Bite into the meat of Alberto Vázquez’s “Unicorn Wars” on home video thanks to Shout! Factory and GKids Films.

One never knows the gems they’ll find at film festivals. Sometimes they’ll be greeted by low-stakes lo-fi supernatural chillers that don’t match your vibe, other times you get to know an action comedy that delights all the same on subsequent watches. There’s an excitement to the unknowing, especially when all you have to go on is the barest of descriptions. This was the case with Alberto Vázquez’s Unicorn Wars which had its U.S. Premiere at Fantastic Fest 2022. With an opening line on the festival’s website description of “A good unicorn is a dead unicorn. Treacherous teddies out for blood and savagely murderous unicorns…. Who wouldn’t want to see this movie?” my curiosity piqued and I took a chance. I didn’t expect to wrap the film horrified and grossed out yet gob-smacked by the intentionality of Vázquez’s tale. This is a film with plenty to say about war, organized faith, nature, and the industrialized world, leaving little unstated and everything on the table. Now, thanks to Shout! Factory in partnership with U.S. distributor GKids Films, audiences who found themselves enamored with this soft-spoken horror show or who are willing to take a chance can do so at their leisure on Blu-ray.

If you’re interested in learning about Unicorn Wars in a spoiler-free context, please head over to the initial Fantastic Fest 2022 review. Moving forward, details of the film will be explored.

uw_photo 9

Maria voiced by Itxaso Quintana in UNICORN WARS.

There once was a forest, green and lush, filled with all manner of flora and fauna living in harmony until everything changed when one of the native bears discovered a book resting on an alter in a stone building. Upon being read, the book bestowed to the bear knowledge of The Word. With this newfound awareness, the bears declared themselves sovereign and tried to take over the forest, only to be expelled by the unicorns. It is prophesied that the bears will triumph over the unicorns and that the one who defeats the final unicorn and drinks of its blood will be welcomed by the return of God. It’s here that the story of Unicorn Wars begins and, unsurprisingly, where it ends.

uw_photo 4

A scene from UNICORN WARS.

Before it was a movie, Vázquez made a short film titled Sangre de unicornio (Unicorn Blood), which covers much of the same information in brief. What’s great about the feature length version is the way in which Vázquez is able to use the lead characters of brothers Azulin and Gordi (nicknamed Bluey and Tubby) to explore the friction between those who allow fear, shame, and distrust corrupt their hearts until all they understand is pain-as-power and those who redeem, affirm, and lead with love in all their interactions. For as much as Unicorn Wars is centered on the battle the bears feel they must fight against the unicorns, the larger concept of what’s at stake is played out through the relationship of the brothers. This is why it feels so important that Vázquez jumps through time to explore the toxic relationship that exists between Azulin and Gordi, even though it’s one-directional, while also depicting the as-it-happens narrative of boot camp soldiers going to war. Gordi is the elder twin, forever hated by Azulin because he was alone in the womb for minutes which felt like an eternity. This stored resentment turns deadly as Azulin dispatches his faithless mother, an outcome he seems torn by because he doesn’t actually want her dead, he wanted her alive and wanting *him,* yet couldn’t suffer to see her leave his father and, therefore, abandon him (viewed as yet another in a litany of perceived abuses and slights of preference from her toward everyone but him). Vázquez has teed up this acknowledgment of Azulin’s smallness in the first moment we meet him, he and his fellow soldiers in their barracks getting ready for sleep and he quietly, sneakily puts on makeup to hide his wrinkles and exhaustion before telling everyone how naturally beautiful he is. He can’t stand to be called out on this, his weakness being that he can’t stand to be proven wrong, to be viewed as weaker or less beautiful, something which makes him the perfect prey for an organization that proclaims love and demands blind faith.

In my initial spoiler-free review, I referred to the film as “… a cautionary tale all should listen to before it’s too late.” In this world, there is a church the bears attend, it’s symbol that of a heart with an eye in its center. The Word shared by a priest declares Divine Rights, claims which have been used in the real world for centuries as an excuse to do horrible things to other people. This is the obvious thing that the film explores, wherein real-world examples like the Crusades or the current demolishing of the separation between church and state in the U.S. come to mind as people use faith as the excuse to butcher and maim. “These things are mine, not just because I want them, but because this book I read and this faith I believe in tells me I’m allowed to.” This is the acceptance that Azulin is given, where his cruelty is eventually rewarded. In contrast, Gordi lives an existence of peace the moment he’s freed from the responsibility of his brother. Without a book as a guiding principle, Gordi just *is* good. Rather than kill a wounded unicorn, he nurses it back to health. He exists off the land in the same way his people did before The Word. Gordi is goodness personified, entirely happy with what he has, the “paradise” his faith taught him had been stolen from him now returned, without a single pink-shaded heart-adorned grenade or arrow used. It’s as though one can’t build a bridge between peoples through the use of violence and fear, when honest engagement, respect, and love can get the job done without punishing all involved.

uw_photo 3

L-R: Padre voiced by Txema Regalado and Azulin voiced by Jon Goirizelaia in UNICORN WARS.

