YouTube Red film review: A Trip to Unicorn Island
James R | On 19, Feb 2016
We continue our look at YouTube Red’s first wave of originals with A Trip to Unicorn Island, the feature-length outing from Lilly Singh.
YouTube is a thing. A big thing. A lot of adults can forget that, or underestimate its impact upon young audiences – and not just in terms of what they watch on a Friday night. A prime example of that is Lilly Singh, who has grown in the last six years to become a veritable star of the site. Here, she makes her feature-length debut, which follows her attempt to mount a world tour of over 20 cities.
One of the first YouTube Red originals, A Trip to Unicorn Island is a natural choice for the subscription line-up, both heavily showcasing one of its homegrown names and highlighting their success – something that has been made possible through YouTube. The result is a bizarre experience to watch, as we move between behind-the-scenes glimpses of Singh stressing out over the live tour – which includes both comedy and musical numbers – and testimonies to how amazing she is.
Singh, unsurprisingly, is as charming and sincere as ever. Always introducing her videos as “your girl Superwoman”, she’s become something of an icon for many girls out there, a figure who sets out to both empower and encourage young women to do what makes them unique. That’s one of the reasons why she started vlogging to begin with, as part of a fight against depression, and that passion for creating something uplifting doesn’t let up for a second. (“Unicorn Island”, we learn, refers to her metaphorical happy place, where she wants to take everyone else.)
Her creative ambition, combined with her conviction to make a difference, is what leads to the international tour, something that takes a visible amount of effort from everyone involved. But throughout, she’s never super, which is what makes her earnest presence so inspiring.
The problem is that not all of the film rings as true as its star. Moments along the tour feel occasionally contrived, while other scenes praising Singh and YouTube feel a little too self-indulgent, which take the shine off the end product; shots of Lilly saying that nobody else understands how hard she works, for example, cut with talking heads testifying to her world-changing work, feel a tad heavy-handed, almost like an advert trying to convince any skeptical parents watching with their kids.
Fans of Superwoman will not be disappointed, but they also deserve something more. Non-fans, meanwhile, need to be won over to sticking with their $10-a-month subscription. It’s a difficult balance to strike – Singh genuinely does do brilliant things – and it doesn’t help that director Scott Winn shoots the movie with workmanlike efficiency, rather than visual panache, leaving it all with a distinctly flat, televisual feel. While maintaining a consistency with Singh’s vlogging style could prove effective, there also needs to be a difference between this big-screen outing with the site’s normal streaming videos, both to justify this as a film and as something worth paying £5.99 in the UK for.
After the noble failure of Scare PewDiePie, YouTube Red needs an original production to prove how unique it can be. A Trip to Unicorn Island is an upbeat celebration of YouTube, but it fails to make the case for its subscription-based cousin.