Charlie the Unicorn

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Charlie the Unicorn
Directed byJason Steele
Produced byJason Steele
Written byJason Steele
StarringJason Steele
Music byJason Steele
Edited byJason Steele
Production
company
FilmCow
Distributed byFilmCow
Release date
November 26, 2005 (2005-11-26)
(Newgrounds)
January 2006 (2006-01)
(FilmCow)
April 30, 2006 (2006-04-30)
(YouTube; original)[1]
January 10, 2008 (2008-01-10)
(YouTube; official)[2]
Running time
4 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish

Charlie the Unicorn is a 2005 Flash animated comedy short film and viral video created by Jason Steele of independent film company FilmCow in Orlando, Florida. The short follows Charlie, a lethargic and pessimistic unicorn, who is taken by Lolz and Roffle, two blue and pink unicorns, on an adventure to the magical Candy Mountain. However, the journey turns out to be a farce, and Charlie has his kidney stolen by the other two unicorns.

Steele originally created the video as a birthday present for his mother; the video was partially credited to her and was released by her under the username "TypeQueen" on Newgrounds, where it rapidly increased in popularity. The video was later uploaded onto YouTube by Geoff Swanson, where it gained large viewership and continued to increase in popularity, leading to a series of sequels and spinoffs. A merchandising line was later produced, as well as three sequels and a parody series titled Charlie teh Unicron. The first three episodes in the series were released to DVD in 2009 as part of The FilmCow Master Collection.

Plot[edit]

In a quiet meadow, Charlie, a unicorn, is resting, before he is awakened by two other blue and pink unicorns, Lolz and Roffle. As Charlie awakes from his slumber, the two inform him that they have found a map to the magical Candy Mountain, and that he must come with them on their journey. Charlie initially refuses and goes back to sleep. Roffle 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 Lolz and Roffle lead Charlie to a Magical Liopleurodon, who supposedly tells them the way with unintelligible gurgles. The trio then cross a bridge, while Lolz badgers Charlie by repeating his name and reminding him they are on a bridge. When the trio arrives at Candy Mountain, the letters of the CANDY sign come to life and the "Y" sings a song (sung to the tune of the Clarinet Polka) imploring Charlie to go into the Candy Cave. After the letters explode, Charlie reluctantly goes into the cave, and Lolz and Roffle say goodbye as Charlie is trapped inside and knocked out by an unknown assailant. When Charlie awakens in the meadow, he realizes that they have taken one of his kidneys, much to his dismay.

Characters[edit]

  • Jason Steele plays Charlie the Unicorn, a grouchy lethargic unicorn who is badgered by his two unicorn companions to travel with them to Candy Mountain.[3] He acts cynical throughout the trip and fails to believe that such a place could be real,[4] but to his surprise, Candy Mountain turns out to actually exist.[3]
  • Steele also plays Lolz and Roffle, two blue and pink unicorns who annoy Charlie and convince him to travel with them to Candy Mountain.[4][5][3] Steele has revealed very little about the two in the Charlie the Unicorn videos for humorous value, most notably their genders and, until March 2016[6] (via an upload of the original script on his website),[7] their names.[8] He believes that his characters are "somewhat scary"[9] and "more interesting"[10] when little is revealed about them.
  • In his first musical role in the Charlie the Unicorn series, Steele performs the singing voice of the Letter "Y",[8] an anthropomorphic letter who resides alongside letters "C", "A", "N", and "D" on the Candy Mountain marquee sign. He performs the musical number "The Candy Mountain Cave".
  • The Magical Liopleurodon is a Liopleurodon character briefly featured in the video.[5][11] The character communicates in his species' natural call, and supposedly guides the unicorns to Candy Mountain.[12] According to Steele, Charlie the Unicorn was the first time many viewers heard about Liopluerodons, and following the video's rise in popularity, many would incorrectly pronounce the species' name as /ˌləˈplʊərədɒn/ as it is pronounced in the video, rather than the correct pronunciation, /ˌlˈplʊərədɒn/.[8]

Production[edit]

Independent animator Jason Steele of FilmCow conceived Charlie the Unicorn in 2005 as a gift for his mother's birthday, as she enjoyed unicorn-related conversation.[8] Steele had lost his job and most of his possessions in the wake of Hurricane Katrina hitting New Orleans. When he moved to Orlando, Steele claims he "was completely out of money, but still wanted to get [his mother] something" for her upcoming birthday. According to Steele: "Knowing this, she said that instead of a gift I could make a cartoon for her about unicorns. So I made 'Charlie the Unicorn'. More than ten years later she still brings up the fact that her birthday present launched my career."[13]

Steele imagined the first aspects of video's plotline when he was running around his house chanting "La la la!" repeatedly, then quickly envisioned the rest of the plotline shortly thereafter. According to Steele, the video's conception happened "all at once; there was no editing."[8] The video is primarily structured around surrealist humor[12] and dark humor. Steele claims that the dark humor was inspired by musician Logan Whitehurst, of whom Steele was a fan and who composed the theme song for Steele's 2003 computer-animated short film Secret Agent Bob.[14] Steele also describes the surreal humor as "contrast[ing] to how bright and cheerful" the video's atmosphere is.[15]

