Charlie the Unicorn
|Charlie the Unicorn|
|Directed by||Jason Steele|
|Produced by||Jason Steele|
|Written by||Jason Steele|
|Music by||Jason Steele|
|Edited by||Jason Steele|
|November 26, 2005
April 30, 2006
January 10, 2008
"Charlie the Unicorn" is a 2005 Flash animated comedy short film and viral video created by Jason Steele of independent film company FilmCow in Tyler, Texas. The short follows Charlie, a lethargic unicorn, who is taken by two other unicorns on an adventure to the mythical "Candy Mountain." However, as it turns out, the journey is a farce, and Charlie gets hoodwinked by the other two unicorns.
The short was created by Jason Steele of production company FilmCow. Steele originally created the video as a flash animation test for his mother; the video was partially credited to her and was released by her under the username "TypeQueen" on Newgrounds, where it rapidly gained popularity. The video was later uploaded onto YouTube by user Geoff Swanson, where it rapidly gained viewership and continued to increase in popularity.
The video was a viral hit, accumulating 50 million views and gaining worldwide praise. A merchandising line was later produced, as well as three sequels and a parody series titled "charlie teh unicron". The first three shorts in the series were released to DVD in 2009 as part of The FilmCow Master Collection.
In a quiet meadow, Charlie, a unicorn, is resting, before he is awakened by two other unicorns. As Charlie awakes from his slumber, the other two unicorns inform him that they have found a map to the mythical "Candy Mountain," and that he must come with them on their journey. Charlie initially refuses, and goes back to sleep. The blue unicorn begins to jump on Charlie, insistent that he should come, and both begin to pester him with details of the mountain, causing him to begrudgingly give in to their demands. The trio begin their journey in a forest, where the two lead Charlie to a Liopleurodon; the two unicorns converse with the Liopleuridon, who supposedly guides them on their quest with a simple roar. The trio then crosses a bridge, much to the delight of the pink and blue unicorns, who repeatedly tell him that they are on a bridge.
When the trio arrive at Candy Mountain, the letter "Y" of CANDY sign comes to life and sings a song, imploring Charlie to go into the cave. When the letters explode, Charlie reluctantly goes into the cave. The other unicorns say goodbye as Charlie is locked inside and knocked out. When he awakens in his original spot, he realizes that they have taken one of his kidneys. The video then immediately ends with the credits.
- Jason Steele plays Charlie the Unicorn, a grouchy lethargic unicorn who is badgered by his two unicorn companions to travel with them to the mythical Candy Mountain. He also speaks with a North Eastern American accent. He acts cynical throughout the trip and fails to believe that such a place could exist. After the group arrive at the mountain, much to Charlie's surprise, he is badgered via musical number by the two unicorns as well as the Candy Mountain marquee letters to enter the Candy Mountain Candy Cave. After giving in to their demands, he enters the cave, where he is knocked unconscious and has his kidney stolen.
- Steele also plays two unnamed, gender-ambiguous blue and pink unicorns who convince Charlie to travel with them to the mythical Candy Mountain. Throughout the video, the two constantly lead him into several nonsensical situations, including receiving directions from a "magical" Liopleurodon and crossing a "magical bridge of hope and wonder". By the end of the video, the trio reach Candy Mountain, where the two and the Candy Mountain marquee letters convince Charlie to enter the mountain cave; after entering the cave, the two unicorns knock Charlie unconscious and rob him of his kidney, much to his dismay. Creator Jason Steele has revealed very little about the two in the following Charlie the Unicorn videos for humorous value, most notably their genders and names; he claims to believe that his characters are "somewhat creepy" and "more interesting" when a small amount of information is revealed about them.
- In his first musical role in the Charlie the Unicorn series, Steele performs the singing voice of the Letter "Y", an anthropomorphic letter who resides alongside letters "C", "A", "N", and "D" on the Candy Mountain marquee. He performs the musical number "The Candy Mountain Cave"; the singer of the song was originally to be filled by the two unicorns; however, Steele was unable to use their voices to sing at a rapid pace, and resorted to using the Letter "Y" instead.
- An unspeaking Liopleurodon (// in the video as opposed to //) character billed as the Magical Liopleurodon was also featured in the video. The character communicates in his species' natural call, and is called upon by the blue and pink unicorns to guide them to Candy Mountain.
Independent animator Jason Steele initially conceived Charlie the Unicorn in 2005 as a flash animation test for his mother, who enjoyed unicorn-related conversation. The video's plotline was initially conceived when Steele was running around his house, chanting "La la la!" repeatedly; he quickly envisioned the majority of the plotline shortly thereafter; according to Steele, the video's conception happened "all at once; there was no editing." The video is primarily structured around surrealist humor and dark humor; Steele claims that the former was inspired by musician Logan Whitehurst, who frequently communicated with Steele via e-mail and composed the opening sequence for his early film Secret Agent Bob (2003); he describes the latter as "contrast[ing] to how bright and cheerful" the video's atmosphere is. Steele proceeded to produce other internet hits, such as Llamas With Hats, which started as a term project while he was at RISD; he received a C on the project.
