2023 Milwaukee Film Festival: Day Two “Unicorn Wars”

The Milwaukee Film Festival always kicks into high gear on the second day. Each venue has a full day and night of films and the selections branch out and become less tied to trying to please everyone. That brings us to the Cinema Hooligante program and UNICORN WARS.

Here’s Milwaukee Film’s description of the film.

t’s BAMBI meets APOCALYPSE NOW in this provocative and strangely beautiful horror comedy from acclaimed filmmaker and illustrator Alberto Vazquez (director of MFF2017 alum BIRDBOY:
THE FORGOTTEN CHILDREN), who uses its outrageous candy-
colored premise to explore religious zealotry, the tortured legacies of military fascism, and the depths of the soul. Join cuddly bear brothers Bluey and Tubby as they face the horrors of war in the battles against the unicorn army that lives deep in the treacherous forest.”

UNICORN WARS is a provocation and satire all mixed up into what looks like a children’s cartoon. It’s apparent early on that it’s not a children’s movie, so parents will be amply warned and not traumatize a generation of children like WATERSHIP DOWN did. And the audience last night was clearly in on the joke.

It’s not a particularly subtle satire, but it’s an effective one and it has no sacred cows. Teddy bear genitalia is on display, there’s abundant cartoon gore, and Bluey is one of the most hateful characters to ever appear on a film screen. The military, the politics of power, and religion are frequent targets of barbs and there’s a definite sense of anger in the margins. Despite all of that, UNICORN WARS is frequently a very beautiful film with vibrant colors, an almost Hieronymous Bosch sense of striking images, and a real love of nature. UNICORN WARS is a Spanish/French production, but it’s easy to imagine a similar Japanese anime version. Albeit, I doubt the Japanese version would be quite so Roman Catholic in its depictions of religion.

Where UNICORN WARS comes up a bit short is that it’s very episodic in nature and never develops much momentum. The climax and finale are well executed, and follow from the preceding film, but the order in which things happen feel like they could be easily rearranged and there are subtle changes in tone which brings up the question of whether parts of the film where sent to different animation studios and then combined. This isn’t necessarily a knock on the film, but the seams sometimes appear present in the final product.

Despite some bumps along the way, Bluey as something of the main character wears out his welcome before the end, the film ends on a strong final note as we see what all this war in a proverbial garden of Eden has been leading to. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

UNICORN WARS plays one more time at the Milwaukee Film Festival screening on Saturday, April 29, 2023 at 11: 00 pm at the Oriental Theatre. The 2023 Milwaukee Film Festival runs from April 20, 2023 until May 4, 2023. Tickets can be purchased via MKEFILM.ORG.