Kaboom Animation 2023 Review: UNICORN WARS Is Awesomely Bonkers
Alberto Vázquez' sophomore feature is a fantastic fable full of sarcasm and a message.
Picture a beautiful forest, where unicorns play in peace as long as they don't approach the blob-like monster in its center. But just outside the forest is a military camp, where cute teddy bears are ruthlessly trained and transformed into murder machines. Their generals and the teddy bear religion endlessly tell the recruits that teddy bears are the superior beings and should be the natural leaders of all animals. When in the past they had made their bid to subjugate all other species, they were beaten by the unicorns and banished from the forest. It is now the teddy bears' holy duty to exterminate the unicorns, and the teddy bear who kills the last one will become beautiful and immortal! The unicorns turn out to be tough bastards to exterminate though, and expedition after expedition of bears is sent into the forest, never to return...
In this world we follow the adventures of two teddy bear brothers: the mean and scheming Azulín and the cuddly Gordi. While Gordi tries to be friends with everyone, Azulín dreams of glory and eternal beauty, and will sacrifice anything to become the prophesied bear who kills the last unicorn. Including, if necessary, his fellow soldiers. The brothers get their chance to shine when their regiment is sent on a mission to find out what happened to a lost expedition, but they soon discover that the forest is a dangerous jungle, and war... is hell.
Director Alberto Vázquez has been playing with the idea of Unicorn Wars for a long time, and we reported on the first industry concept teaser six years ago already. What has happened in those years? Well, a lot! Vázquez fleshed out the silly concept to an 80 minute film, and what may come as a surprise to many people is that he made it beautiful, at times stunningly so. Those who think they're in for a fun evening of gory shenanigans, Happy Tree Friends style, will not be disappointed. But they may be caught off guard in the first minutes already by the film's excellent art direction, its building of dread and the telling of a unique mythology. When Unicorn Wars starts focusing on Azulín and Gordi, you have been exposed to a lot of clever storytelling already, and by using film clichés from both war classics and Disney animation, Vázquez manages to cover a lot of ground in a short timeframe. When you reach the end, you've seen so many storylines neatly tied up that it feels like having watched a series, or a three-hour epic.
Alberto Vázquez has stated in interviews that he had three major influences he followed while imagining the film: Bambi, Apocalypse Now and the bible. Amazingly, he has managed to mix them into a great film, far exceeding the cute-versus-gory jokes I was expecting. Sure, there is silliness aplenty and references to point out, but the central messages about dehumanizing propaganda, the rise of fascism, abuse of body and substances, family, cowardice, love, dishonor, religious fanatism, lies, drugs and suicide even... these all remain intact too. And the finale? Absolutely bonkers, like a kick to the head.
Alberto Vázquez made Birdboy: The Forgotten Children so people who have seen that film will have an idea just how dark and crazy the director is willing to take his ideas. Alternatively, just watch the trailer to be sure of it. Unicorn Wars is one of my favorite films so far this year, and if you have the stomach for it, I wholeheartedly recommend it.
(Unicorn Wars will be available on Blu-ray from May onward, due to SHOUT! Factory, and is now playing festivals worldwide.)