Unicorn: Warriors Eternal Review: Genndy Tartakovsky Is Back With Another Thrilling And Genre-Bending Series [Annecy]

Despite premiering to thunderous applause and cheers from an enthusiastic audience, there was an air of melancholy and frustration during the world premiere of the first episode of Genndy Tartakovsky's new show, "Unicorn: Warriors Eternal." It wasn't caused by the show itself, but by its long and shockingly arduous road to the screen. 

Despite creating some of the most influential and popular cartoons of the '90s and '00s, helping launch Cartoon Network into the juggernaut it is today, giving us the best action "Star Wars" has ever seen, and making a highly successful trilogy of films, it took almost 20 years for "Unicorn" to get made. According to Tartakovsky, no studio wanted to work with him after he left Cartoon Network, and when he finally got someone to back up "Unicorn" for production, it fell apart, first at Cartoon Network and then at Netflix, before HBO Max finally picked it up.

And yet, there was not an ounce of frustration to be felt on the show itself, but a deep passion for fantasy and animation. /Film saw the world premiere of the first episode of "Unicorn: Warriors Eternal" at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival, and it was everything we hoped it would be.

An epic fantasy tale

The episode starts on a far away planet, where an elf is battling a strange glowing creature that morphs its shape and is seemingly indestructible, next to him is a Betty Boop-inspired girl with superpowers that shoots beams out of her hands. The fight itself is gorgeously animated by studio La Cachette, who also did the incredible "Primal," with stunning camera work and sense of framing that blends live-action filmmaking techniques with animation in a seamless and engrossing way. 

When things start going south for our heroes, Merlin himself teleports to this strange planet, accompanied by a steampunk gentleman robot aptly named Copernicus. Merlin tells them that their fight doesn't end here, and we start jumping forward in time on a montage that shows the titular Warriors Eternal being reincarnated across the ages, with the robot Copernicus finding worthy candidates and "reawakening" the warriors inside them. Basically, this robot goes around possessing innocent bystanders with the souls of ancient warriors, with zero regard for the lives they are living or who will be left to pick up the pieces of what they leave behind.

The bulk of the story seems to be taking place in 1890s London, when a young girl named Melinda gets reawakened by Copernicus on the day of her wedding. Because of her younger age, Melinda's memories of her past life and her new one get all mixed up, causing an identity crisis for her, and also a lot of anger and confusion from her family, wedding guests, and groom. Now they have to gather the other warriors before the intergalactic evil surfaces again.

A steampunk adventure

The first thing to know about the show is that it looks stunning. Tartakovsky and his team have crafted a vibrant steampunk world full of flying blimps, massive steamships, and of course, tons of robots. More grounded than "Primal," while still maintaining a foot firmly set on the fantasy and sci-fi genre, "Unicorn: Warriors Eternal" is already a winner when it comes to world-building and production design.

Likewise, the show feels inspired by European animation, particularly things like "The Adventures of Asterix" and their cartoonish designs and wacky adventures within a rather serious time period. There's also a lot of Osamu Tezuka's "Astroboy," and the Fleischer brothers in how much emphasis there is on body movements and facial expressions, a rarity in 2D TV animation. During a panel following the premiere, Tartakovsky also spoke of being inspired by "Snow White," particularly the funeral scene, which is a rather emotional scene that also stars a bunch of goofy dwarves. Much like how "Primal" takes inspiration from the golden age of animation to create a silent yet energetic action show, "Unicorn: Warriors Eternal" pulls from a variety of influences to create something that feels old-school, but done contemporarily. And in terms of tone, fans of "Sym-Bionic Titan" should keep an eye out for this show, which shares a lot of the same DNA as "Titan," not just because character designer Stephen Destefano worked on both shows, but because "Unicorn" uses magic and sci-fi to make exciting stories while still offering a coming-of-age story about teenagers finding themselves.

Even 25 years after his first show, "Dexter's Laboratory," Genndy Tartakovsky continues to reinvent himself and find new ways to bring old-school animation techniques and styles into modern times. "Unicorn: Warriors Eternal" goes further, pulling from European and Japanese animation to create a magical adventure with a dark undertone that can be appreciated by all kinds of audiences.

"Unicorn: Warriors Eternal" doesn't have a release date yet, but its first season will consist of 10 episodes, and will premiere on HBO Max and Cartoon Network at a later date.