Thelma the Unicorn Thelma the Unicorn

Netflix’s latest original animated feature – the musical comedy Thelma the Unicorn – launched yesterday on the platform.

The film marks the feature animation directorial debuts of both Napoleon Dynamite director Jared Hess and Unikitty showrunner Lynn Wang.

Thelma the Unicorn is based on the children’s book of the same name from Australian author Aaron Blabey, who also created The Bad Guys book series, which has recently been adapted to animation by Dreamworks.

Thelma the Unicorn follows a small-time pony whose dreams of becoming a music star are given an unexpected boost when she is transformed into a unicorn.

Mikros Animation produced the animation, with its Montreal studio as the lead shop. Hess wrote the film with his wife, Jerusha Hess. Some key creative credits on the film: Michael Lester (head of story), Trevor Dalmer (production designer), Paul J. Sullivan (art director), Denis Couchon (head of character animation), Guillaume Arantes (co-head of character animation), John Powell (music), and Edie Ichioka (editor). The film is produced by Pam Coats (Mulan, Scoob!), with Blabey and Patrick Hughes serving as executive producers.

Typically, at this point we’d jump into our review roundup, but it must be pointed out that there are hardly any reviews of the film. As of this writing, there are exactly 10 published on Rotten Tomatoes, which is an abnormally low number for a new production by the most prolific U.S. producer of animated features. As a result, for the first time we’ve included a review from a Youtuber, which truth be told, is more insightful than any of the written reviews.

Certainly, an argument could be made that we’ve reached peak movie reviewer. There are more film reviewers than ever before – thousands in fact on Rotten Tomatoes – yet most animated features simply don’t receive the critical attention they deserve. Recent releases like Mars Express and Chicken for Linda! have been largely ignored by U.S. critical mainstream with only a dozen or two reviewers bothering to check out each film. The system is broken, and it no longer serves any purposeful role for either audiences or the distributors of films.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand: Thelma the Unicorn. The handful of critics who saw the film seem to be in agreement that it’s a case of what you see is what you get. It delivers fun for kids coupled with a positive message, and does it well enough. It currently has a 70% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Next Best Picture’s Daniel Howat delivered a positive take on the film and compares the animation style to Illumination, which is not a bad thing if you’re aiming to make a commercially successful product:

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 [Jared] 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.

Barry Levitt of the Daily Beast has a less effusive take on the film, pointing out the inconsistency of visuals:

For the adults, there’s enough here to enjoy, but cracks start to show when you look beyond the surface. The animation is largely pleasant. The animal characters look great, and Thelma’s intricately textured hair is beautifully designed. But the backgrounds are flat and lack dimension, the larger crowd work is unimpressive, and the human characters are varying degrees of off-putting. Some of this is clearly by design, some of it not.

Thelma getting thrown into the world of pop stardom leads to an exploration of the price of fame, and while there are some quality jokes about how hard it is to maintain authenticity, it’s all frustratingly—if unsurprisingly—surface-level. Thankfully, the film is often funny, and it’s best when leaning into the absurdity that fuels Hess and Wang’s other work. There’s a particularly strong running gag featuring an obsessed fan, and a shockingly dark joke about an urn stands out.

Frank Scheck in The Hollywood Reporter gives a generally favorable impression, but criticizes the third act:

As with so many animated films, Thelma the Unicorn becomes overly busy in its final act, sacrificing some of its sly wit to cluttered visual freneticism apparently designed to rouse small fry who might be succumbing to a sugar crash. But for most of its running time, it’s a small-scale delight that balances quirky humor and heartfelt emotion to excellent effect.

Adrian Horton in The Guardian thought the film was a cut above the usual standard for this type of film:

Thelma the Unicorn, a new Netflix animated family movie, has plenty of successful tricks aimed at kids: glitter and cotton-candy pink, a pile of manure jokes, a mini-album of catchy original songs, an endearing hero in its titular singing pony-turned-unicorn. But perhaps its greatest asset is its parable of fame, easy enough for young minds reared on phones to grasp, but winking to those who understand a matching-double-denim-outfits on the red carpet reference.

[…]

Which is enough for a movie of this ilk: a worthy lead character, some catchy enough song and dance, enough self-awareness to appeal to those not distracted by the unicorn of it all. In a sea of family content that’s more often than not annoying, Thelma the Unicorn surfs, for the most part, above the crowd.

And then there’s this review from Youtuber DazzReviews. He goes into far more detail than any of the print reviewers, and at times it feels like he’s reviewing a completely different film from the other reviewers, but I also came away with a much better idea of the film’s tone and texture than reading any of the print reviews:

Amid Amidi

Amid Amidi is Cartoon Brew's Publisher and Editor-at-large.