It’s always an exciting time when a new animation studio releases its first feature film. This can tell us what the studio is capable of and what to expect in the future. Disney, for example, continued to build its legacy on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs; Pixar brought us computer-generated animation with toy story; and Illumination created legitimate cultural change by releasing little yellow Minions into Despicable Me.
Chance, now on Apple TV+, is the first film from Skydance Animation. Skydance is keen to make a big impact in the world of animation, attracting the likes of eight-time Oscar-winning composer Alan Menken and The Incredibles and Ratatouille director Brad Bird to work on future projects. There’s some serious pedigree here, and like the marketing for Chance informs us, the film comes “from the creative visionary behind toy story and Cars.” (One of these things is not like the other, but I digress.)
Concretely, this means that Chance is produced by John Lasseter, the man often credited with creating some of the most beloved animated films of all time when he was Creative Director at Disney and Pixar.
Why would you leave the biggest animation studio in the world to become head of animation at a totally unknown entity, you might ask? It’s a good question, and an important question. Lasseter didn’t so much move on to an exciting new opportunity that his deplorable actions at his old company forced him out. In 2017, he took a leave of absence from Disney, which in June 2018 became a permanent departure. Both he and the company pointed to his “missteps,” a cute (and rather crude) way of coming to terms with his tainted legacy of sexual harassment, as the reason for his exit.
Advocates are quick to cite Lasseter’s incredible film legacy when explaining their continued support for him. But those films didn’t make the job any less of a toxic and miserable experience for him, according to some of his former colleagues. Lasseter’s reputation as an apparent genius has eroded and he became known for “catch, kiss, [and] make comments about physical attributes” to his female colleagues. Animation on a scale like Disney and Pixar is a hugely collaborative experience, and when the person at the top of the chain is toxic, it spreads through the rest of the system like a virus.
People have argued for and against the separation of art from artist since what seems like the beginning of time, and deplorable people producing great work is unfortunately nothing new. It becomes especially hard to ignore when these same people, after being exposed for their actions, are offered powerful and comfortable new jobs. Lasseter isn’t the first – and likely won’t be the last – powerful white man to receive a comeback, remaining in a position of power through his talents.
Curiously, these alleged gifts cannot be found in Chance. Although Lasseter is not credited with directing or writing the film, he is a producer, and everything leading up to its release suggests he played a big part in the making. Chance. Rest assured that even if you’ve never heard of John Lasseter before and are tuning in with no preconceived notions, Chance nonetheless an absolute disaster. It’s a pale imitation of better movies, and an uninspiring, paper-thin snoozefest that turns its moderate runtime into a test of endurance.
The film follows Sam (voiced by Eva Noblezada), who just might be the unluckiest person ever. Sam is like the reverse of Midas, where everything she touches seems doomed. She spent her childhood dreaming of having her own family, as she spent her days at the orphanage, only for her dreams to never come true. Now that she’s old enough to live on her own, Sam is keen to help others, especially her young friend Hazel (Adelynn Spoon), who hopes to have her own forever family. After a chance encounter with a black cat, it looks like Sam’s fortunes are about to change after all.
After following the cat through the city streets, Sam is shocked to find him speaking English. Not only was he talking, but the cat was also opening a mysterious portal. With nothing to lose, Sam jumps through, which brings him to the land of luck, a mystical place responsible for creating all the good fortune in the world. See, it turns out the cat’s name is actually Bob (Simon Pegg), and he might just be able to help turn Sam’s luck around, not just for her but for Hazel as well.
To do this, Bob and Sam will have to work together, sailing through the land of luck. A place this fantastic is bound to be filled with endless creativity, fun characters and vibrant colors. The land of luck has lots of lush greenery (because, you know, the luck of the Irish), the exteriors are a joy to admire, and the unnecessarily convoluted mechanisms in place for traveling are fun. But the visuals rarely impress, often feeling like ripoffs of better designs. Heck, take a look at Lucky Land, and it’ll remind you of Riley’s brain in Upside down— minus the pathos or creativity of this Pixar movie. Worse still, the interiors, where most of the film takes place, are oddly corporate and unimaginative spaces that mirror the story itself.
Chance’The biggest downside is its storytelling. So little happens in this threadbare adventure. Sam and Bob go from place to place in search of a lucky penny, cause trouble along the way (because remember, Sam is unlucky) and eventually work together to make things right and restore balance to the land of luck. It’s incredibly familiar territory for kids and adults alike, and the storyline offers absolutely nothing to offer unexpected surprises. Without any plot or novelty, the movie ultimately becomes a total chore to get through.
When the plot lacks great family animation, inventive character designs and wacky diversions are often used to take over. Nothing like it is found here. The best type of set piece Chance offers is an uninspired, out of place pop music number that was annoying the first time it appeared at the start of the film, and downright excruciating when the same song returns later. There are no stakes and no real motivations, beyond the incredibly generic story beats that Chance twist again and again. I doubt the film can even hold a child’s attention, because Chance comes across as a two-bit imitation of better-animated films.
The characters, the beating heart of any animated classic, are generic and lifeless. Like the visuals, they often look like disappointing impersonations of characters from other top movies. Herds of rabbits are ugly, lifeless Minion wannabes; Bob’s fur looks painted on, as if he were a victim of the strange valley; and the Dragon (Jane freaking Fonda) looks like a less memorable version of the dragon from Shrek.
There is something deeply hollow in the heart of Chance. It feels like a movie on autopilot, hoping that beautiful colors and serious voice work will be enough to distract from a hopeless script, muddy pacing, uninspired characters, and moral that has been repeated ad infinitum, and each one better than this .
If Skydance was counting on deflecting bad publicity by asking Lasseter to bring his alleged “creative visionary” to Chance and throwing a shot, it was a terrible bet. If this movie is any indication, Lasseter is completely out of ideas. Instead, he contributed to the worst movie of his career – and an uncontrollable favorite for the worst animated movie of 2022.