Having received quite possibly the best reception of any title at Tuesday’s Cartoon Movie Croissants Breakfast – a video clip prompting approving whoops and hollers – Spanish-French animated feature “Unicorn Wars” saw its poster and first stills unveiled at the presentation which looks like an early highlight at this year’s meet.
Yohann Comte, co-founder of Charades, the film’s sales agent, also confirmed at the unveil that “Unicorn Wars” has sold to Japan’s Riskit. UFO Distribution handles the feature’s release in France, Barton Films distributes in Spain.
The film is just a few weeks off completion, said Miñambres. It figures as a strong candidate to play Annecy Animation Festival’s main competition this June, maybe taking in the Cannes Festival on the way.
The latest offering from Alberto Vázquez, director of “Birdboy: The Forgotten Children,” a Gkids pickup for North America, “Unicorn Wars” is produced by UniKo’s Iván Miñambres and Abano Producións’ Chelo Loureiro from Spain, both at the Cartoon Movie presentation, as well as Autour de Minuit’s Nicolas Schmerkin in France.
Vázquez’s second feature was described by Miñambres as “an irreverent fable…a mix between ‘Bambi’ and ‘Apocalypse Now.’”
It already dazzled at an Annecy Festival Work in Progress session last June. There Vázquez and other creators doubled down on plot details. Set against a prophesized apocalyptic war between religious zealot teddy bears and environmentalist unicorns, it turns on two teddy bear brothers, plucky Bluey and lily-livered Tubby. Put through their paces with other teddy bear recruits at a military base Love Camp, they are sent off to a Magic Forest occupied by the unicorns to search for a missing squad. The mission goes horribly awry.
Beyond unveiling the poster and first stills from finished sequences (rather than concept art images seen before), Miñambres walked a Cartoon Movie industry audience through eight sequences.
In a first, young all black unicorn Maria gallops through a crumbling cathedral looking for her mother. The charioscuro visual scheme is painted in tinged blood red, a color scheme which runs through the film.
In sequence two, Bluey and Tubby arrive as new recruits at a teddy bear boot camp, and run drills chanting the motto “Honor, pain, and cuddles!” While they practice the drills, an irascible cigar-chomping Commander Fluffy looks on from offices above.
Another sequence at Cartoon Movie featured a storybook exposition flashback employing a 2D printed aesthetic similar to that of a Medieval bible or the Book of Kells. In this creation myth, we learn of the roots of the conflict: Way back, the teddy bears discovered the Book of Knowledge, giving them a sense of superiority over animals. But the unicorns rebelled, starting a Holy War that set the world aflame.
The presentation underscored how the film lifts from the big-eyed, bold coloured cuddly designs of TV animation (the show “Adventure Time” seems a big reference) while twisting them to adult ends.
Blood and guts, full frontal teddy bear nudity, salty language punctuated the footage. Visuals cut multiple innovative ways. A battle scene recalls WWI-style trenches, the bears firing a volley of heart-tipped arrows and grenades at the unicorns rushing at them.
Travelling through the enchanted forest, the bears munch on psychogenic slugs and begin hallucinating. The film’s candy collars begin to pull and blur, the scene acquiring the feel of a black light painting found in an ‘80s dorm room.
Comte added that Charades will position the film to target genre and auteur speciality distributors alongside traditional animation buyers.