Spanish animator Alberto Vázquez is setting himself up for a problem with “Unicorn Wars.” An uneasy mix of non-threatening characters and disturbing content material is a signature for Vázquez: His final function movie, 2015’s “Birdboy: The Forgotten Kids,” is a few group of cartoon animal youngsters struggling to outlive a post-nuclear hellscape. His newest continues this pattern, taking serious-minded musings on the character of evil and putting them in a world that appears designed to not be taken significantly. Consequently, it has to work twice as exhausting to make its factors. To Vázquez’s credit score, sufficient of them stick.
The movie takes place in a actuality where teddy bears with large tender eyes and large spherical heads—all designed to be simply completely different sufficient from a sure ‘80s cartoon large on hugs and caring—are embroiled in a holy battle towards a race of enchanted unicorns. This battle has been occurring longer than any of the characters on this movie have been alive, and the monstrous army regime that emerged within the interim is propped up by the teachings of a faith that additionally bears a resemblance to a real-life establishment. (IP, theology, identical distinction, proper?)
Vázquez’s critique of Catholicism is loud and clear within the plot that spins out from this premise, as does his affection for traditional war-is-hell movies. After an enigmatic chilly open, the story begins with a unit of younger, would-be teddy-bear troopers being whipped into form at a boot camp the place “cuddles are made out of metal, blood, and ache!” On the core of the group are two brothers: bratty, aggressive Azulín and long-suffering Gordi. Azulín is terrible to his brother, bullying him for his weight and accusing him of wetting the mattress in entrance of their fellow recruits. Gordi simply takes it, and at all times forgives.
The just about comically tragic backstory that led Azulín and Gordi up to now is a subplot within the bigger story of what occurs to the brothers as soon as they go away the fascistic security of boot camp and exit right into a Vietnam-like jungle to hunt their magical enemy. This through-line is a descent into hell within the “Apocalypse Now” mould. And Vázquez provides a mind-bending ingredient straight out of that film by inserting a drug-fueled psychedelic freakout—achieved, naturally, by sucking the center out of dwelling, screaming cartoon caterpillars—in between scenes of animated bloodshed.
The movie doesn’t maintain again when it comes to gore. In a single scene, Azulín, Gordi, and firm stumble onto a campground filled with mutilated teddy corpses, with maggots falling from useless bears’ mouths and bear intestines draped from timber like bloody crepe paper. These artistic tableaus of animated demise communicate to the joke that’s on the very core of this film, the identical joke that’s fueled a strong proportion of Grownup Swim’s output through the years: Wouldn’t or not it’s humorous if cute stuff that’s meant for teenagers was truly, like, tremendous tousled? That is, in fact, a one-note premise and one whose novelty wears off quick. However whereas “Unicorn Wars” undoubtedly indulges this impulse—assume cartoon genitalia and bears hanging themselves in despair—it fortunately additionally has extra occurring.
A kind of issues is the anti-Catholic theme talked about above; the opposite is the rendering of the atmosphere itself. Whereas the teddy bears and their world are drawn within the fashion of a Saturday morning cartoon, different components of the movie use impressionistic strategies that learn extra like storybook illustrations or illuminated manuscripts. The influence of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli is clear within the components of the movie that really interact with the unicorns, who’ve a sacred obligation to guard the atmosphere a lá “Princess Mononoke” and battle a burbling ball of anthropomorphic hate that remembers No-Face in “Spirited Away.” Mixed with a painterly method to its Lisa Frank-like coloration palette—assume magenta, teal, scorching pink, and neon blue—it’s all fairly pleasurable to take a look at.
“Unicorn Wars” could be richer if it had spent extra time creating this mythology fairly than with our feuding bear brothers, whose story will get heavy-handed within the overstuffed, poorly paced again half of the film. As Vázquez retains including parts in its final half hour, “Unicorn Wars” begins to really feel like the start of a trilogy or perhaps a TV sequence that obtained canceled unexpectedly and needed to wrap up its storyline in a handful of episodes. However for a film that, on its floor, runs an actual danger of being a shallow joke painfully stretched out to function size, perhaps having an excessive amount of occurring is a blessing.
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