Charlie the Unicorn (2005)

I hate the internet sometimes. Sometimes I feel like it’s just this huge malevolent thing that holds me in its thrall, designed to make me outraged and depressed and extract as much money from me as is physically possible. Sometimes it’s hard to keep sight of just how much it’s changed the entire world, and often very much for the better.

Oh yeah, this series is still going. Sorry about the delay. One of the reasons why (apart from work being crazy) was the sheer, monumental task of picking just one animated short to represent the first decade of the 21st century. It’s like I said; before now there were only so many animation studios producing shorts in the West to choose from. Now though, virtually anything that appeared on Newgrounds between 2001 and 2010 was fair game, literally thousands of creators. How to pick just one? I bounced around between Homestar Runner and Badgers, which was essentially “something I could never cover in just one post” versus “something I couldn’t talk about long enough to fill even one post” before finally settling on today’s short; Charlie the Unicorn.

I said back when I reviewed Injun Country that just because a cartoon is cheap doesn’t mean it can’t be good and Charlie is a pretty excellent example of that. It is objectively the worst animated of any of the shorts I will review for this series but it overcomes that through a combination of strong writing and hilarious voice work (all done by animator Jason Steele) all leading up to a single, hilariously dark punchline.

It’s a great short, and pretty much a perfect summation of my generation’s sense of humour. There’s a clear Simpsons influence with an even bigger debt to South Park, two of the single most important shapers of the comedic voices of anyone who grew up in the nineties. It’s also a reaction to the  ridiculously saccharine cartoons of the eighties, correctly twigging that there was something undeniably sinister about relentlessly chipper characters who want everyone to get along and have fun no matter what.

Be honest. If it turned out the Care Bears were harvesting organs, would you be shocked?

Animation was once one of the most exclusive and gated art forms in existence, with only a handful of universities and companies worldwide offering an entry point. Now, with the explosive democratisation of the artform brought on by the internet, anyone with an idea or a story to tell can buy some inexpensive software and become an animator. And, with the advent of sites like YouTube, they now have the perfect platform to thrive on.

Animated shorts never died, they just went to heaven.

 

15 comments

  1. I remember when my friend first made me watch this. I almost didn’t know how to process it, it seemed so random. But it grew on me after a second (and third) watching. And it’s very, very quotable.

  2. I lost my bet with myself; I foresaw a spirited debate on the ownership of bases, as well as the statistical probability of survival.

    This was an excellent choice, however. I remember way back when this first came out (cripes I feel old), laughing like a loon and sending it to everyone I knew. It was so surreal experiencing early memes; you’d find some weird new video on a remote website, start sharing it, only to discover everyone had already seen it, seemingly overnight.

    You thought you were patient zero, but found you were just another vector in a plague that was already underway.

  3. Oh Charlie, a meme so vintage references to you even appear in World of Warcraft. I think what surprised me most about this cartoon, beyond the utter bafflement of early viewings, is that the creator managed to do a few follow-up Charlie the Unicorn videos that are nearly as good without feeling like retreads of the same material.

    Although personally, I think I might have chosen “Here Comes Dr. Tran.”

  4. Ha, I remember this. My english wasn’t very good back then so I was constantly nodding and saying “yup this is really good”. I honestly don’t want to watch it again, if only because it’d shatter my perfect image of it.

    Shorts like Charlie remind me of the good old times of internet animation, back when Youtube didn’t fuck animators in the ass with its terrible ad policies.

    1. Ugh, I know, right? People love to give animators like Egoraptor and OneyG crap for getting on the Let’s Play bandwagon, but can you really blame them, comparing how much they would make solely on their shorts?
      At time of writing, it looks like YouTube will merely be a platform for animators to share around their portfolio, which while certainly isn’t bad, is still a far cry from being able to make a living independently.

      1. Honestly I can’t really get behind The Let’s Player Formerly Known As Egoraptor/Oney/RubberNinja’s format. Relying on let’s play to deliver some immediate laughs and get some money out of it is more than perfectly fine, if anything it’s the right thing to do (+ patreon), but they could also…put out some animations every now and then. I feel like they started animating for the recognition, not because they genuinely loved animation.

        Jaltoid follows their format, except they also animate rather frequently. Hotdiggedydemon and Rebeltaxi integrate their animations into their videos, so clearly there’s a way to workaround the whole “animation is not viable on youtube” thing.
        My sympathy goes towards them mainly because it was a lot easier to get money back then, now you need to do a lot of bullshit just to earn a few pennies.

  5. I won’t lie, I was so certain you were going to choose “Homestar Runner” for this decade, though you were correct in that it would be difficult to take one short from that series that stands above the rest (I suppose you could make the argument for “Trogdor,” as it was the one thing that permeated public consciousness more than anything else, but that is more like a very early meme than it is a placeholder in animation history). “Homestar” is still an old favorite of mine, and going back to the site every now and again, I’m amazed with how well it has aged. Aside from the high-quality content, the mere concept of the whole thing is endearing to me, how two brothers ended up creating their own veritable cartoon franchise all by themselves, spread entirely through word-of-mouth and generating income solely through T-Shirts they printed in their basement. While I am a bit dismayed the activity on “Homestar” had been intermittent at best these past few years, I don’t at all hold it against the Brothers Chapps in perusing other forms of work (Having writing credits in “Gravirty Falls” and whatnot). They’ve certainly earned it.

    When it comes to Internet shorts, it very much boils down to personal preference (An old favorite of mine was the “Decline of Video Gaming” trilogy, made by the Super Flash Bros). Isaacblue72 said it best, how “Charlie” is a great representation to the general vibe to animated shorts in the early Internet days: Off-putting, yet fascinating all at once. Personally, I would have put “The End of the World” by Fluid at second place, as I never much got into “Charlie” growing up, or its similar series “Llamas With Hats.”

    As for the final entry for the 2010’s…now, I know you’re not at liberty to spoil whatever it is you have planned, but since I can’t help myself…might I guess “Paperman?”

      1. Oh really? Well, certainly consider me intrigued. My line of reasoning for “Paperman” was what it represents for the potential future of hand-drawn animation, but I’m now really interested in finding out whatever managed to beat it out for the selection.

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