A Rainbow-Colored, Bloody Anti-War Fairytale

Mar 7, 2023

At first glance, the idyllic, magical forest of Unicorn Wars, painted in tender rainbow tones, seems to be inviting the whole family to a feel-good experience in theaters. But don’t let Alberto Vazquez’s fluffy characters fool you as Unicorn Wars is filled to the brim with blood, amputated limbs, and teddy bear genitalia. Using the flexibility of the animated format, Vasquez has created a surreal cinematic experience that contrasts the cuteness of teddy bears with the horror of war in a story that denounces the irrationality of human conflict.

Unicorn Wars follows a group of young teddy bear cadets trained in a military camp to become the next battalion in the ever-raging war against the unicorns. To teddy bears everywhere, unicorns are nothing more than bloodthirsty creatures who took control of the magical forest ages ago, giving birth to the war. Born and raised under a government that directs all the teddy bear’s resources into the war industries, these characters are brainwashed to think their mission is sacred, their enemy is vile, and their ferocity is the only tool they need to survive.
Due to its rare blend of charming characters and extreme violence, it’d be easy to compare Unicorn Wars with Happy Tree Friends. Happy Tree Friends is a goofy series that makes you laugh by showcasing the most gruesome deaths ever conjured in animation. On the other hand, while Unicorn Wars can make you giggle occasionally, the violence in the movie induces a whole different emotional state. Vazquez’s movie wants you to feel bad about war and the ultraviolence helps to showcase the devastating casualties of any armed conflict.

Image via Autour de Minuit, Schmuby, Uniko, and Abano

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While Unicorn Wars presents an original fantasy world, complete with its own theology and creation myths, the movie is primarily concerned with exploring the broken psyches created by the war machine. By using cute characters as protagonists, the movie can take some creative liberties in depicting these soldiers, as things like “cuteness” are not only valued but put in the middle of the pro-war speech. This extremely bizarre – but absolutely entertaining – take on a war scenario helps the audience laugh at the absurdity of the whole thing. At the same time, it also amps up the intensity of the movie’s deranged dive into the grim consequences of war.

Like Full Metal Jacket, Apocalypse Now, and Jarhead before it, Unicorn Wars is more interested in exploring war’s psychological causes and effects instead of focusing on the conflict itself. That’s why the story also revolves around the subjective war between siblings Bluey (voiced by Jon Goirizelaia) and Tubby (voiced by Jaione Insausti). The two brothers’ disputes are intertwined with the larger conflict against the unicorns, as each approaches war from a different angle. As the teddy bears and unicorns get ready to fight for what they believe is right, Bluey and Tubby will also have to deal with their chaotic emotions and decide what they want to do in the war and what kind of person they want to be.

By using Bluey and Tubby to anchor the story, Unicorn Wars increases the emotional stakes of the war. It’s easier to get attached to layered characters than ideas, especially when there are so many fantasy elements to unpack. However, the split attention between the brothers’ past and the present conflict with the unicorns harms the movie’s pacing, even more because both stories are only thematically connected. Parallel to these two conflicts, the movie also explores the fears and anxieties of unprepared soldiers sent to war, how the support of religious institutions facilitates the existence of fascist regimes, and the perverse ways sacrificing young people allows a military elite to remain in power. There’s also a genuine concern with how human actions destroy nature plus a whole side plot about an evil mass of energy and the dangerous simians who worship it.

Image via Autour de Minuit, Schmuby, Uniko, and Abano

While Unicorn Wars is a fantastic film experience, it’s clear the movie is stretched thin, trying to juggle too many images and metaphors while still telling complex stories. As a result, things can get messy regarding the script, as not every loose thread is properly tied up when the credits roll. In fact, much of Unicorn Wars is left open to interpretation, mostly because the movie doesn’t have the time to explore the unicorn culture with the same depth as the teddy bears.

While Unicorn Wars’ rhythm can be uneven, the movie is still a brilliant anti-war story elevated by Vazquez’s mesmerizing art direction. The background art includes irregular lines and spots that help to create the texture of paper illustrations, while the minimalist use of color helps to set the tone for each scene. On top of these backgrounds come cartoonish characters, small moving pieces over beautifully designed static landscapes. It’s a sight to be seen and one more reason to give a chance to Vazquez’s ingenuous anti-war story.

Rating: B

Unicorn Wars comes to theaters and VOD on March 10.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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