Despite my own cultural upbringing being one of a community of people who were enslaved, banished, and otherwise starved for a homeland until the creation of Israel, I find the lessons within Unicorn Wars far more valuable when considering the ways in which people will figure out a way to justify shitty behavior. All people deserve a right to life and to peace. No one should be afraid that their government is going to come for them, or in the case of Unicorn Wars, see them entirely as fodder for the wartime machine because a people at war are more easily manipulated, and no one should be afraid that the government will come and take what doesn’t belong to them. There’re only so many resources on this planet and yet we’d almost rather no one have them then share so that they go around. Why? Pride and fear. Same reason that books are being banned and academia is being assaulted in the U.S. It’s easier to tell the populace that white kids shouldn’t be ashamed of who they are because their ancestors did shitty things rather than confront that shitty behavior to make things better. Pride and fear. Example: In 1763, King George issued a royal proclamation which forbade the then-British colonists from expanding into Indigenous lands after meeting with members of various peoples and coming to understand the harm being done to them and their land by the colonists. However, a few years later, the Declaration of Independence shred that proclamation under the guise of protection: “He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.” A clever way to say, we don’t want to stop our expansion just because other people live there (a not all too unfamiliar a tactic used by the U.S. government on any group they seek to abuse in the name of U.S. empowerment). This film doesn’t just tell us that organized faith brings about a false belief that we’re owed what other people have, it shows us what happens when we are guided by pride and fear: pain. Unresolvable, untreated, festering pain.

As rich a film as this is, the included bonus materials on the home release are sadly not. Considering that the last GKids Films release to get the home release treatment from Shout! Factory was New Gods: Yang Jian (2022) and it comes with over 40 minutes of on-disc materials, the fact that Unicorn Wars only has around five minutes is profoundly upsetting as someone who loves the film. In the past, sometimes we’d get either an initial release interview or maybe a filmmaker interview from the Animation is Film Festival (sponsored by GKids), such as with BELLE (2021). Unfortunately, despite Vázquez being in attendance for the October 23rd, 2022 screening, home viewing audiences don’t get to see it. If there’s something to be happy about, at least we learn something new in the brief interview about the origin of the world we explore and, thanks to the only other featurette, we also get a sense of the animation technology used to bring the film to life. Perhaps because of all the animated films I screen during the year, learning about Blender (the tool used) is not only fascinating but feels like exploring something entirely new. Would’ve been very cool to get more about the program and actually see a scene or two being developed.

uw_photo 10

Padre voiced by Txema Regalado in UNICORN WARS.

Outside of the two brief featurettes, home viewers can either watch the U.S. or International trailers, or the full-feature as an unfinished animatic. It’s a bummer that this is the entirety of the special features considering that fans of Unicorn Wars can buy both the score and an art book, implying that there is an audience for learning more about the various aspects which bring the dark and terrifying world of brothers Azulin and Gordi to life.

uw_photo 6

A scene from UNICORN WARS.

Though released widely in 2023, Unicorn Wars sits in the #25 spot of favorites films (out of 64) from 2022. Its beautiful animation and lovely score are merely set dressing for the depth of the narrative, which is rarely far from my mind given the news of late. Alberto Vázquez’s Unicorn Wars is an intensely rich film, absolutely lacking in subtext sure, but powerful nonetheless. As he states in the on-disc interview, Unicorn Wars draws from war films like Apocalypse Now (1979), Platoon (1986), and Full Metal Jacket (1987), which should tell you everything you need to know about why this film generates conversation and shouldn’t be shown to children, no matter how they might like the sweet cuddly faces of Azulin and Gordi. More importantly, for those who are open to its message, they may just reconsider why blind faith is dangerous, why pain deserves attention, and why history shouldn’t be ignored.

Unicorn Wars Special Features:

  • Interview with director Alberto Vázquez (2:33)
  • Working in Blender (2:03)
  • Feature-Length Animatic (1:20:08)
  • Trailers (3:52)

Available on VOD and digital March 10th, 2023.
Available on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory May 9th, 2023.

For more information, head to the official GKids Films Unicorn Wars webpage or the official Unicorn Wars website.


Categories: Films To Watch, Home Release, Recommendation

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: