In “Unicorn Wars,” a disturbing animated film by the Spanish director and comic book artist Alberto Vázquez, pastel-colored bears are locked in perpetual warfare against the supposedly diabolical unicorns that inhabit a magic forest. Two brothers drafted into service, Bluey (Jon Goirizelaia) and Tubby (Jaione Insausti), are bobble-headed teddy bears with saucer eyes and a penchant for bed-wetting, yet the vainglorious Bluey in particular proves capable of great cruelty.
In other words, these Care Bears are not for children. Even some adults will have difficulty sitting through the film’s parade of exposed brains and cartoon genitals. Though, to Vázquez’s credit, the contrast between the film’s grim subject matter and its bubbly, expressive 2D animation style is a big part of what makes the film so creepy.
An antiwar and anti-religion fable, “Unicorn Wars” follows Bluey and Tubby as they train for battle in the forest, where they ingest hallucination-inducing worms and eventually slaughter a young unicorn, inciting the herd into horn-goring action. The bear soldiers are nothing like the ferocious grizzlies of lore, so they’re destined to be collateral damage.
Naturally, the war is a sham, justified by some dusty religious text that deems unicorns evil, a myth that the repressed Bluey latches on to with notable zeal. Flashbacks to his troubled childhood — his parents’ divorce, his mother’s death — give reason for his power-mongering and jealous ways, his malice metastasizing despite Tubby’s generous supply of brotherly affection.
The film has clear touchstones: it draws from the humanism and worldbuilding of Hayao Miyazaki, particularly “Princess Mononoke” and its civilization versus nature allegory — paying tribute as well to that film’s black-sludge-covered demons and ghoulish ape clan. In the brief unicorn sequences, whose animation style leans more toward the expressionistic, there are parallels with the forsaken doe in “Bambi.” But “Unicorn Wars” is forcefully provocative, trying too hard to push buttons at the cost of more nuanced explorations of masculinity and power. For Vázquez, a pile of cartoon corpses makes enough of a point.
Not rated. In Spanish, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 20 minutes. In theaters and available to rent or buy on most major platforms.