Binge-watching should come naturally to someone like me who grew up glued to a TV set, but I could not binge-watch YouTube Red‘s first three original movies. I failed.
Red is YouTube’s new premium service that offers films, shows, and ad-free videos for $9.99 a month. What should have been an enjoyable, addictive escape became an unappealing task. I had little trouble breaking away to run errands or take a nap. It took me 17 hours to watch a little over four hours worth of “entertainment,” from 3:30 in the afternoon until 8:30 the next morning.
The films reminded me of Disney Channel’s movie marathons. If I were 13 years old I might have had a blast, but my current 23-year-old self was not amused. Simply put, I felt too old to enjoy these movies. A Trip to Unicorn Island was my favorite — and I actually really enjoyed it, followed by Dance Camp and Lazer Team. Here’s my take on each movie:
A Trip to Unicorn Island
I confess that the opportunity to watch A Trip to Unicorn Island was the main reason I signed up to write this story. I would have no problem going all fan-girl in front of Lilly Singh, aka YouTube celeb “Superwoman” — and I even acted cool in front of Aziz Ansari. I’ve binge-watched the Toronto native since I first found her on YouTube months ago; starting my YouTube Red experience with her just made sense.
A Trip to Unicorn Island (or AT2UI, as Superwoman calls it) takes viewers on Singh’s journey as she prepares for her world tour.
The beginning of this feature-length movie, in which the audience is introduced to Singh, could’ve been faster-paced and more upbeat. This part of film stayed true to Superwoman’s essence and editing style, so much so that it felt like one of her own videos — just longer. To be fair, the typical quality of Singh’s YouTube videos is good as it is, but I expected the production value of AT2UI to go beyond what fans are used to seeing.
I ran out of munchies less than halfway in, and this was the point at which AT2UI picked up. The energy was higher while the film got close and personal. I got excited, then my eyes filled with inspired tears, then I was happy, and then tears again. The movie reminded that I enjoy watching Lilly because she’s such a strong woman with a positive message. It became the ultimate fan experience, which is what YouTube Red is all about.
A Trip to Unicorn Island ended on a good note, and I was determined to hold off on getting more snacks, and to watch all the originals in one sitting. That did not happen.
If you are a Disney Channel / Nickelodeon kid, you already know what to expect from this movie. The formula: The too-cool kid finds his passion after being forced to try a new activity. The kid finds love along the way, and there’s a dramatic twist that keeps the lovebirds apart until the very end.
I fell asleep less than half an hour into Dance Camp. I snapped out of a light dream when I heard YouTube star Meg Deangelis’ character demand, “What are you doing?”
My brain took it personally, as if she meant to wake me up. Was she questioning me for falling asleep or for watching the PG-13 movie?
I rewound and realized I had missed just three minutes. Those 180 seconds hit me harder than NyQuil. I closed my laptop, took my glasses off, and then slept for an hour. I woke up, went to get groceries, cleaned the kitchen and living room, and didn’t hit play until I felt fully awake.
In my refreshed state, I was able to get past the predictable plot and take notice of the cast’s ethnic diversity. That came as a very pleasant surprise.
Nadji Jeter played the main character, an African American teen who embraces breakdancing. There’s also a Pacific-Asian dancer who happens to be hard-of-hearing, a kid who might be gay (it’s not explicitly stated), an Indian girl who inserts traditional Indian dance techniques into the team’s dance routine, and multiple race-ambiguous actors.
While I recognized many of the YouTubers featured, I hadn’t expect to see so many Vine celebrities make appearances in the film. It’s a reminder of how the two video platforms, Youtube and Vine, overlap and complement each other, even if their parent companies, Google and Twitter, do not.
My marathon continued into the night. It was 3 a.m. and I struggled to stay awake to watch Lazer Team. Actually, staying awake was not as hard as watching the movie. It’s a story of four men who accidentally take down a spaceship with a very powerful firework rocket. Not the most believable plot line.
The men approach and inspect the downed vehicle. They go inside and … Oh! Surprise! The spacesuits that they try on molecularly attach to whoever wears them! Now our heroes were condemned to being the planet’s only chance of survival.
I did enjoy Spy Kids back in the day — terrible graphics aside — but Lazer Team‘s extraterrestrial animation was painful. And although there’s something entertaining about watching clueless adults make fools of themselves, the thrill was not worth the sacrifice of one hour and two minutes of glorious sleep.
The climax involves our four heroes battling an alien inside a football stadium in the middle of Nowhere, Texas. What filmmaker would choose this improbable battlefield to host “alien warrior” versus “The Champion of Earth”?
Finally, after less than four hours’ sleep, I took a shower and pulled myself back to my laptop to watch the rest of Lazer Team over breakfast. I was eating my scrambled eggs as the movie dropped its last two lines. Implausibly, the film ended with the option for a sequel. As if.
I give YouTube credit for trying to compete with Netflix and Amazon. Red is a good idea and seems to be headed in the right direction. After all, YouTube has an enormous audience, and Red films may play well to a built-in fanbase. But the new service targets a young demographic, and its success will depend on their parents willing to pay $10 a month. Like its audience, Red will take a few years to grow up.