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DIRECTED BY: Alberto Vázquez
FEATURING: Voices of Jon Goirizelaia, Jaione Insausti, Itxaso Quintana, Ramón Barea
PLOT: Cuddly teddy bears are at war with mysterious unicorns; meanwhile, simians are undertaking a sinister ritual.
WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE APOCRYPHA: If rainbow caterpillars devouring Snuggly’s oozing form doesn’t do it for you, Unicorn Wars has plenty more madness to share—most of it far more disturbing.
COMMENTS: Dark visions come in all colors, it seems, as proved by Alberto Vázquez’s latest animated feature, Unicorn Wars. Traditionally a medium for children’s and family films, cartoons have a lesser-appreciated history as a means of capturing distress and madness which, for various reasons, may be impossible to convey with live-action, even when heavily injected with unsettling practical effects or CGI. Be they Gerald Scarfe’s vivid grotesques from Pink Floyd: the Wall, or Ralph Bakshi‘s racially-charged brutality in Coonskin, or ‘s and Cristóbal León‘s eerie stop-motion in The Wolf House, or Vázquez’s own dark flights of fantasy in Birdboy, animation can be a sure-fire way to capture the uncapturable, and to illuminate some of the most harrowing imaginings put to screen. Unicorn Wars joins this canon of wrenching, disturbing fare. And it does it with cutesy teddy bears.
Bluey and Tubby are brothers in boot camp. Their bunk-mates include Pompom, the Cuddly-Wuddly twins, and Coco, the grizzled teddy who has seen it all. Under the harsh mentorship of their drill sergeant (“Here, ‘cuddles’ are made of steel, blood, and pain!”), the latest recruits are preparing for a mission into the heart of the nearby forest to investigate the fate of lost outpost. Bluey is driven by ambition and insecurity, striving to be the best, and tormenting his brother Tubby. Meanwhile, in the forest, María the unicorn seeks her lost mother, last seen in what is perhaps a vision: a viscous dream of ill-formed goo and an all-consuming monster. The new teddy troops are dispatched, ultimately setting into motion a final confrontation between the teddy bears and the unicorns.
Unicorn Wars is dark, dark, dark, but it presents itself as, perhaps, something of a comedy-of-incongruity. (The humor is of the type found in the needlessly unsavory “Happy Tree Friends.”) Vázquez puts his boot-campers through the typical montage motions: dehumanizing treatment, callous mental conditioning (the hymnal chant, “Dead Unicorn, Good Unicorn”, well illustrates the mindset of these pastel-painted patriots), and violent rivalries. The mood shifts resolutely away from uneasy comedy once the troupe enters the woods and messily devour a clutch of rainbow-toned caterpillars. The ensuing psychedelic frenzy, rendered in all the colors of the blacklight rainbow, is when Unicorn Wars kicks into full sprint, removing any hope for the characters—and viewer.
I will readily admit that this is one of the most harrowing movies I’ve seen. Jaundiced though both my eyes have become over the years, I was still speechless and immobile all through the climactic finale, where teddy bear massacres unicorn, unicorn gore teddy bear, and brother destroys brother. Were it not for its many moments of deeply troubling events, and occasional blasts of sickening horror, I would have “Recommended” Unicorn Wars. As it stands, I can only warn potential viewers: this is heart-wrenching, eye-glazing drama, soaked in bright pinks, powder blues… and reds.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY: