Thursday, March 09, 2023

Unicorn Wars, from GKIDS

Remember during basic training, when your drill instructor told you war was a lot more than teddy bears and unicorns? (Most New York film critics can ignore this rhetorical question.) Turns out that was a good thing. This eternally running war between teddy bears and unicorns is both brutal and pointless. It makes you wonder just what good is war anyway, except for halting genocide, repelling illegal invasions, and liberating oppressed people—but aside from that, what is it good for? Regardless, the titular war is not good for anyone except maybe the privileged teddy bear officers in Alberto Vasquez’s Unicorn Wars, from GKIDS, which opens tomorrow in theaters.

Bluey and Tubby are two Kane and Abel teddy bear brothers, who are going through basic training together, Tubby acts like the shy, sensitive one, but Bluey is actually scared and damaged inside, due to his mother’s rejection. They recruits act like Care Bears around each other, but when the subject of unicorns comes up, they turn into blood-thirsty Z-emblazoned war criminals.

For years, the teddy bears have waged a genocidal war against unicorns, fueled by propaganda dressed up as ancient wisdom. According to legend, the teddy bear who drinks the blood of the “last unicorn” will gain super-heroic powers, sort of in the
Highlander tradition. Of course, it doesn’t make sense. That is Vasquez’s statement on war.

It is hard to say whether
Unicorn Wars works or not, because it greatly depends on Vasquez’s intentions. If he set out to make a film about unicorns and teddy bears that would shock and horrify parents that accidentally took their kids to it, then Unicorn Wars is a smashing success and completely worthy endeavor. However, if it was meant as a lofty anti-war statement then it is a clumsy, ham-fisted, rub-your-nose-in-it failure. At some point, when you are constantly getting hit over the head, it starts to drag. That point comes awfully quickly in Unicorn Wars.

Vasquez’s anthropomorphic fantastical allegory
Birdboy (co-written and co-directed with Pedro Rivera) was also relentlessly dark, but it was also keenly humanistic, albeit in a neurotic kind of way. That soul is missing from Unicorn Wars. It is also clear Vasquez never went through any sort of basic training, cribbing from films like Full Metal Jacket instead. There is all of the initial berating but none of the unit-building.

The didactic tone is definitely a problem, but the third act foray into
Planet of the Apes territory is just risibly pretentious. At least there is no possible way you could conceivably miss Vasquez’s message. Highly disappointing (given the quality of Birdboy), Unicorn Wars opens tomorrow (3/10) in New York at the Alamo Drafthouse Lower Manhattan.