Nico the Unicorn

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
Nico the Unicorn Movie Poster Image
Magical tale is heartwarming, but animals are in peril.
  • NR
  • 2001
  • 90 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Promotes treating animals with great respect and care. The values of loyalty, friendship, faith in oneself, courage, and responsibility are all stressed. Goodness is rewarded. Strong parenting results in a resourceful, self-confident child.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Billy's single mom is an ideal parent. She's flexible, responsible, understanding, willing to do whatever it takes to ensure Billy's health and welfare. A police officer is portrayed as honorable, sensitive, and courageous. Billy, a disabled boy, exhibits strength, compassion, and an ability to do what is right in the face of teasing and disdain. Set in a small New England town, there is no ethnic diversity among the players.

Violence

Some extremely heartbreaking moments occur when a vulnerable, neglected pony is mistreated by her owner. He beats the animal, much of that action takes place off-camera, but with sounds of a whip and the horse's cries; the wounds are clearly visible afterward. A mountain lion attacks the pony and/or her colt on three occasions. Again, much of the actual assault takes place just off camera, but sounds and cries are heard, as well visuals of the resulting bloody injuries. Spoiler alert: The pony is killed. There are other suspenseful moments when Billy and Nico, the unicorn, trek across a mountain searching for safety. A villain follows with a shotgun and the mountain lion stalks them as well.

Sex
Language

 "Gimp," "hell."

Consumerism

Pepsi Cola, Mountain Dew, Cap'n Crunch, Quaker Oat Bran.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Two grownups drink adult beverages at dinner. The villain is shown drinking, then drunk in several scenes. A young teen smokes a cigarette.

What 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.

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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.

Talk to your kids 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?

Movie details

Themes & Topics

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