A Unicorn for Christmas (2022)

By their nature, movies with titles like this always fall into one of three buckets: either they're inexplicably amazing, bad in an amazing way, or just borderline unwatchable. I went in hoping for that middle option, as those are the most fun, with "amazing" as a second choice. Unfortunately, neither was to be, so we were stuck watching just a godawful low-budget kids' flick.

The primary issue here isn't the story or dialogue, though neither is particularly good. Rather it's the pacing that makes this drag. Most of the time when I refer to pacing as an error I mean structural pacing: the length, arrangement, and layout of scenes. Typically, pacing complaints fall on the writer and editor. But Unicorn for Christmas doesn't even reach that point: the problem here is how each and every scene is directed and acted. Characters speak slowly, as if concerned the audience will be unable to follow along. Running this movie at 125% speed would honestly help.

Because this is essentially universal, I can only assume the director is to blame, rather than the cast. My guess is the actors were instructed to speak slowly so kids would be able to understand. Perhaps it helps some kids; perhaps not. I can only say I'll do everything in my power to ensure my child never sees this, because if I have to watch this on endless repeat, I'm liable to lose what's left of my mind.

Let's talk premise and plot, the latter of which shouldn't take much time.

The movie's protagonist is Izzy, a young girl forced to leave her home in the city and move to a small town in Georgia where her family has purchased a farm. Izzy is obsessed with unicorns, in particular an in-world franchise that seems vaguely based on My Little Pony. When she reaches the farm, she's put to work in the family's new petting zoo, located at the local Christmas fair.

While there, she finds a magic unicorn belonging to a woman named Carol, who... Look, it's Mrs. Claus. They don't come out and say it, but that's the implication. Anyway, only kids who believe can see the unicorn's horn: everyone else just thinks it's a pony. Carol agrees to let Izzy borrow the unicorn, Snowflake, for the petting zoo. They give pony rides, which become a huge attraction because of course kids want to ride a fucking unicorn. Eventually, the greedy owner of the fairgrounds catches on that there's something special about the pony and steals it.

Izzy decides he's behind the theft because she doesn't like him. Then she hears there's a unicorn on display at another fair 50 miles away. She convinces her skeptical brother to help her go, then they end up getting their father on board. They drive to the fair and steal back the unicorn, because I guess the police don't exist in this universe.

They bring the unicorn back then buy the fairground from the bad guy (please don't ask me to make this make sense), and suddenly most of the adults can see it. Snowflake is going to go away with Carol, then it snows on Christmas morning and they find Snowflake outside with a note from Carol saying it belongs with Izzy.

Izzy smiles and states she got a unicorn for Christmas. That's it. The movie ends. Thank God.

The movie's main visual effect is a glowing horn on top of Snowflake's head. It appears to be primarily accomplished through CG, with quality roughly on par with what you'd expect from an Instagram filter. Occasionally, they throw in some equally cheap rainbow or sparkle effects, including the unicorn sparkle-farting on the villain once.

To be fair, the context around the unicorn renders the quality of the effects less important. This isn't portrayed like some kind of legendary creature of myth, but rather as a real-life cartoon. That said, if it's supposed to be funny no one let the actors or director in on the joke, as the movie is largely treated as a drama.

The movie this wants to be, of course, is Prancer: the similarities in premises are pretty obvious. Frankly, it's otherwise difficult to explain why this is set at Christmas, aside from the fact streamers are eager to build libraries of holiday movies, quality be damned.

But Prancer gave us believable emotion and a protagonist dealing with actual trauma. Izzy is just a kid depressed about moving: that may be relatable, but it's hardly sufficient to hang a miracle on and have the whole thing resonate.

In addition to failing to make you feel anything, the movie also constantly fails to make you laugh. It's not through lack of trying: there's no shortage of jokes throughout, it's just they're all awful. All of them.

There are a couple themes in this, the first being a variant on the whole "believe" nonsense permeating Christmas kids media. To be fair, I didn't see any indication the subtext was that anyone should believe in what they're told (i.e.: blind faith). If anything, this actually skewed closer to the actual "Yes, Virginia" letter by endorsing belief in childhood fantasy rather than trusting authority. I don't think it counts as much of a positive, since the theme is delivered awkwardly, but it's certainly better than where these things usually take that idea.

The second theme is that families should work together, which is the sort of subversive, controversial idea guaranteed to make audiences regret their decision not to spend 90 minutes watching paint dry.

In the interest of ending this on a positive note, I'll dig into my notes and find something nice to say. The movie opens with stock footage of New York, but the editor wisely selected shots with towers and other structures resembling horns. That's sort of clever, I guess. Pity the movie peaked in those opening seconds.