Unicorn Wars animation: The bloodthirsty teddy bears go into battle
Director Alberto Vazquez’s Goya Award-winning animated film is about the bloody war between teddy bears and unicorns.
Spanish director Alberto Vazquez’s anthropomorphic animals bring to mind fairy-tale illustrations and animated classics—except for Vazquez’s animated unicorns and teddy bears, who perform gruesome acts that reveal the worst of human nature.
“I like living in this in-between space where you can’t tell if it’s for kids or really for adults — but not all adults,” Vazquez said in a recent video call.
Vazquez’s sophomore film, the Goya Award-winning “Unicorn Wars,” opens in U.S. theaters on March 10. He defines this latest idea of his as a combination of “Apocalypse Now”, Disney’s “Bambi” and the Bible.
Read more: The 41 best animated films of the 21st century, ranked
The dark fantasy charts a holy war between bears and unicorns for control of a sacred forest. At the center of the larger conflict are bear brothers Bluey and Tubby (Azulín and Gordi in Spanish), who are part of a group of young soldiers undergoing training before embarking on a dangerous mission. Early on, one of the bears stabbed his brother to death in a drug-induced frenzy. Later, another has his leg brutally amputated. And for the final confrontation, the two factions mercilessly slaughter each other, the bears are strung on unicorn horns, and their enemies are cut to pieces and beheaded by heavy artillery.
Originally a short comic called “Unicorn Blood” (“Sangre de unicornio”), Vazquez adapted the drawings into an acclaimed 2013 watercolor short film about the two brothers who hunt the horned horses. At the time, the goal was to discuss the effects of bullying. But in expanding the short into a feature, Vazquez introduced a larger religious mythology, giving Bluey (voiced by Jon Goirizelaia)—a narcissist fueled by envy and resentment—a terrifying transformation arc to explore the origins of human evil.
“We see the story through the eyes of this villain, and it makes the audience uncomfortable because he’s such a malevolent character,” Vazquez explained. This unease is heightened by the resolute violence perpetrated throughout by the deceptively cute troupe of chubby-faced bears, as well as their sharp tongues free of profanity.
“Animation allows me to get around censorship,” he noted. “This is a film that could only be done in animation. It would be crazy in live action, because there is even cannibalism!”
In “Unicorn Wars,” the unicorns and woodland animals are female — representing the healing power of nature — while the bears are mostly male, representing the “destructive power of humanity,” Vazquez explained.
The gap between the two forces is markedly expressed in the character design. Color-coded and named after simple adjectives (not unlike the Care Bears), the bears have a more whimsical, hand-drawn look, while the unicorns are brought to life in 3DCG, akin to the 1920s animation of the best-known German pioneer, Lotte Reiniger. “To the Adventures of Prince Achmed”.
“It’s a different representation of unicorns than the typical representation where they’re white and benign,” Vazquez said. “These unicorns are wild animals and don’t think twice about killing little bears if they feel threatened.”
As deliberately disgusting as “Unicorn Wars” is, the filmmaker always envisioned it as an anti-war film, much like the British animated drama “When the Wind Blows,” one of Vazquez’s favorite films. Through the rawness of their images, both films condemn the horror and senselessness of armed conflicts.
“Every empire and every nation has its own narrative to justify wars,” he noted. “The little bears even have their own holy book, which is a parody of the Old Testament, which fascinates me because they have a vengeful God and no shortage of cruelty.”
Although the director is not a practicing Catholic, he admits that part of the dogma is embedded in his subconscious. Vazquez attended Catholic school as a child and remembers watching the 1980s animated show “Superbook,” which retold Old Testament parables. It was then that Vazquez developed an interest in religious art and religion as a means of control, a theme that runs throughout “Unicorn Wars.”
Vazquez has always drawn inspiration for his art from chapters of his personal history, filtered through his caustic imagination. In his debut feature, “Birdboy: The Forgotten Children” (“Psiconautas, los niños olvidados”), a post-apocalyptic narrative centered on a drug-addicted outcast, the hardships of his native Galicia served as the main reference.
From the beginning, Vazquez wanted to sublimate his childhood memories into an eccentric tale, which suffered a sharp economic downturn in the 1980s and became a gateway for illegal substances to enter Europe.
“I witnessed a generation of young people fall into the hands of heroin addiction,” he said. “I also wanted to talk about the deindustrialization of northern Spain, where I live.”
Vazquez recalls that the practical demands of “Birdboy,” which was produced for under $1 million with a tiny crew, landed him in the hospital with heart problems. In “Unicorn Wars,” with three times the budget and support from multiple television networks, you could hire more artists and delegate tasks.
“I’m constantly learning because I didn’t study animation or filmmaking. I learned from others,” Vazquez said. I’m an illustrator and storyteller, but there are things I don’t know because animation is a very complex job with many industrial implications.
Vazquez, a four-time Goya Award winner, is optimistic about the future of animation in Spain, where more than half a dozen locally produced films will be released this year, but worries about the way films like his can be distributed in a troubled theatrical market. .
Despite the uncertainty, his third film, adapted from his award-winning short “Decorado,” is in early development. The original black-and-white short features another collection of his signature cannibalistic protagonist in ugly vignettes that reveal penetrating existential preoccupations.
“Through these fantastical universes, I’m talking about very human and very contemporary themes, and that’s a key part of what makes my film meaningful,” Vazquez said.
Register: Stay up to date with the latest movie and TV news! Subscribe to our email newsletter here.