Thelma the Unicorn (dir. Jared Hess)

By: Adam Freed

Netflix unveils the first of what is sure to be a magical summer slate of family content with the surprise surefire hit Thelma the Unicorn.  The musically rich and thematically significant adaptation of Aaron Blabey’s best selling children’s book offers forth the artistically impressive and musically propulsive cautionary tale of a young pony desperately seeking extrinsic approval.  Director Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite, Nacho Libre) unleashes a devastatingly accurate and socially resonant warning to parents about the dangers of social media and the blind pursuit of childhood popularity.  Sure to engage families in productive post viewing conversation, this tale of a sparkly pink unicorn is, like its namesake, more than meets the eye.   

Thelma the Unicorn is the story of the titular common farm pony blessed with the gifts of song and friendship but burdened by the belief that her physical appearance stands in the way of her musical discovery.   Thelma’s talents as a singer are never in question yet, like so many young people, she allows the weight of her lingering self doubt to become her burden.  Clearly Jared Hess sets his crosshairs on the all too painful contemporary social media driven conundrum of style over substance.  Thelma (voiced delightfully by Brittany Howard) explores the lengths to which individuals will go to sacrifice their personal authenticity for likes and follows.  

What sets Thelma the Unicorn apart from genre competitors is a delightfully selected soundtrack which propels the film to an enjoyably paced first hour.  Sadly though with each early musical montage,  Thelma drifts further and further from those with whom she has the most deeply rooted connections.  This thinning of her core values in favor of a surface level of celebrity can only last so long until the single horned pop sensation experiences the ultimate crisis of confidence.  Imposter syndrome and the zero sum game of celebrity culture are artfully presented to the film’s elementary target demographic.  While Thelma cannot resist the intoxicating first taste of notoriety, its acidic effect seeks to dissolve the deepest rooted relationships in her life.  Best friends and bandmates Otis and Reggie, voiced by Will Forte (MacGruber) and Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite) respectively, play the role of friends cast asunder in the wake of Thelma’s meteoric rise to stardom.  Bereft of many of the common trappings of animated mediocrity, Thelma the Unicorn is an enjoyable film that is sure to promote the all too allusive gift of self acceptance in the wake of its viewing. 

Target Score: 7.5/10  Paced as if shot from a musical canon, Thelma the Unicorn is a sharply written and thematically keen animated joy. Offering enough substance to balance its considerable style, Netflix has found its first animated hit of the summer.