“Luck” is a somewhat confounding blend of past, present, and future. The confoundedness comes of throwback elements and visionary never quite cohering — that, and an increasingly cluttered plot turning a sweet-natured film into a bit of a slog. The Apple TV+ animated feature starts streaming Friday.
Past takes the form of a dragon (voiced by Jane Fonda), a unicorn (a mustachioed German unicorn, no less, voiced by Flula Borg), and lots and lots of leprechauns. Forget popcorn. Open up a box of Lucky Charms. It’s hard to get elements more fairy- or folk-tale traditional than all those.
Dragon, unicorn, and leprechauns inhabit the Land of Luck. It’s the place where good fortune is manufactured. It’s also where where the future — or futuristic, at least — comes into the movie. The Land of Luck is very Tomorrowland in look: sleek and shiny, all curves instead of angles. Antiseptic and unintimidatingly techno, it’s rendered in colors of such spun-sugar hue they could give you cavities. As the Candyland palette and the presence of a dragon and unicorn might indicate — and “Luck” has a G rating — it’s aimed more at little ones than most animated features are these days.
As for the present — or, if you prefer, the here and now — that comes courtesy of the movie’s rather delightful heroine, Sam (voiced by Eva Noblezada). Sam has just turned 18, which means she has to leave the orphanage where she has lived all her life. Sam never managed to find “a forever family” and get adopted. It’s an example of her consistent bad luck. That bad luck is despite Sam’s being so spunky and good-hearted.
One day Sam encounters a black cat. It’s a sign of her good-heartedness that she shares a sandwich with him. “Meat bread,” Bob calls it. That’s the cat’s name, Bob, and he can talk. Clearly, he’s a far-fetched feline. It turns out that he’s from the Land of Luck. Simon Pegg voices Bob, and he pretty much steals the movie.
A portal connects our world with the Land of Luck. Sam follows Bob through it, going in search of a lucky penny. “Lucky penny” isn’t just a figure of speech down there. That’s where they’re manufactured, and they help produce good luck back up here.
Humans aren’t supposed to be in the Land of Luck, so Sam disguises herself as a leprechaun. A very tall leprechaun. When her height elicits double takes, Bob explains that she’s from Latvia. This becomes a running gag, and a pretty funny one. Fans of the early days of “Saturday Night Live” may find themselves recalling how the Coneheads are from “France.”
An already-busy plot shifts into overdrive. There’s Bob’s suspicious supervisor, The Captain (voiced by Whoopi Goldberg). There’s a visit to the Inbetween, which lies between the Land of Luck and the Land of Bad Luck (fat chance there wouldn’t be one of those). There’s also a visit to, yes, the Land of Bad Luck. It all gets very confusing.
One of the odd things about “Luck” is that it’s at its most buoyant and charming in the everyday world, the one we know, rather than the fantasy world that the filmmakers have imagined. The liberation that you’d expect from arrival in the Land of Luck doesn’t happen. Dragons and unicorns and leprechauns are all well and good, and cavity-causing Candyland colors are pretty to look at, but they’re all also kind of tired and predictable. Maybe it’s Bob’s fault. Could black cats really be bad luck, after all?
Directed by Peggy Holmes. Written by Kiel Murray, Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger. Featuring the voices of Eva Noblezada, Simon Pegg, Jane Fonda, Whoopi Goldberg, Flula Borg. Streaming on Apple TV+. 106 minutes. G.
Mark Feeney can be reached at email@example.com.