“Humans are obsessed with luck, completely obsessed,” laughs Peggy Holmes, director of new animated fantasy, Luck. “I did a lot of research about that and here’s the truth: Luck is random. It’s something you can’t control. As humans we actually like the idea of chance. We don’t really want to know that everything’s going to be a certain way. We actually thrive on the idea of chance. That’s why it’s fun if you find a lucky penny.”
Lucky pennies, walking under ladders, a rabbit’s foot, breaking mirrors… it’s pretty safe to say the idea of ‘luck’ is steeped into humanity’s subconscious. For Sam Greenfield, bad luck always seems to follow her. From losing the keys to her brand new apartment, to the toaster burning her toast… and then flipping it out on to the floor (jam end down obviously), she really doesn’t have the best of luck.
But when she finds a lucky penny (from a strangely aware cat named Bob), all that changes. Suddenly she has perfectly evenly cooked toast and things start going her way. But not for very long…
“Sam grew up in foster care,” Peggy explains. “At the beginning of the movie, she’s 18, she’s aging out of the system and she happens upon a lucky penny. But because she has bad luck she accidentally flushes it down the toilet. Literally flushes it down [laughs].
“She wants to get more good luck, but not for herself. She wants to get it for her friend Hazel who’s five and who’s in the group home that she just left. She doesn’t want Hazel to end up like her, alone, so she goes into the Land of Luck, after some good luck for Hazel so that it’ll help Hazel find her forever family.”
We’ll get to the Land of Luck later, but for Peggy and writer Kiel Murray, it was important that Sam didn’t dwell on her bad luck and instead always see the positives – a trait that actually stemmed from the filmmakers speaking to real kids within the foster system: “We met with a lot of youth that had grown up in the foster system, and just talked to them about how they felt about it,” says Murray, “specifically ones like Sam who were ageing out and who had never found a family. I was so moved by their stories and inspired by them. So a lot of [the story was] based in that.”
“They shared with us their stories and how they feel about bad luck,” adds Holmes. “It’s really bad luck to end up in that kind of situation and it has nothing to do with these kids. What we were so drawn to was how generous they were, how positive they were, how they just kept going. They all told us that no matter how much bad luck they had, they wouldn’t change it because in the end it brought them to where they are in their life today.
“Their positivity was really amazing. If you’re going to have a story with the unluckiest person in the world, we talked about her being bitter or mean. But when we met these amazing youths, that is not who they are. They’re so generous of heart. They give the thing that they didn’t have in life. They give love constantly. So we’re like, that’s our story.”
Once they had their story, the filmmakers had to figure out how to portray luck. How do you show something that is effectively a theory? For animation director Yuriko Senoo, a lot of showing luck comes down to timing… “For good luck, it’s about having everything working out perfectly,” she explains. “Timing for example, in the good luck world, the transportation system would come to the characters; they don’t have to go to them. So it’s like having this perfect timing of this transportation. They don’t have to worry about a thing. Everything is so easygoing and so perfect.
“Bad luck is harder to show. For example, there’s a scene where Sam moves into her very first apartment and has bad luck. So of course, she loses the key to her apartment. The dog wraps himself around Sam’s legs at the moment when the social worker hands her the keys, and then the keys fall down and manage to avoid the sewer. But then at the moment she thinks she has averted a crisis, a bike comes in and knocks the key into the manhole. So that’s bad luck. It’s creating cause and effect.”
To create those instances of good and bad luck (and add a bit of comedy timing), the filmmakers turned to some of the greats of physical comedy for inspiration…
“We looked at great comedians for inspiration,” Senoo nods. “Comedians like Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Donald O’Connor. They’re so funny without saying a word and they can pull off some amazing stunts, but they can also pause for comedy. We were drawn to their deadpan comedy.”
