Friday, June 21, 2024

“THELMA THE UNICORN”

THE STORY – Thelma is a small-time pony who dreams of becoming a glamorous music star. In a pink and glitter-filled moment of fate, Thelma is transformed into a unicorn and instantly rises to global stardom. However, this new life of fame comes at a cost.

THE CAST – Brittany Howard, Will Forte, Jemaine Clement, Edi Patterson, Fred Armisen, Zach Galifianakis, Jon Heder, Shondrella Avery, Maliaka Mitchell, Ally Dixon & Jared Hess

THE TEAM – Jared Hess (Director/Writer), Lynn Wang (Director) & Jerusha Hess (Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 93 Minutes


Fame can be a tough concept for young kids. It’s not always easy to grasp a somewhat existential idea about how known or successful a person is. Explaining that fame can have downsides is an even bigger challenge. Nevertheless, as kids grow up watching people just like them rocketing to fame out of nowhere on TikTok and YouTube, it’s an alluring lifestyle. Kids often only see the upside of influencers, vloggers, and streamers, rarely glimpsing how those people sacrifice parts of themselves to “make it.” It’s an important subject that “Thelma the Unicorn” helps kids wrap their minds around. 

Aaron Blabey, author of children’s books like “The Bad Guys,” took a simple but effective swing at this concept in his 2015 picture book, “Thelma the Unicorn,” and its sequel, “The Return of Thelma the Unicorn.” In the years since the book’s release, influencer culture has only ramped up. It’s the perfect time for a film adaptation of this work, with director Jared Hess (“Napoleon Dynamite”), fresh off an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Short Film, making his feature animation debut alongside co-director Lynn Wang. 

Thelma (Brittany Howard), I’m sorry to say, is not a unicorn. Instead, she’s a miniature horse working a tough, unrewarding job on a farm. She does the dirty work, like hauling manure, all the while getting laughed at by the showhorses. But outside of work, Thelma is the lead singer of a band with her friends, Otis (Will Forte) and Reggie (Jon Heder), called The Rusty Buckets. They aren’t the most attractive bunch, but their music is actually pretty great. They have high hopes for the upcoming Sparklepalooza Talent Show but are quickly dismissed based on their looks. One day, fate arrives in the form of a reckless truck driver who spills pink paint and glitter all over Thelma, causing onlookers to believe she’s a unicorn. Armed with a crooked carrot as a horn, she rolls along with it and skyrockets to fame as a pop star.

Howard’s casting as Thelma is a stroke of genius. It’s the first acting role for the Grammy-winning singer, but her unique voice lends so much character and authenticity to the role. Her unbelievable vocal ability elevates the soundtrack as well. Stellar original songs like “The Fire Inside” showcase Howard’s perfect blend of Americana and retro Soul. Forte also shines, playing a much more level-headed role than he normally does, but Otis helps to balance out Thelma as she begins to be seduced by fame.

Initially, Thelma starts to make the music she’s always dreamed of. Her journey to stardom seems like everything she could have wanted. Before long, nefarious talent agent Vic Diamond (Jemaine Clement) comes along to exploit Thelma for all she’s worth. At Vic’s urging, Thelma begins to change herself to fit a certain mold. She dates a lame YouTuber named Danny Stallion (Fred Armisen) and makes terrible, algorithmically-generated pop tunes. She loses all the things that made her special, including her friends.

This is a surprisingly effective cautionary tale. Sure, the story is simplistic, but as a palatable film about the dangers of losing yourself for fame, “Thelma the Unicorn” hits a home run. When adapting a short picture book for the screen, there’s naturally loads of expansion needed for the story, and “Thelma the Unicorn” is no different. Hess, who co-wrote the script with his wife Jerusha, brought his signature absurdist humor to the film. This won’t work for everyone, but they find poignant truths within this silly story.

“Thelma the Unicorn” is a fun glitter-bomb of a film. Though made for Netflix, the animation is reminiscent of Illumination’s big, clean, bright colors with bizarre-looking characters at every turn. Many of Hess’s previous films feel like live-action cartoons in some ways, so his transition into animation was fairly seamless. The touches of absurdity won’t be for everyone, but they balance out the valuable story at the film’s heart. It’s a sweet, entertaining story that could help kids have a slightly more well-rounded view of stardom.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - With some solid tunes and a charming, kid-friendly take on fame, “Thelma the Unicorn” is a silly little glitter-bomb the whole family will enjoy.

THE BAD - As with most films from Jared Hess, the fast-paced, absurdist humor won’t be for everyone. While appropriately aimed at young kids, the story is a bit simplistic and familiar.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - Best Animated Feature

THE FINAL SCORE - 6/10

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Daniel Howat
Daniel Howathttps://nextbestpicture.com
Movie and awards season obsessed. Hollywood Critics Association Member.

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>With some solid tunes and a charming, kid-friendly take on fame, “Thelma the Unicorn” is a silly little glitter-bomb the whole family will enjoy.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>As with most films from Jared Hess, the fast-paced, absurdist humor won’t be for everyone. While appropriately aimed at young kids, the story is a bit simplistic and familiar.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b><a href="/oscar-predictions-best-animated-feature/">Best Animated Feature</a><br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>6/10<br><br>"THELMA THE UNICORN"