Going into this recent screening of The Last Unicorn, I wondered if the film could possibly live up to the memory I had of it as a child. While I’ve long since outgrown a fondness for one-horned horses, it’s my thinking that a great story should be able to stand the test of time and age. The Last Unicorn is a great story.
Based on a book by Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn follows a unicorn (voiced by Mia Farrow) who learns she may be the last of her kind and makes the brave decision to leave the safety of her enchanted forest to find out what happened to the rest of the unicorns. Along the way, she meets Schmendrick (Alan Arkin), an aspiring wizard, and Molly Grue (Tammy Grimes) a woman with a deep appreciation for what the unicorn is.
The adventure isn’t all flowers and meadows. The dangers of the unicorn’s journey include a nasty witch named Mommy Fortuna (Angela Lansbury), who likes to collect mythical creatures to display in her carnival. Fortuna poses a threat, but the real monster in this story is the red bull, a fiery creature that turns out to be the reason behind the unicorns’ depleted population. The unicorn must also deal with the struggles of adapting to a human form when Schmendrick transforms her in an effort to keep her safe from the bull.
Rounding out the cast of voices is Christopher Lee, who voices King Haggard, the evil ruler. Jeff Bridges voices Prince Lir, Haggard’s adopted son and the man who falls for Lady Amalthea, the unicorn in human form. The voices are all excellent and fitting to the roles. While Lee delivers his excellent brand of sinister-sounding vocals, Farrow brings equal parts innocence and wonder to the voice of the unicorn/Amalthea. As for Lansbury, you may recognize her voice, but her portrayal of the scary Mommy Fortuna is nothing like what we heard from her later on when she voiced Mrs. Potts for Beauty and the Beast.
Prior to viewing The Last Unicorn on Blu-ray for this review, I hadn’t seen it since I was a child. I wondered if it would live up to the imaginative, heartwarming fairytale I remembered it to be. As it turns out, it did and more. Not only is this a story about good and evil, as I remembered it, but it’s also a tale of love, innocence, bravery, and heroism.
The pacing and narrative is a bit different than what we might see in an animated film today, which may affect how today’s children view the movie. The story breaks occasionally to step back and show us the stretches of time that pass as the unicorn continues to travel across the land. While it might be perceived as a lull, it’s more an opportunity not only to emphasize the passing of time, but also to appreciate the beauty of the animated landscape. The music for these scenes is done by the folk band America (known for “Sister Golden Hair,” “A Horse With No Name,” and other hits).
In addition to the difference in pacing, the humor is also a bit more subtle in the dialogue than what you might find in an animated film today. I wouldn’t consider that a flaw, any more than I think the slower pacing is a flaw of the film. With that said, the story still holds up, and it’s still relatable to those with active imaginations and an appreciation for the fantasy genre. The Last Unicorn remains a treasure, with excellent voicing, beautiful illustration, and a story that stands the test of time.
The Last Unicorn Blu-Ray/DVD Combo Pack comes with the film on DVD and Blu-ray. Considering the film was released in 1982, it’s converted really nicely to Blu-ray and is only moderately grainy at times.
For fans of the book, the film, and/or the fantasy genre, there are plenty of special features to appease your appetite for history and behind-the-scenes details. The commentary features writer Peter S. Beagle and his publisher, Connor Cochran, as they discuss the film, the book, and their history over the years. This includes some interesting anecdotes from Beagle on working with Christopher Lee, as well as other information on the story development, some of which is broken down in further detail in the other bonus features.
The “Immortal Characters” featurette includes an interview with Beagle, as well as phone interviews with Christopher Lee and film director Jules Bass as they share their thoughts on the movie. The “2010 The Last Unicorn Art Contest Gallery” gives viewers the opportunity to scroll through some of the art done for a contest which was inspired by the film. Lovers of unicorn paintings, sculptures, and tattoos will appreciate that most of all. If you liked that, you’ll also enjoy the additional photos in Schmendrick’s Magical Gallery.
The “Peter S. Beagle and His Work,” feature is a series of photos and text, narrated to give viewers an opportunity to get to know the writer and his career over the decades. Finally, “The Tail of the Last Unicorn,” is a mini-documentary that explores the story further.
The DVD doesn’t include the commentary, “Immortal Characters,” “Art Contest,” or the feature that follows Beagle’s writing career, however it does include the “Escape the Red Bull” set-top game.
Between all the special features and the added bonus of getting both formats in one set, this one is definitely worth owning if you are or ever were a fan of this fantastic story.