“They do a lot of silent pieces that are super funny,” adds Holmes. “We found that their rhythm is very specific and they do a lot of stillness and the stillness is the funny part. So it’s really a matter of getting in there, doing your research, analysing what’s funny, and then going about it with your story team.”
After Sam literally flushes her good luck penny down the toilet, she finds Bob again (who, it turns out, can actually speak), and follows him into a mysterious portal that transports her to a magical world: The Land of Luck (we told you we’d come back to this).
You see, it turns out luck isn’t random at all. It’s generated in a fantastical land populated by mythical creatures like leprechauns, unicorns and dragons.
For the filmmakers behind the movie, creating the Land of Luck was a fun experience, especially populating it with all manor of creatures associated with luck: “Oh gosh, okay well, we got leprechauns – we have classically dressed leprechauns and then we have the millennial Gen Z leprechauns that wear shamrock camo (it’s the cutest thing ever),” Holmes tells us when we ask just what kind of magical creatures we can expect to see in the Land of Luck. “We have lucky pigs, we have lucky rabbits…
“Then on the bad luck side, we have goats,” she continues. “We have roots (roots are bad luck because they get in your pipes and cause trouble), and we have goblins. We also have our dragon, of course, our lucky dragon played by Jane Fonda, which is amazing…”
Ah yes, Jane Fonda. Luck certainly has in impressive voice cast including Simon Pegg as Bob and Eva Noblezada as Sam, alongside Whoopi Goldberg, Flula Borg and of course, Jane Fonda the dragon.
“We’re just super lucky to have Jane Fonda,” Holmes tells. “She is such an incredible actress and when we met with her, she really dived in. She wanted to understand everything. So, we actually had the story artists pitch sequences to her so she could see. You could see Jane in the Zoom meeting start to come to life and start putting that character in her body. She started saying things with her voice and she had ideas of when some fire should come out. She gave us this fantastic idea – she goes ‘look, I’m a 40-foot dragon with a super long tail. I should wrap it around my body like a boa!’ She was just so in the game with us and had such great ideas.”
The Land of Luck doesn’t only boast an array of fantastical creatures, it looks impressive too: “Our production designer Fred Warter is so smart and he has such great vision,” Holmes says. “On the first week on the movie, he created a piece for us which was a coin with two worlds on either side of it. A good luck world on top and a bad luck world on the bottom. They were mirrors of each other and we were like: ‘That’s it. That is what the world should be!’
“Then we have amazing artists that work with Fred in the art department. We started to think like ‘okay, if there’s a world of good luck, you don’t ever need to worry about falling or safety rails’. You should be able to move through the world of good luck completely seamlessly. You never have to worry about anything because nothing ever goes wrong. So that starts to drive you on how you make decisions on how they move through the world.”
On the other side of the coin is the bad luck which is full of just-as-wonderful creatures: “In the bad luck world, everything goes wrong,” Senoo explains. “The buildings are in constant repair. But it was important for us that the bad luck characters are not bad. They tend to be stereotyped as scary monsters, but they’re actually really heart-warming, kind characters. So that was important to portray. Just because you belong in the bad luck world doesn’t mean they’re bad. That’s not the case at all!”
Indeed, the underlying message of the film isn’t whether you have good luck or bad luck, but that you take positivity out of whatever side of the coin you’re currently on: “I’m really hoping [audiences] walk away from this movie feeling inspired. Inspired to never give up, to never give up on love, on your dreams, on finding family, or yourself. Because that’s really what is at the heart of the story for us.
“Sam is this young person that has grown up in the foster care system. She never found a family, which happens to a lot of people and she’s going out on her own, and she’s the unluckiest person in the world. She has so much bad luck and in the end, ultimately, she’s going to look back and see that what she thought was the worst luck ever actually turned into the best good luck thing that could have happened to her. So we have this wonderful heartfelt story all about never giving up. Your life can change, just keep going.”
Annecy International Animation Film Festival takes place on 13-18 June. Luck will launch on Apple TV+ on Friday, August 5th