Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

For some reason, Unicorn Wars has evaded me several times, despite screening at various different festivals that I was covering. Finally, I was able to check out this animated gem for the Animation is Film Festival! Effortlessly epitomizing everything I loved about gleefully demented cartoon Happy Tree Friends, this Spanish feature crams in more gore and horrifying situations than one would be likely to find in an average live action film, let alone in the genre of animation. I was expecting silly kills, hollow characters, and spotty graphics—to my surprise, though the absolutely brutal kills are an obvious highlight, it’s the rivalry between two opposing teddy bear brothers that makes the core of this twisted tale.

For their entire lives, brothers Bluey and Tubby have been at odds with one another. We learn the majority of their backstory via flashback, but suffice to say, well before the passing of their mother, there were issues. Bluey glares jealously at Tubby even at birth, wherein he doesn’t feel he is receiving the proper attention from either parent. Perhaps the root cause of Bluey’s eventually abrasive and awful attitude was the divorce of their parents. Bluey’s father insisted that he be the best at all times—“don’t ever be as mediocre as your father.” Observing years of psychological trauma courtesy of two absolutely adorable teddy bears wasn’t something I ever thought I would see, and yet here we are. 

Bluey and Tubby are among the recruits selected to go on a dangerous mission. After months of challenging boot camp routines and verbal abuse from hardened Sergeant Ironstroke at Love Camp, the time has come to embark on Operation Missing Bird. See, the Lone Owl Group has gone missing, and they should have returned days ago. Could it be the work of dangerous, dastardly unicorns? At Love Camp, the motto is “honor, pain, cuddles,” and it is mainly designed to prepare its recruits to slaughter unicorns. According to legend, the teddy bears became superior to other animals as they found God via sacred books. The unicorns became “envious demons,” sparking a Holy War wherein the teddy bear survivors were expelled from paradise as the unicorns took over.

There is a lot of lore to be absorbed here, making Unicorn Wars a very busy movie well before this group even remarks on their perilous journey. Thankfully, each new nugget of information is structured in a way that is not overwhelming to the audience. From the very beginning, one wonders if the unicorns are truly as evil as they say, leading to surprisingly complex moral questions. The horrors of war are on fully display, always tinged with hilariously morose dark humor. Similar to the aforementioned Happy Tree Friends, this will definitely not work for some; for me, I felt myself completely immersed in the teddy bear world.

Eventually of course, there is a plentiful amount of war violence and action. Buoyed by vibrant, colorful animation, Unicorn Wars is sure to make every single kill the most over-the-top it can be. Bloody arrows shower down, cutesy-looking grenades do very real damage, and unicorn horns and hooves slash and crush to the effect of many different casualties. The film feels dangerous but at the same time never takes itself too seriously. Many will feel it goes too far, particularly in the final few minutes. In the end, Unicorn Wars makes similar strides in its approach to war propaganda that we have seen many times over. War is bad, nature is good, and supposedly all-knowing people can be evil. I can guarantee that while the messaging may feel familiar, it has never been seen quite like this.

Unicorn Wars screened at 2022’s Animation Is Film Festival.

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