Magical unicorns, an enchanted forest and teddy bear protagonists, might not sound likely, but Alberto Vázquez’s second feature film Unicorn Wars, is perhaps one of the most violent, brutal and bleak war films of recent times. This 2D animated fantasy film is an alarming portrayal of the horrors of war and the dangers of an extremist religious state.
Unicorn Wars tells the story of two teddy bear brothers, Bluey and Tubby, soldiers in the war against the dangerous and violent Unicorns. However, through being allowed an insight into the life of the unicorns that the Teddy Bears cannot see, it becomes clear that the Unicorns are perhaps not all that evil but that there is a narrative being spun by religious extremists and government propaganda. The character of a pastor teddy bear that leads the soldiers to sing “good unicorn, dead unicorn” in the church is one of many critiques of the marriage of religion and state in the film.
Vázquez has cited his main influences as Bambi and Apocalypse Now, an extreme contrast of inspiration that is consistent in both content and style in the film; Vázquez has said he intended to create a contrast to make audiences have an emotional reaction and to make them uncomfortable. When watching an adorable, doe-eyed purple teddy bear pulverize another with his bloody fists or upon witnessing a haunting drug hallucination scene akin to the imagery of the horror video game Five Nights at Freddy’s, one can’t help but concede that the film has achieved its mission of discomfort.
The animated style is at times vivid and staggeringly beautiful, as we are shown the colourful beauty of the natural world that the unicorns inhabit – but this beauty can be fleeting as it warps into psychedelic horrors and extreme violence in meticulous detail. It is utterly refreshing to see a 2D animated film in the increasing popularity of 3D CGI that oversaturates the animation market; the style is used in such a way to expose the unimaginable horrors of war, made exponentially more difficult to stomach when seeing said horrors enacted on and by the childlike, sweet faces of the teddy bears. The juxtaposition of the teddy bear violence is visceral and thus an incredibly effective tool in the film’s anti-war message. Much like the effects of war, Unicorn Wars takes a familiar image of safety and innocence and corrupts it in front of the viewer’s horrified eyes. As the soldiers get deeper into the forest, the colour begins to fade, and the magic becomes frightening rather than enchanting. There is a loss of identity in the bears, and corruption takes hold in a Lord of the Flies style, begging the question, did these bears always have it in them to perform such brutality? Vasquez attempts to answer this question by interjecting flashbacks of the upbringing of Bluey and Tubby into the main narrative, exploring the origins of evil and the negative impact of neglect and the resentment it can harbour.
There is an apparent influence of and homage to the early work of Disney in the vibrant 2D animated style, but at times Unicorn Wars is better compared to some of the darker work of Hayao Miyazaki. In the opening scene, we see a young unicorn running in fright from a demonic, gloopy monster moving in fluidity and speed, which seems like an obvious nod to the demon from the beginning of Princess Mononoke. Furthermore, the environmental and pacificist themes are very much in line with Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. Yet, Unicorn Wars is so bold and intense in its approach that it lacks the nuance of Mononoke.
Unicorn Wars is a highly effective anti-war film. Disturbing and often traumatic imagery punctuates the commentary on the pointless yet destructive nature of violence is astute. Its extreme brutality can verge on excessive and makes for a complicated watch, firmly placing it in the mature audience’s camp. On this note, the film is successful in its aim of causing discomfort and horror in its viewers. The film is an exquisite piece of animation that leaves the viewer, for better or worse, in a state of shock and emotional disarray; it is undeniable that Unicorn Wars is thought-provoking and nightmare-inducing. Unicorn Wars’ darkness, poignancy and complexity make the film the perfect example of why animation is a medium, not a genre for kids.
Unicorn Wars opens theatrically in select markets nationwide and is available on digital March 10
by Chloe Slater
Chloe (she/her) is a film fanatic and proud northerner hailing from West Yorkshire. She is currently studying an MA in Film Studies at The University of Manchester. She has an affinity for Japanese animation, fantasy films and anything that Greta Gerwig touches! Outside of her love for film, she is a big football fan, supporting Blackburn Rovers. Chloe can also be found playing guitar and bass or watching live music. Favourite films include: Spirited Away, Ladybird, Lost in Translation, Frances Ha, Portrait of a Lady on Fire and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.
Categories: Animation, Anything and Everything, Films, Reviews
Leave a Reply