and the story heads are literally at their desks drawing, then holding something up to the camera and going, ‘You mean like this?’ ”
While working over a camera may not be ideal, it’s par for the course for some people. Jane Fonda, who played The CEO of Luck (the Luck Dragon), had used video conferencing before. However, she was new to the world of voice acting – this was the first animated feature she had ever been a part of. Despite her constraints, however, she had positive things to say about her experience in the studio for Luck.
“Voice acting is a very good thing for old people to get into because you can be in a wheelchair with bad hair and it wouldn’t matter,” said Fonda about her entry into the world of voice acting. As an award-winning actress, however, it wasn’t hard for people to fall in love with her as the Luck Dragon. But there was a real fear from Eva Noblezada, who played the main character (Sam) and who was new to acting outside of Broadway, that this might be a strain on her career.
As she filmed Luck, Noblezada was also playing the lead in Broadway’s Miss Saigon. Of juggling the two roles she said, “The biggest challenge was keeping my voice healthy enough to do the studio time, eight shows a week, and talking in general. It’s so annoying when you have to go on vocal rest, ’cause I’m a very chatty person.” Noblezada’s character is also ‘chatty’ and endearing. But unlike Noblezada, whose luck in her first voice-acting role seemed to be good, her character’s bad luck abounded.
How Does Luck Compare To Other John Lasseter Films?
Sam, the main character of Luck (voiced by Noblezada), starts out the movie by letting us all know just how unlucky she is. Seems fitting for a post-pandemic movie.
Raised in the foster care system, Sam “aged out” at 18 and moved on to what she hoped would be bigger and brighter things. Unfortunately, fate had other plans. Sam lives day to day as the unluckiest person in the world – from burnt breakfasts to late first days of work, she can’t seem to catch a break. Her focus and motivation to do better? Her young roommate from back in the foster care system.
Bad luck follows her until one day when she meets a black cat on the side of the road. She shares her lunch with him, and seemingly in return, he leaves her a penny. To her surprise, this penny seems to hold good luck. Her life turns around for around 24 hours. It’s at that point she accidentally flushes the penny down the toilet at work (in a scene straight out of 2001: A Space Odyssey). When she happens to run into the same black cat she shared her sandwich with (and that cat happens to talk), she follows him through a portal to a world unlike any she has been to before.
Bob the lucky black cat, voiced by Simon Pegg, is aghast when he finds out he unwittingly brought a human into the Land of Luck, where all the luck is made in the human world. Having a human there would be disastrous for Luck because as it would have it, humans throw off Luck’s balance. Unfortunately, Pegg is a little stuck when it comes to getting her back to the human world. His key? The penny Sam unceremoniously lost. So, the two must work together to get her back to the Human world while simultaneously preventing Luck from falling into chaos.
Fans of John Lasseter’s previous work will find Luck to be just as charming as many of his previous works. Although it has a different flair than a Disney/Pixar movie – or even from his early works outside of Disney – it still has the same sort of heart you’d expect to see from a Lasseter storyline. Each character plays a big part in the lives of the other, and when it comes down to it, the characters reinforce that human nature we expect to see in movies from Skydance Animation.
John Lasseter’s Rise In Animation
John Lasseter’s commitment to heartfelt plotlines started at a young age and likely had a lot to do with the strong family ties he grew up with. His mother, an art teacher, encouraged his foray into the arts, pushing him toward an internship with Disney at a young age. After he attended CalArts in pursuit of an animation degree, graduated, and began working for Disneyland after graduating. Disney’s animation was what initially inspired his love of art and storytelling, but he eventually felt as though he wanted to pursue other animation routes. During the mid-eighties, computer animation was burgeoning, and he eventually left Disney to join LucasFilm in a quest toward learning more about computer graphics and computer animated arts.
Lasseter worked at LucasFilm Computer Graphics, which eventually was sold to Apple’s Steve Jobs to create Pixar. It was there that Lasseter began to come into the spotlight. His first animated short, Tin Toy, won an Academy award. From there, Lasseter went on to create the first full-length computer animated film: Toy Story.
Now a beloved franchise, Toy Story was eventually followed by classics like A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, 3, & 4, Monster’s Inc, The Incredibles franchise, The Cars franchise, and more. In 2018, he left after creating some of the company’s most memorable movies. He joined Skydance in late 2019, and the rest is history.
With releases like Blush – an animated short from Skydance Animation – and Luck, Lasseter is still destined to be part of the animation world. Hopefully, Skydance’s next upcoming project, Spellbound, will be as much of a success (if not more) than his previous films.