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STUDIO: Lions Gate
RUNNING TIME: 93 minutes
• “Immortal Characters” Featurette
• Audio Commentary with Writer Peter S. Beagle and Connor Cochran
• Fan Art Gallery
• Peter S. Beagle and His Work
• “The Tail of The Last Unicorn” Minidocumentary
• Schmendrick’s Magical Gallery
• Original Trailer
• Trailer Gallery
What if there were, like, one unicorn left in the whole world?
Starring the voices of Alan Arkin, Jeff Bridges, Mia Farrow, Tammy Grimes, Robert Klein, Angela Lansbury, Christopher Lee
Written by Peter S. Beagle based on his book
Directed by Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass
When the last unicorn (Farrow) realizes that she is indeed the last of her kind, she heads out on a journey outside of her safe realm to find the others like her. On her trip, she encounters a bumbling magician named Schmendrick (Arkin) who helps her by turning her into a woman to protect her as they venture to the castle of King Haggard (Lee) and his son, Prince Lir (Bridges), who are the owners of the Red Bull, the demonic force that has been behind the unicorns’ disappearance.
Nostalgia can be a bitch. Only our sappy memories of childhood can gloss over things that, had we experienced them after, we’d have found pointless at best, completely forgettable at worst. Growing up in the ’80s with a mom that loved the musical band America and preferred to keep us kids away from R-rated fare long after our peers, I was fated into watching The Last Unicorn countless times, to the point where I know all of the folksy songs’ lyrics by heart even to this day. (It’s not something I’m proud of.) It’s been likely close to two decades since I’ve last seen this dark, non-Disney animated flick, and sad to say, it doesn’t quite hold up like I’d hoped.
But that’s not to say that the film is without merit. The animation itself isn’t all that spectacular, with many frames feeling extremely two-dimensional and flat; however, the colors used by the artists are stunning. Their palette includes a lot of purples and deep reds, as if they’d captured the hues from an epic sunset and used those to create this magical world, not entirely unlike medieval Europe. And once the group travels to King Haggard’s castle on the ocean, the palette changes to bleak grays and other earthy tones. The unifying theme between these two color schemes is that they’re both focused on creating a dark, depressing world. We identify with the unicorn, who doesn’t know love or regret, yet clearly feels loneliness intimately. She’s a sullen, forlorn creature that seems to have been through some trauma before we even meet her yet it seems like she’s been completely unaware to the plight of her fellow creatures. So even though she’s somehow completely ignorant to the fact that she’s the last unicorn out there in the forest, she’s still depressed. Naturally, things don’t get better for her once she’s ripped out of her world and into reality. The reality of this world, of course. And everyone else that we meet through her are living difficult lives – Schmendrick the magician who travels with a band of gypsys through the downtrodden land mopes through life, although is still somewhat optimistic; Molly Grue (Grimes), who used to be beautiful once but now is old and weathered and longs for those days; and King Haggard, who comes across as one of the most unhappy humans on the planet. I’m not sure my mom was successful in shielding us kids from rough content by inflicting this sorrow-filled opus upon us.
You can’t critique The Last Unicorn without talking about the music. Even now, long after America’s heyday, they get front-of-the-case billing right underneath the title on the Blu-ray release, as if their cache would somehow still encourage someone to pick this movie up. While I’m sure this will lose whatever shred of cred I had left in whatever circle I may run, I have to say, America nails it. Granted – they didn’t write these tunes. That was left to composer Jimmy Webb. But America’s multiple vocal harmonies and minor-key folk rock just work in this adult-aimed feature. Many of the wider shots in the film feel like they’re a post-apocalyptic road flick and nothing says the-end-of-the-world quite like the voices of the lads in America. They manage to capture the bleak pointlessness felt by the characters so well, and then transmit it to us watching the film through their mournful acoustic guitars. It’s all rather depressing to watch.
But, as is usually the case with nostalgia, I will still always love this film and remember it fondly from my childhood. Still, I have to admit that the film loses steam – if it really had any – once it gets to King Haggard’s castle. At this point, she’s not only the last unicorn, but the only unicorn in the form of a human girl. And if she weren’t depressed before, she certainly hates life now as she talks constantly about feeling like she’s in the wrong body and how it’s not right for her to be like that. Naturally, King Haggard’s son, Prince Lir, falls in love with her/it since he doesn’t know that she’s actually a unicorn, which clearly causes some issues. You can imagine the ending to this one, which ends happily enough, but the moment that America’s titular song hits the TV’s speakers, you still can’t help but feel sad for whatever reason. Their music just oozes melancholy no matter what’s happening on the screen.
For a trip down memory lane, definitely pop this familiar favorite into the player. It definitely transports you to a new world, one that just feels unsafe and grim. There don’t seem to be many humans outside of the ones we meet, making it feel like perhaps this takes place after the black plague has decimated the population… and left the door open for unicorns to flourish, of course. Although it’s not the most rewarding or fulfilling experience unless you just love late-70s folk-rock. Or you want to test out how well your Zoloft is doing.
The film looks as well as it possibly can with this HD transfer. The colors are rich. It doesn’t look like a nearly 30 year old film. This set comes with both the Blu-ray and the DVD so you’re all set should you bring this over to your friend’s place to watch it and find out that they don’t have Blu. It’s pretty stacked with special features so if you’re a big fan of the flick, you can get into the original author’s head with his commentary and another featurette about him and his work.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars