Thelma the Unicorn REVIEW – Not Particularly Unique

There's a better movie somewhere within there.

Thelma the Unicorn
Thelma the Unicorn

Set in a world where anthropomorphic animals and humans co-exist, Thelma the Unicorn follows a donkey named Thelma (Brittany Howard) who dreams of becoming a star. Unfortunately, nobody gives her the time of day because she’s just an ordinary donkey. However, one day, a series of events ends with Thelma looking like a unicorn. Thelma realizes this could finally be her chance to shine, but her best friend Otis (Will Forte) worries about her and her unicorn disguise.

The narrative of an ordinary nobody being disillusioned by the glitz and glamour of popularity is hardly anything new, especially for kids’ movies. Throughout Thelma the Unicorn, you can’t help but be reminded of films like Alvin and the Chipmunks, Camp Rock, Jem and the Holograms, and Hannah Montana: The Movie, especially since the movie doesn’t do anything new with its overdone “be-yourself” message at all.

If anything, this message feels shallow considering how bland and by-the-numbers the movie is. It also doesn’t help that the film’s soundtrack isn’t good either, despite the numerous claims from characters that Thelma is “singing her truth” through her music. Not a single song manages to be anything but forgettable, despite Howard’s great singing performances.
For the most part, Thelma the Unicorn’s humor falls flat, too. There are a few jokes that work, but the majority seem to just be the characters acting as hyper and obnoxious as possible. Some jokes feel straight out of an Illumination film, like Despicable Me, Minions, or Sing.

It’s made even worse by how Illumination’s Sing also focused heavily on pop stardom and took place in a world of anthropomorphic animals, with the only difference being that Thelma’s world has humans in it as well.

The film also feels dated with its satire. It makes fun of how pop stars care more about image and fashion than they do about singing personal songs. I don’t necessarily agree with this commentary, but even so, pop stars like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry aren’t extremely relevant anymore. The music stars of this decade like Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish, and Olivia Rodrigo became popular because of their relatability, so Thelma the Unicorn’s satire feels trite and irrelevant and only emphasizes how hackneyed the film is.

Luckily, Thelma the Unicorn isn’t devoid of warmth and heart. Thelma’s friendship with her bandmates Otis and Reggie (Jon Heder) is well-done, and the three do genuinely seem like friends. The best parts of the film are when Thelma interacts with either one of them, and it’s a bummer that there aren’t a lot of these scenes, as the three share a clear sense of fondness and history with each other.

It’s also refreshing how fast-paced Thelma the Unicorn is, given that it’s an adaptation of a picture book series. Most picture book film adaptations struggle with how to stretch the narrative of their incredibly short source material to fit the length of a feature film, often resulting in a movie that’s slow and meandering. Thelma the Unicorn, however, manages to avoid feeling stretched out while still remaining faithful enough to its source material.

Unfortunately, these positive aspects aren’t enough to keep Thelma the Unicorn from being such an unmemorable film. Had the songs been better, this could’ve at least been recommendable for Brittany Howard fans, but as it stands, Thelma the Unicorn feels mostly like filler for Netflix’s animation library. It’s hard to imagine most people remembering this film not long after they watched it.

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Thelma the Unicorn
Despite the film encouraging you to be who you are, Thelma the Unicorn doesn't have much of its own identity, instead going for story beats and jokes we've seen a dozen times before.