Steele drew Charlie the Unicorn using Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Flash; it was animated in After Effects and edited in Final Cut Pro. The audio was recorded using Amadeus Pro, and the music was recorded with Logic Pro. The video also contains a musical number titled "The Candy Mountain Cave", featured during the sequence where Charlie refuses to enter the Candy Mountain Candy Cave and soon becomes the victim of a musical number hosted primarily by the mountain's marquee letter "Y", who is backed by his partners "C", "A", "N", and "D"; although the blue and pink unicorns were originally chosen to sing the song, Steele was unable to use their voices to sing at a rapid pace, and resorted to using the Letter "Y" instead.
Charlie the Unicorn has become increasingly popular since its inception. Following its posting on Newgrounds in 2005, Geoff Swanson of YouTube posted a copy of the video on the website in 2006, where it rapidly gained popularity. It reached a total of approximately 8 million views internetwide in 2007. The video climbed to forty-six million views in March 2010.
Online magazine Salon described the video as "The unlikely adventure of a crotchety unicorn" and stated "We often feel like Charlie the Unicorn. Annoying, brightly colored colleagues poke at us with their curly horns as we snooze at our desk, promising far-off, sugar-coated delights. Do we muster the energy to follow them, hoping some sweet payoff will break the unbearable bleakness of our daily existence? Can they be trusted?" The series has also attracted a number of celebrities, including English television presenter Alex Zane, who has openly considered himself a fan of Charlie the Unicorn, and entertainers Kevin Pereira and Olivia Munn. Brian Hamlin of The Hollywood Reporter considered the video to be "incredibly dumb and annoying" yet "really funny and weird too full of unicorn joyness and music." In 2009, Time named Charlie the Unicorn number 49 in their list of "YouTube's 50 Best Videos", stating "Charlie the Unicorn proves that something doesn't have to make any sense at all to earn a cultlike following."
The cast of Charlie the Unicorn also appeared on May 23, 2008, in the music video for Weezer's single "Pork and Beans". The music video was directed by Mathew Cullen of the video production company Motion Theory and features many internet phenomena, including Charlie and the blue and pink unicorns. The character of Charlie first appears in a sequence parodying the G.I. Joe public service announcements starring animated versions of the band as children, where the character Gung-Ho of the G.I. Joe franchise appears as their mentor and notably has a tattoo of Charlie on his chest. All three unicorns appear at the end alongside the band and various other phenomena. On November 22, 2008, as a feature of the YouTube Live streamed event, the cast of Charlie the Unicorn were featured in a short film directed by creator Jason Steele featuring YouTube Live colliding with real life, causing several various memes to come to life, namely Rick Astley making a comeback and the world's weather conditions being altered in favor of raining chocolate. The short sequence was promoted with a forty-three-second video depicting Charlie and the two unicorns attempting to defuse a bomb before being attacked by a large group of seagulls; the short had no connection whatsoever to the video it was promoting other than advertising purposes.
Merchandising lines produced by a partnership consisting of FilmCow and retailer CafePress as well as Hot Topic have been launched in response to the video's popularity; the merchandise features various quotes from the video and generally features the blue and pink unicorns, although Charlie appears occasionally, and is sold in several forms including t-shirts, pins, coffee mugs, and bandannas. On March 1, 2009, creator Jason Steele released a video to accompany Hot Topic's Charlie the Unicorn merchandising line titled Charlie the Unicorn and the Tomb of Horrors; the video follows Charlie and the two unicorns scaling an ancient chamber inhabited by "The Weasel," a shamanist weasel who has attempted to call upon forces of evil that laid waste to the world ten thousand years prior.
As mentioned above, three sequels have been made: "Charlie the Unicorn 2", "Charlie the Unicorn 3", and "Charlie the Unicorn 4", released in 2008, 2009, and 2012, respectively. "Charlie the Unicorn Hot Topic", "Charlie the Unicorn Live YouTube", "Charlie the Unicorn Live YouTube 2", and "Charlie the Unicorn at Playlist Live" were also released.
Spin-Offs and Parodies
Steele also produced a parody series, titled "Charlie teh Unicron". "Charlie teh Unicron" is based around what would happen if ordinary YouTubers typed in "Charlie the Unicorn". Another parody, "Charlie the Yannicorn" was made in 2013. That same year, during the Detective Heart of America: The Final Freedom Kickstarter, another parody "Charlie the Unitective Heart of America" was released, featuring Heart of America as Charlie. Although not released on FilmCow's main channel, it can be found on a playlist. 
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