‘Thelma The Unicorn’ Review – Brittney Howard’s Vocals Shine Through The Animated Netflix Film

The latest Netflix animated feature, Thelma the Unicorn, is now streaming, but should you give it a watch?

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Thelma The Unicorn

THELMA THE UNICORN. Thelma (voice by Brittany Howard) in Thelma The Unicorn. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2024.

From the creative minds behind the cult comedy classic Napoleon Dynamite and Cartoon Network’s Unikitty!, Thelma the Unicorn brings together husband and wife team Jared & Jerusha Hess with veteran animator Lynn Wang to adapt the popular children’s books from New York Times Bestselling author Aaron Blabey. Jared Hess co-directed the film alongside Wang on a screenplay co-written by Jared & Jerusha Hess.

Animated by the prolific team at Mikros Animation (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, PAW Patrol films), the film follows Thelma, a small-time pony living on a farm with her “Rusty Buckets” donkey bandmates Otis & Reggie, who dreams of becoming a glamorous music star. After a decade of creating & performing music, she starts to believe her dreams may never come true as people only see her as an ordinary farm pony who doesn’t fit the image and “it” factor required to make it in the industry.

In a pink and glitter-filled moment of fate, Thelma is transformed from an ordinary pony to a flashy, singular unicorn with an instant audience begging for her attention. When a video of her singing goes viral, she becomes an instant sensation rising to global stardom. Thelma’s new found fame brings her musical talents in front of more people than she could ever imagine, but she quickly gets overwhelmed with the trappings of the music industry and compromising herself inside and out.

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Featuring a cast of characters ranging from a sleaze-bag manager stuck in 1960’s Swinging London to an internet famous horse known for his gross-out “chewing cud” videos, the film has a very unique style brought to life by an impressive list of talented comedic actors and one incredible singer making her acting debut. Cast standouts include: SNL’s Will Forte as Otis, Napoleon Dynamite’s Jon Heder as Reggie, Moana’s Jemaine Clement as Vic Diamond, The Hangover star Zach Galifianakis as the crusty trucker/underground clog dancing champion, & Portlandia’s Fred Armisen as Danny Stallion with Alabama Shakes lead singer & Grammy-winning solo artist Brittany Howard taking on the voice & singing for Thelma herself.

As a parent of young kids myself with Alabama Shakes & Flight of the Conchords records in my collection and a Nacho Libre luchador mask still around the house that I may put on from time to time, I couldn’t be more in the demographic of this movie outside of my young kids themselves.

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However, here’s the tough thing to say about the film: It’s fine. Thelma the Unicorn feels exactly as you might think a film adapted from 2 preschool age picture books would feel; a little thin, a little basic, a bit of a stretch, and filled with so many other topics & characters that you would barely recognize the source material in which it’s derived.

But it also feels like a movie written by quirky veteran comedy writers who filled most every role with a signature comedic voice that could get a lot of mileage from their presence in the film. Jemaine Clement doing his best Robin Leach impression as he pops off the screen as a leech of a different sort in Vic Diamond; Fred Armisen taking on the dual personalities & singing abilities of a gross-out internet star horse; The Pool Boys making me laugh every time they’re on screen as “they can’t stop dancing or they’ll die”; a fan having Thelma sign legal adoption papers to become his mother. The sight gags & random oddities make the movie stand out even when the A Plot seems more retread & plodding.

Brittney Howard, as the singing portion of Thelma, is an inspired choice that works very well as she can range from barnyard garage band to pop singer with great ease. Her natural rasp and well-defined soulful expression make the more emotional songs standout, even if the film doesn’t always set them up for greatness. On a personal note, while possibly unintentional, the act 1 songs with “The Rusty Buckets” sound the closest we might get to new Alabama Shakes material, so I will ride with it for now.

As for the rest of the characters’ songs, the results are far more middling at best. Clunkers like Vic Diamond’s “3 C’s For Success” really took me out after a largely effective first act. The side character pop tracks “Blubber Trouble” & “Here Comes The Cud” made some sense for the characters, but are more cringe than funny in their execution. But, yes, as you may expect, there is a Pool Boys song, and of course, it works because everything Pool Boys seems to work in this movie.

Overall, Thelma the Unicorn may be a far cry from the books your child read in preschool, but the messaging still remains – Be yourself and be loyal to the people who stand by you no matter what. That message, Brittney Howard’s signature vocals, a deep cast of comedy veterans, and the quirky writing of Jared & Jerusha Hess make this film worth your family’s time. While it does have a couple messy songs, a familiar & thin plotline, and an outdated sense of selling out, the film’s talent outweighs its failings just enough to make the cut for family movie night.


Watch Thelma The Unicorn If You Like

  • Sing
  • The Bad Guys
  • Unikitty!
  • Napoleon Dynamite
  • Nacho Libre

MVP of Thelma the Unicorn

Brittany Howard’s Singing

From her breakout with her band Alabama Shakes to her Grammy winning solo efforts, Brittany Howard has always been a thunderous voice to be reckoned with.
Now, with her role as Thelma in Thelma the Unicorn, Howard shows us once again that she can be a welcomed addition to any musical situation. Drawing from everything from her connection to the character of Thelma to her experience with her own pony growing up, Howard seems to be a perfect fit for the job.

3/5OK
★★★☆☆

Enough appeal for children & parents alike. Brittney Howard’s vocals shine through and the Hess’ unique form of humor & character elevates the more pedestrian plot.

Written by

Andrew Morgan is a film critic & podcaster with 20 years of experience on the sets & offices of film & television. Current podcast host of the entertainment review show, Recent Activity. He lives in the Northeast of the United States.

 Poster Rating: PG
Language: English
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy
Director: Jared Hess, Lynn Wang
Cast: N/A
Added to Netflix: May 17th, 2024


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