The pitch I got for Unicorn Wars to be included in my Fantastic Fest 2022 coverage described the vibrant hyper-colored animated film as “Bambi meets Apocalypse Now.” And you know, damn that was the perfect description. A complete fever dream, Unicorn Wars is a feature film adapted from the 2013 short film Unicorn Blood by director Alberto Vázquez.
In the film, unicorns are evil, or at least they are to the teddy bears. The film takes audiences on a journey with an army company of teddy bears with absolutely no experience in warfare. Turning on a dime, we get to see the bears train and quickly realize that their priorities need to change in order to survive – and how they don’t ever hit that point. One teddy soldier named Bluet in particular dreams of becoming an ageless and beautiful immortal while his brother Tubby, just wants to be accepted and love the world around him. But the kind-hearted teddy serves as an adorably sad foil to his power-hungry, unicorn-blood-seeking brother who just wants to be a god.
Provocative, bright, weird, and completely out of left field, Unicorn Wars is one hell of a drug. With teddies versus unicorns, Vázquez manages to tackle religious zealotry and military fascism while showcasing how empathy and morality can’t survive when the two coalesce. Despite its deeply cute animation style, Unicorn Wars is anything but. While it feels like an acid trip at times, at others it just feels like a completely radical and unnerving nightmare. To put it simply, this film is a lot.
The film’s biggest fault is that it gets extremely repetitive in parts, an element that makes it feel like a two-and-a-half-hour movie instead of an hour-and-a-half one. The deeper commentary that Vásquez attempts work the first time you see them, and the second, but by the time we see callbacks to previous moments in the film and the point hammered home one more time, it’s hard to stay on track.
The best part of Unicorn Wars though is how Vásquez manages to create an extensive lore and world for his story to fit into. Treated as an ancestral war, teddy bears are the sworn enemy of the unicorns. This element is captured through the religious exploration of a prophecy that promises that teddies will reign supreme and usher in a new era when the last unicorn dies. Hoping to fulfill the prophecy, military tours in the Magic Forest help deepen how the audience understands the role that militaristic teddies play and how the destruction of their environment for gain has manufactured the deep war between the two species.
Even with that though, I still don’t know exactly how to explain what I watched. Psychodelic horror wrapped in irreverent comedy and packed together in a family friend aesthetic that descends into madness real quick, Unicorn Wars is stunningly a lot. It’s decadent in its candy-colored gore and violence and manages to make you feel viscerally uncomfortable with anatomy in inventive and banal ways. Unicorn Wars is a hard one to rate, but it’s one hell of an experience.
Unicorn Wars was screened as a part of Fantastic Fest 2022 programming and is set to be theatrically released in early 2023.
Unicorn Wars is stunningly a lot. It’s decadent in its candy-colored gore and violence and manages to make you feel viscerally uncomfortable with anatomy in inventive and banal ways. Unicorn Wars is a hard one to rate, but it’s one hell of an experience.
Kate Sánchez is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of But Why Tho? A Geek Community. There, she coordinates film, television, anime, and manga coverage. Kate is also a freelance journalist writing features on video games, anime, and film. Her focus as a critic is championing animation and international films and television series for inclusion in awards cycles.