There have been many storied conflicts throughout history, Harvard versus Yale, Carthage versus Rome, Coke versus Pepsi, but maybe none have taken so bloody a route as unicorns versus teddy bears. This is the premise of the animated Spanish-French coproduction Unicorn Wars, the story of a brave company of teddy bear recruits who journey into the magical forest to find a lost squadron. Though they have been training, firing their heart-tipped arrows and running adorable obstacle courses — in sequences that captures the spirit of Full Metal Jacket – the teddy bear squadron is not prepared for what they find in the land of rainbow-colored caterpillars. Even worse, dissension has risen in their midst, as ‘Bluey’ still resents not being named the lead bear. Unable to curry favor with his drill sergeant, Bluey turns to the Army Chaplain, a fundamentalist zealot who gives him the sacred teddy bear bible which says the bear that drinks the blood of the last unicorn shall ascend to a new level of consciousness. When the journey into the woods does not go well and Bluey is the only one to make it out alive, his superiors make him into a hero in an effort to prop up the cause.
Yes as the Fantastic Fest program promises, this is no Care Bears and My Little Pony crossover event, this is dark-ass military industrial complex critique punctuated with cuddles and teddy bear penises. The innocuity of the animation allows you to lower your guard that is until somebody’s head is pulled apart. Animation has been a part of Fantastic Fest since the very beginning, with many Studio Ghibli films making US premieres here, or brilliant indie animation like My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea. With Unicorn Wars, the focus is less on style and more on message. The brutality of war is never given summary treatment, and the pure ridiculousness of the situation only makes the point stronger. The end of the film drives home the futility of the entire conflict. Recently picked up by GKIDS, who have nabbed 12 Best Animated Feature Oscar nominations since its founding in 2008 and who also handle North American distribution for Studio Ghibli, the film appears set for a 2023 release. Who knows, maybe between now and then they could get a bunch of high-profile English-speaking actors to dub the characters like 2021’s Flee. (And less problematic for certain as the process robbed that documentary of much of its authenticity).
Although at 92 minutes the film may be about 15 minutes too long, I may also have been feeling the effects of a late screening time. There are times it takes itself a little too seriously some of the grimness could have been broken up by more moments where they just embrace the outlandishness of militaristic teddy bears. But this not South Park. This is Born On The 4th Of July or Apocalypse Now done as a fable. Maybe Unicorn Wars is just a killer soundtrack away from being a cult classic like Heavy Metal. We have very little experience with Feature-length adult animation in this country, but with it dominating our streaming services, this gory-little gem may be exactly on time (for storytime and milk and cookies).
– Bears Rebecca Fonté (@BearsFonte)
2022 Fantastic Fest; Alberto Vázquezr; Unicorn Wars movie review