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‘Thelma the Unicorn’ Review: Unexceptional Netflix Animated Feature

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Nearer in tone to the sharp grownup collection “BoJack Horseman” than to Illumination’s bland “Sing” franchise, Netflix’s “Thelma the Unicorn” avoids being rendered utterly unoriginal by its overly acquainted premise due to constant splashes of acid humor and a plethora of wacky supporting characters. Reimagined from the favored 2015 youngsters’s guide by Aaron Blabey, this bright-colored fable issues a feminine pony chasing musical stardom disguised as a horned magical creature. However by altering her identification to chase these ambitions, Thelma betrays herself and people who actually know her.

The variation marks the animated function debut for co-directors Jared Hess and Lynn Wang. Hess, nonetheless greatest recognized for co-writing and directing the 2004 indie hit “Napoleon Dynamite,” acquired an Oscar nomination earlier this 12 months for the handcrafted animated brief “Ninety-Five Senses” a couple of Dying Row inmate. He shared the accolade together with his spouse and careerlong collaborator Jerusha Hess (additionally his co-writer on “Thelma”). That honored work is a far cry from this universe the place people coexist with speaking animals.

Former Alabama Shakes frontwoman Brittany Howard voices the conflicted singing heroine. There’s an interesting dissonance between the look of the stubby pony and the performer’s potent pipes, which appear higher fitted to soulful rock tunes than vapid pop. Howard’s privileged voice will get the purpose throughout that no matter Thelma’s bodily look, it’s her expertise that ought to earn her the viewers’s consideration.

Apparently, one key departure from the supply materials is Thelma’s design, which seemingly took its cues from Howard’s hair and persona. Although it seems animals on this world usually are not subservient to people, Thelma nonetheless labors at a farm alongside her loyal donkey mates and bandmates Otis (Will Forte) and Reggie (“Napoleon Dynamite” star Jon Heder).

The trio have a band, the Rusty Buckets, that has did not qualify for a serious music pageant. Their luck may change, nonetheless, when Thelma turns into a sensation in a single day. As quickly as she serendipitously transforms right into a glittery pink faux unicorn with a carrot for a horn, one can instantly infer that the climax will revolve round her secret being disclosed. A viral video (animals have cell telephones right here, although they stroll on all fours and haven’t any approach to retailer them) convinces Vic Diamond (Jemaine Clement), an unscrupulous supervisor who resembles a personality straight from the Nineteen Seventies — suppose Swan in “Phantom of the Paradise” — to pursue Thelma and rework her into his subsequent worthwhile success.

When in leans into its need to be a cynical parody of the music business, à la “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping,” that’s when “Thelma the Unicorn” briefly feels biting in a comical method. Scenes involving Nikki Narwhal (Ally Dixon), an aquatic pop diva jealous of Thelma’s impending breakout, and Vic touch upon the perils of the enterprise: At one level, Vic reads Nikki a vicious assessment of her Las Vegas present, and later he absurdly pilots a ship on the Los Angeles River. As soon as Thelma indicators with Vic, she will get the outdated Hollywood therapy by getting into right into a fabricated romance with a well-known horse, and there’s even a jab at synthetic intelligence when a pc immediately writes an idiotic hit single about cud.

From a visible standpoint, “Thelma the Unicorn” appears to be like practically indistinguishable from different nondescript computer-animated tasks. A lot of the human characters learn as in the event that they might be plucked from or plugged right into a “Despicable Me” film with out anybody noticing. Likewise, the animals may stroll on stage in “Sing” as in the event that they’d all the time belonged there. On a granular degree, variations might exist between these, however to the bare eye, what’s noticeable is the uninspired homogeneity in design, texture and lighting.

Nonetheless, the Hess duo interject weird humor into their screenplay through background characters by giving us a glimpse into their internal lives. Be careful for a brief, middle-aged man obsessive about Thelma to the purpose he needs to be her son, most likely a dig on the Bronie subculture of grownup males who adore “My Little Pony.” Or maybe chuckle on the gallows humor of a lady asking Thelma’s “boyfriend” to signal the urn containing her grandmother’s ashes. The gathering of those tangential moments (of which there are lots) ring extra memorable than the core narrative and its apparent message. Though not as offbeat as final 12 months’s “Leo,” Hess and Wang’s effort has sufficient gutsy prospers to redeem it.

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