When Matty Kiel started making their animated feature film debut, Unicorn Boy, in 2016, they were busy sifting through the complex emotions of a breakup. But by the time they finished the film seven years later, they had undergone seismic changes in their identity that, looking back, give the film a whole new meaning.
Unicorn Boy stars Kiel as an unassuming person whose life totally changes when they are unexpectedly sucked into a parallel universe full of magical unicorns who puke rainbows. By befriending one particularly mischievous unicorn named Prince Purpleton, Matty learns how to live a happy life — and help the citizens of Inhorning embrace their full magical potential.
Throughout the course of making the film, Kiel came out as nonbinary. And although unicorns and rainbows might seem like an obvious metaphor for the LGBTQ community, they say it was a happy accident.
“The funniest part is I didn’t do that on purpose. I was realizing that I might be non-binary during the making of the movie,” Kiel tells MovieMaker. “Looking back, I can see — oh, yeah, this is very much paralleling my experience, as much as I thought it was just about self-acceptance. I was like, well, for me, that is including my gender identity.”
Unicorn Boy Features a Star-Studded Voice Cast Including Patton Oswalt, Michelle Trachtenberg, and Harold Perrineau
Thanks to Kiel’s producer Neil Garguilo, the movie has a stacked cast of voice actors including Patton Oswalt (I Love My Dad), Michelle Trachtenberg (17 Again), Maria Bamford (Arrested Development), Harold Perrineau (Lost), Katie Leclerc (Switched at Birth), Sarah Natochenny (Pokémon) and Sethward (America’s Got Talent).
Unicorn Boy won the Grand Jury Award for Best U.S. Narrative Feature at the Mammoth Lakes Film Festival in May. It also won the Festival Grand Prize at the Arizona International Film Festival earlier this year and had its world premiere screening at Slamdance in January. Kiel is currently seeking distribution for the film.
In addition to writing the script themself, all of the brilliant animation on Unicorn Boy was done on Kiel’s own ramshackle computer setup including a laptop with a broken screen on which they accessed Adobe Animate, formerly known as Flash — the very same program used to make the 2005 viral animated video Charlie the Unicorn, which Kiel says they enjoyed as a kid but, surprisingly, did not draw on for inspiration for Unicorn Boy. They also used Procreate on their iPad and edited the project on Premiere Pro.
“It was a lot of work, and it really made me sit with myself and my emotions. Making myself the main character, I had to really find self-acceptance, and I had to literally sit and stare at myself for hours and hours and look at my mistakes. I wrote the character to really escalate my shortcomings… so I had to face all this stuff,” Kiel says.
“I had to make something to grow and to understand what I did wrong in my life or what I needed to change. And it really did that. It really brought a lot of good things into my life,” they add. “I learned a lot about myself from making the movie. And that’s one thing I really hope to do with every art piece, is to be as honest as possible.”
Unicorn Boy was executive produced by Michael Hughes, Brian Mandle, Donovan Mannato, and Andrew Mcelroy. Dimitri Smith did the score, and Kristin Sanchez co-produced.
You can keep up with Unicorn Boy and find out when it’s coming to a screen near you via the film’s Instagram page.
Main Image: A still from Unicorn Boy courtesy of Matty Kiel.