Steele drew Charlie the Unicorn using Adobe Photoshop, animated it in Adobe Flash, and edited it in Final Cut Pro.[16] The audio was recorded using Amadeus II, and the music was recorded with GarageBand.[16] 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, sung by the mountain's marquee letter "Y". Although Lolz and Roffle were originally intended to sing the song, Steele found it difficult to sing in their voices at a rapid pace, and resorted to using the Letter "Y" instead.[8]

Reception[edit]

"Charlie the Unicorn proves that something doesn't have to make any sense at all to earn a cultlike following. The animated adventure centers on a group of unicorns venturing to Candy Mountain — 'the land of sweets and joy, and joyness' — through the guide of a liopleurodon. Created by animator Jason Steele, the pilot episode gained 46 million views, sparking a series of follow-up adventures."

Dan Fletcher, Time magazine[12]

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.[8][17] It reached a total of approximately 8 million views Internetwide in 2007.[18] The video had climbed to 46 million views by March 2010.[12][19] It currently has 68 million views on Geoff Swanson's YouTube upload, and 37 million views on FilmCow's official YouTube upload.

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?"[20] The series has also attracted a number of celebrities, including British television personality Alex Zane,[3] and American entertainers Kevin Pereira and Olivia Munn.[21] 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."[22] In 2010, Dan Fletcher of Time magazine 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."[12]

Sequels, spinoffs, and parodies[edit]

Five sequels have been released: Charlie the Unicorn 2 (2008), Charlie the Unicorn 3 (2009), Charlie the Unicorn 4 (2012), Charlie the Unicorn: The Grand Finale (Part One) (2019), and Charlie the Unicorn: The Grand Finale (Part Two) (2020), each of which continue the theme of Charlie going on adventures with Lolz and Roffle and getting hoodwinked in the end. On February 23, 2016, FilmCow released a video titled "Charlie the Unicorn: The Grand Finale Kickstarter" in which it was announced that there was a thirty-minute finale planned; the Kickstarter raised $209,247 in funds. Steele released the first part of The Grand Finale on YouTube on October 10, 2019, expecting to follow it up with five more parts. The second part was released on June 15, 2020.

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.[23] 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.[24] The video "Charlie the Unicorn at Playlist Live" was released on March 28, 2013 to promote the Playlist Live conference; the video involved the three unicorns meeting YouTube celebrities at Playlist Live.

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.[25]

Steele also produced a four-short parody series titled Charlie teh Unicron. Steele says it is based around "what the Charlie the Unicorn series would be like if it was written by random internet people."[26] Another parody, Charlie the Yannicorn was made in 2013.[27] 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.[28]

Multiple livestreams featuring Charlie communicating with viewers were conducted on the FilmCow YouTube channel, as part of a promotion for the series' Grand Finale Kickstarter in 2016. However, only "Charlie the Unicorn's LIVE Oscars Spectacular!" — a stream which ran at the same time as the 88th Academy Awards — has been made publicly available (though unlisted) since the original streams were conducted.[29]

Merchandise[edit]

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's characters, and is sold in several forms including t-shirts, pins, coffee mugs, and bandannas.[30][31]

A game titled Charlie the Unicorn Dating Simulator and a storybook titled Charlie the Unicorn: Lost in Dreamspace were released by Steele in 2016. According to Steele, the storybook is "an illustrated side-adventure that takes place a little while after the end of Charlie the Unicorn 2."[32]

In other media[edit]

