Review by Dan Skip Allen
Sometimes there is that moment when you're watching a film and realize you have no idea what you're watching. Matt Kiel's Unicorn Boy, an animated movie premiering at the Slamdance Film Festival, has plenty of those moments. It's a story about himself and has a pretty good cast of relative newcomers, reality show stars, and established actors, but it's an oddball LGBT story that is a bit out there.
Matty (Mett Kiel) is a struggling artist in Los Angeles. In the bathroom at his local coffee shop, they unceremoniously get sucked into an alternate dimension where everybody is unicorns. They go on an adventure to save the land of Inhorning from the evil dark horse with some of the new friends they meet on the way. Their unicorn friends Prince Purpleton (Sarah Natochenny), King Uniturious (Patten Oswalt), and Queen Junipero (Maria Bamford), are the rulers of the land, and Peanut Butter Sparkle (Cindy Padoala).
Before they get sucked into the unicorn land, Matty has a world with friends such as Sethward, a reality show star, Mark, and Nancy. They go to the local coffee shop and have a normal life with each other. Matty is getting over a relationship that has taken a toll on them. They haven't handled it very well. Matty has a good support system even though they feel helpless in their pursuit. This is what spawns this magical world they imagine in their head. It's not an easy time!
Kiel writes and directs this film which is an analogy of their life in animated form. The film is based on his insecurities about who they are as a person. All the characters in unicorn land represent people in the real world. They create this world to figure out what's going on in their world. This is all in their head. It helps to deal with their life outside of the world. It even has dark and bright elements representing the good and bad in life.
The animation style is a bit amateurish but it is effective in getting the point across of the land. Many odd creatures and characters live and flourish in this magical land with plenty of crazy looks. There are a lot of rainbow colors, along with purples and pinks. They represent who Matty wants to be in real life without knowing it yet. There is also a series of phone calls that connect Matty with their ex-girlfriend, also animated.
This film truthfully tells the story of someone conflicted about their identity. This entire journey of self-discovery is all in their head and fully animated. This type of story is a little out of my wheelhouse, but it was pretty obvious from the animation style and story within it. A lot of people will be able to relate to this coming-out story.
We all have ways to get our frustrations out, and in the case of Matt Kiel, it was making a movie about their life. This magical world represents what's in their head, and the other characters are the real world. Though a little out of the ordinary, the animation effectively shows the two sides of this person's life.
Unicorn Boy is playing as part of the 2023 Slamdance Film Festival, which runs in-person in Park City, UT from January 20-26 and online from January 23-29.