Nico the Unicorn
What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Nico the Unicorn, a likable story about a magical unicorn and a courageous young boy who saves a pony, includes several scenes in which the animals are in danger or die. Sequences which may be disturbing to children (or anyone, for that matter) show a cruel, drunken man beating the pony and several attacks on the horses by a mountain lion. The film builds suspense leading to these scenes with music and ominous camera movement. The 11-year-old disabled hero is subject to teasing by schoolmates -- called "gimp" several times. Sound messages and exemplary adult role models enrich the material, but for the tender-hearted or kids who worry about the animals, it may be too intense.
What's the story?
Billy (a wonderful performance by Kevin Zegers), the movie's young hero, is struggling to find his place in the world. Losing his dad, moving to a new town, and dealing with a disability make him shy, defensive, and unhappy. But all that is about to change. When Billy chances upon a roadside animal sideshow and its cruel owner, the young boy rescues a haggard and neglected pony who has been "dressed up" like a unicorn. Julie Hastings (Anne Archer), Billy's mom is reluctant at first, but Billy wins her over and the pony joins the family. A series of magical events begin when the pony unexpectedly gives birth to a foal. To Billy's astonishment, in an amazingly short time, "Nico," the foal, is revealed to be a full-sized, magnificent unicorn! A mountain lion, a nosy reporter, a gentle law officer, and the return of the cruel sideshow owner complicate matters and send Billy and Nico on a run for their lives.
Is it any good?
Nico the Unicorn is a heartwarming, well-acted story, graced by the presence of the beautiful horse Augusto who "plays" Nico. Based on the book by Frank Sacks, the film relies on familiar plot elements (a fatherless boy, a struggling single mom, bullies), but the relationship of Billy and Nico is special, and Nico is extraordinary.
Even the amateurish special effects and some awkward direction don't hurt the movie's warmth and charm. However, scenes of the animals in danger may make the film a tough go for many kids.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about the rules around using animals in movies. How do modern filmmakers protect animals when making movies? How and why have attitudes changed over the years? Does it make your experience more enjoyable if you're confident the animals are being well cared for?
The aftermath of a parent's death, moving to a new place, and confronting bullies are constant themes in movies for families. Why do you think these are effective plot devices? What are some other situations that might prove to be as dramatic?