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[33] and features many Internet phenomena, including Charlie, Lolz, and Roffle.[34][35][36] 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 has a tattoo of Charlie on his chest.[34] All three unicorns appear at the end alongside the band and various other Internet memes.[34]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Charlie The Unicorn. 30 April 2006 – via YouTube.
  2. ^ Charlie the Unicorn. 10 January 2008 – via YouTube.
  3. ^ a b c d Potton, Ed (2009-04-18). "Alex Zane on his favourite things". The Sunday Times. News International. Retrieved 2010-08-27.
  4. ^ a b Batanchiev, Tula (2008-10-19). "Editor's Column: I'm a believer". The Heights. Boston College. p. 1. Archived from the original on 2011-07-17. Retrieved 2010-08-28.
  5. ^ a b Nilsson, Ryan (2009-09-07). "Bruins have fun on the run: Team focused on climbing mountain". Columbia Daily Tribune. Retrieved 2010-08-28.
  6. ^ Steele, Jason. "Fathomas (Jason Steele) comments on Reddit". Reddit. Retrieved 13 March 2016.
  7. ^ Steele, Jason. "Charlie the Unicorn script" (PDF). FilmCow. Archived from the original (PDF) on 21 December 2016. Retrieved 13 March 2016.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Steele, Jason (2009). Commentary for Charlie the Unicorn, in The FilmCow Master Collection: 200 Years of Excellence [DVD]. Kunaki.
  9. ^ Charlie the Unicorn Adult Swim Pitch, in The FilmCow Master Collection: 200 Years of Excellence [DVD]. 2009. Kunaki.
  10. ^ Steele, Jason. "FAQ - FilmCow :: Videos and Animations". FilmCow.com. FilmCow. Archived from the original on 2010-08-28. Retrieved 2010-08-28.
  11. ^ Armorer, Nakeisha (December 2007). "An online revolution". The Blue Print. Paul J. Hagerty High School. 3 (2): 12.
  12. ^ a b c d e Fletcher, Dan (2010-03-29). "Charlie the Unicorn - YouTube's 50 Best Videos". Time. Time Inc. Retrieved 2010-08-28.
  13. ^ Alloca, Kevin (2018). Videocracy: How Youtube Is Changing the World...with Double Rainbows, Singing Foxes, and Other Trends We Can't Stop Watching. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Publishing.
  14. ^ Newitz, Annalee (2000-01-06). "Logan Whitehurst: The John Keats of Nerdcore". Wired. Condé Nast Publications. Retrieved 2010-08-27.
  15. ^ Steele, Jason (2009). Commentary for Charlie the Unicorn 2, in The FilmCow Master Collection: 200 Years of Excellence [DVD]. Kunaki.
  16. ^ a b Steele, Jason. "FAQ - FilmCow :: Videos and Animations". FilmCow.com. FilmCow. Archived from the original on 2007-01-11. Retrieved 2021-04-24.
  17. ^ Parr, Ben (2009-05-25). "Top 20 YouTube and Video Memes of All Time". Mashable. Mashable.com. Retrieved 2010-08-29.
  18. ^ Steele, Jason (2007-01-15). "Charlie the Unicorn: Nearly 8 million views internet-wide?". Spatula Madness Production Blog. FilmCow. Archived from the original on 2011-07-16. Retrieved 2010-08-27.
  19. ^ Virginian-Pilot Staff (2009-04-21). "Cultural touchstones courtesy of YouTube". The Virginian-Pilot. Landmark Media Enterprises. Retrieved 2008-05-30.
  20. ^ K.J. (2006-05-23). "Charlie the Unicorn: Candy Mountain". Salon. Salon Media Group. Retrieved 2010-08-28.
  21. ^ Steele, Jason (2009-04-22). "Llamas with Hats on AOTS". The FilmCow Blog. FilmCow. Archived from the original on 2012-03-17. Retrieved 2009-11-01.
  22. ^ Hamlin, Brian (2009-11-15). "A cautionary tale of correspondents and unicorns". The Hollywood Reporter. e5 Global Media. Retrieved 2010-08-27.
  23. ^ Steele, Jason (2009). Commentary for YouTube Live "Charlie the Unicorn" Video, in The FilmCow Master Collection: 200 Years of Excellence [DVD]. Kunaki.
  24. ^ Steele, Jason (2009). Commentary for YouTube Live "Charlie the Unicorn Promo", in The FilmCow Master Collection: 200 Years of Excellence [DVD]. Kunaki.
  25. ^ Steele, Jason (2009-03-01). "Charlie video now up on HotTopic.com". The FilmCow Blog. FilmCow. Retrieved 2010-09-01.
  26. ^ charlie teh unicron.
  27. ^ Charlie the Yannicorn. 17 February 2013 – via YouTube.
  28. ^ Charlie the Unitective Heart of America. 30 November 2013 – via YouTube.
  29. ^ Charlie the Unicorn's LIVE Oscars Spectacular!.
  30. ^ Youngstrom, Kimberly (2009-06-05). "Viral Video Phenomenon Charlie the Unicorn a Real-World T-Shirt Success - A CafePress Cultural BarometerTM Report". Business Wire. Reuters. Retrieved 2009-08-27.
  31. ^ Steele, Jason (2008-03-27). "This post is for you. No, you. Yes... yoooouuuu". Spatula Madness Production Blog. FilmCow. Archived from the original on 2010-03-29. Retrieved 2010-08-28.
  32. ^ Steele, Jason (2016-02-23). "Charlie the Unicorn: The Grand Finale". Kickstarter. Retrieved 2020-04-02.
  33. ^ Anitai, Tamar (2008-05-30). "The Man Behind the Memes: An Exclusive Interview With Weezer 'Pork and Beans' Video Director Mathew Cullen". MTV Buzzworthy. MTV Networks. Retrieved 2009-09-02.
  34. ^ a b c Sarno, David (2008-05-30). "Mathew Cullen, director of Weezer's 'Pork and Beans,' shares some secrets". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2008-05-30.
  35. ^ Carlson, Nicholas (2008-05-24). "Weezer understands how to work YouTube: allude to these 24 viral videos". Valleywag. Archived from the original on 2008-05-25. Retrieved 2008-05-24.
  36. ^ Staff Writers (2008-05-28). "Spot the memes in Weezer's Pork and Beans". News Limited. p. 3. Retrieved 2008-05-29.

External links[edit]