Directed and Produced by Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass
November 19, 1982
- The Unicorn/Lady Amalthea-Mia Farrow
- Schmendrick the Magician-Alan Arkin
- Prince Lír-Jeff Bridges
- Mommy Fortuna-Angela Lansbury
- King Haggard-Christopher Lee
- Captain Cully/The Harpy Celaeno –Keenan Wynn
- Mabruk (King Haggard’s court magician)/The Cat-Paul Frees
- The Tree-Nellie Bellflower
- The Skull-René Auberjonois
A unicorn learns that she is the last of her kind and goes on a quest to find out what happened to the others.
The Last Unicorn is a 1982 film from Rankin/Bass and is based on a 1968 book by Peter S. Beagle who also wrote the film’s screenplay. It is a beautifully hand drawn animated feature from a time when such things were done. Miss those. They tried to craft a piece of art and not just go for a cool look. While there is a good story contained here, it needs a little bit more action. I do not say that lightly. Not every film needs action sequences or to be heavy on action. Sometimes good acting or good dialogue is more than enough. Not in this film. It teases action but fails to really deliver. This has to be one of the more dialogue heavy Western animated feature. At least it seems that way. Enjoyable though.
The opening moments of the film nicely set up the story. Two individuals are hunting in the woods where the last unicorn resides. You get the basic set up of how the unicorn magic works and that there is only one left. It is a little exposition heavy, and you get the feeling something will happen but the switch to the Unicorn felt like a slight downturn.
What really gets me though and sticks with me through the whole film is that this last unicorn does not know what happened to her species. Not a clue. I am not saying Unicorn needs to know every detail but it’s as if this unicorn had never encountered one before at all.
The Last Unicorn is a quiet film. There is not too much exciting action. No epic fight scenes of glorious combat. It is a more substantive story than your general animated feature. The story plays like a medieval fairytale almost. Or I should say a few medieval fairytales strung together. I say that because the film has three distinct parts. We have the unicorn deciding to go on a journey. That is followed by her time in Mommy Fortuna’s Midnight Carnival. And then there is the finale at the castle involving the Red Bull (not to be confused with the energy drink).
There is a theme in this film: love and loss. The Unicorn, because of her nature, has been isolated from such things. She is transformed accidentally into a human by incompetent magician Schmendrick who becomes her travelling companion. To protect her from the Red Bull, which is a fearsome fire elemental, he casts this spell not knowing its consequences.
Another theme could be fact versus fiction. The Unicorn’s true form cannot be seen by visitors at the carnival so trickery must be used to make her appear to be a unicorn. Also at the Midnight Carnival magic is used to make ordinary creatures look like mythical things. And then there is the character of Captain Cully who is the disappointing reality behind the Robin Hood story.
We have a pretty good voice cast of the era. Mia Farrow voices the Unicorn who when transformed accidentally into a woman takes the name Lady Amalthea. Alan Arkin is Schmendrick who is the magician that accompanies the Unicorn on her quest. Angela Lansbury voices Mommy Fortuna who is the witch that runs the Midnight Carnival. The legendary Christopher Lee is King Haggard and is the one behind the Red Bull and the disappearance the unicorns. Jeff Bridges is Prince Lír who is King Haggard’s adopted son. He falls in love with Amalthea and she develops feelings for him.
I enjoyed the acting here and I enjoy the animation. This is a Rankin/Bass feature film and one thing they had was a unique animation style and it works especially well for fantasy films. It is very fanciful and stylized. The music is great. But it just needed a little more action. I hate to say it but not enough happened. It just did not have much. It tried to straddle the Disney family friendly vibe of the day with something more adult and it just fell a little flat.
Another issue I have is if the story feels like it meanders a little bit. It has an ending in mind, but it just feels like it takes its time getting there and makes random pitstops along the way. Some points could have been eliminated while others expanded upon. The portion with the witch was important to the narrative but felt like it was a side quest rather than important to the narrative. And it had a clear, hard ending that the film could have ended on right there.
The Last Unicorn is not a bad film, but it is not great. You will enjoy yourself but it is not a must see so I will give this an if you want.