Unicorn Wars

Keep your children far, far away from Unicorn Wars. Despite looking like kiddie fare at first glance, this is actually a very adult animated feature. Director Alberto Vazquez, whose Birdboy: The Forgotten Children was a cult hit, turns in an amusingly twisted tale here. The idea of teddy bears engaged in bloody battle with unicorns sounds like a fun, silly romp – and it is, although the story ends up venturing into darker territory, making some salient points about war in the end.

In a way, the movie is Full Metal Jacket with teddy bears. The first section finds two brothers -- the angry Bluey and the overweight, insecure Tubby -- in basic training. A cruel drill instructor prepares them for the task of killing their sworn enemy, the unicorns. He also relentlessly ridicules Tubby, as do several of the other “soldiers.” You know early on that Unicorn Wars is going to be edgy, as the bears think nothing of walking around barracks naked, and there’s even a shot of one pulling out his privates to pee.

Later, the film moves out into the field, where the bears first eat psychedelic bugs in an awesomely trippy sequence, then find themselves in great peril from the aggressive tactics of the unicorns. Characters in Saving Private Ryan didn’t die this gruesomely. Bluey ends up becoming a full-bore warmonger, leading the charge. Flashbacks reveal the events that led him to become susceptible to this mindset. Where the two brothers end up in the wake of merciless combat gives the story a concluding punch.

With its candy-colored visuals, Unicorn Wars creates an alluring dichotomy between the cute-and-cuddly look and the extreme violence that occurs within the plot. At times, that provides big laughs. Watching teddy bears and unicorns slaughtering each other is subversively funny, especially since the former use heart-tipped arrows and the latter use their horns to impale their foes. The entire concept has the kind of gonzo craziness that makes adult animation special.

At the same time, the story speaks to ideas related to the futility of war, along with the psychological toll it can take on one who fights. Teddy bears are lovable, unicorns magical. Although you laugh at first, seeing them die horrifically drives home the thought that there are no true winners in war, just mass casualties. And witnessing how differently Bluey and Tubby emerge from battle implies the inevitable personal cost of warfare.

Unicorn Wars is thin in its characterization of everyone outside of the two main protagonists, and the transition from comedy to drama isn’t entirely smooth. There’s nothing else quite like it, though. Vazquez has a cool vision. Even if he doesn’t execute it perfectly, getting swept up in the movie’s crazy energy is hard to avoid.

out of four

Unicorn Wars is unrated, but contains graphic violence and some language. The running time is 1 hour and 33 minutes.