The Last Unicorn (1982)
Directed by Jules Bass & Arthur Rankin, Jr.
Based on The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
Starring: Alan Arkin, Jeff Bridges, Mia Farrow, Tammy Grimes, Robert Klein, Angela Lansbury, Christopher Lee, Keenan Wynn, Paul Frees, René Auberjonois
Running time: 84 minutes
Plot Synopsis: (via IMDB)
A brave unicorn and a magician fight an evil king who is obsessed with attempting to capture the world’s unicorns.
As the parent of a young child but also a movie lover, I’m often on the lookout for kids’ films that I may actually enjoy as well. I’ve sat through enough crappy movies for kids that I think it’s okay to sometimes get to watch one that interests me as well. Right?! 😉 Enter the 1982 film The Last Unicorn which, apparently, is something of a cult classic, has a very high IMDB rating (for its age & the fact it’s animated) of 7.5/10, AND it’s from RANKIN/BASS plus the animators who went on to form STUDIO GHIBLI yet I’d somehow never even heard of it before?!? Holy shit – I was all over this thing when I read about it! It sounded like something that couldn’t be more ME!!! So we got the DVD & for about two months I said to the hubby & kid “Let’s watch The Last Unicorn!!!!” until they finally agreed (probably to shut me up).
Wow. The Last Unicorn is a strange one. I kind of sort of loved it. I can see that, if I’d watched it as a kid, it may now be as special to me as the Rankin/Bass classic Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer. No, it’s not as good as Rudolph and it certainly doesn’t beat any of the Miyazaki Studio Ghibli films but there’s something kind of special & “magical” about it in the same way I feel there is about the Ghiblis. Hmm… How should I put this? This movie is so “1982” which, to me, is a great thing while to others it’ll be a bad thing. I’d only recommend this one to certain people who like things such as Studio Ghibli, Ralph Bakshi’s work, Heavy Metal (1981), The NeverEnding Story, and… maybe Labyrinth? I’m struggling to describe this but if you hate all the things I’ve listed, you should probably steer clear of The Last Unicorn. Oh – I’d also recommend it to any bronies! Bronies would love it.
I can’t really get into the plot too much and there are pictures I have to avoid posting that would contain massive spoilers. In the movie, a unicorn (voiced by Mia Farrow) discovers she’s the last unicorn in the world & goes on a journey to find out what happened to the others. She’s joined along the way by a magician called Schmendrick (voiced by Alan Arkin). Talk about an impressive voice cast, we also have Jeff Bridges as a prince, Angela Lansbury (always a favorite of mine) as a witch, and the amazing Christopher Lee who is of course perfect as the evil king who tries to capture all the unicorns in the world.
This movie has so many things that fantasy lovers will like: magic, wizards, witches, kings & princes, mythical creatures including a harpy and a rather scary, demonic Red Bull, talking butterfiles, etc etc. Oh yeah – and a unicorn! I have to say that, although unicorns have come to be seen as a “girl” thing, this movie is every bit as much for male viewers as for female – it’s not aimed just at one sex. In fact, when I mentioned this on Twitter, the response I got was from adult males saying how great this film is. I can see why it’s a cult classic – it’s very unusual and the animation is stunning. The story takes a very unexpected turn (the spoiler I’m avoiding) which I now love but took getting used to at first. It’s nice to not be able to predict what will happen like you can with most kids’ films!
As I mentioned, I found the animation stunning. I was happy just looking up images of this film to be included in this post. I think I may have to change my work computer’s wallpaper from My Neighbor Totoro to this!
Yeah, I’m a mature adult. Give me a break – I literally had a big poster of a unicorn jumping over a rainbow over my bed for years as a young girl. God I was girly for a while! Anyway, as I mentioned, the studio responsible for animating this film (Topcraft) were later hired by Hayao Miyazaki to do my other favorite Studio Ghibli movie (along with Totoro), Nausicaä Of The Valley Of The Wind. The studio’s main members then formed Studio Ghibli. (Thanks for that info, Wikipedia!). Anyone who has been around here for a while will know what a big fan I am of Ghibli & how much I love Nausicaä so you can see why I had to see The Last Unicorn after I read about it.
My six-year-old’s opinion:
I’ve started including my daughter’s opinion on kids’ movies so that I don’t appear as some crazy old person rambling on about “cartoons”. So, I’ll include it again this time but I think it’s pretty obvious by now that this one was more for mommy. 😉
We watched this a few months ago & the movie held her attention well but she’s not really mentioned it or asked to see it again. I asked last night what she thought of that Last Unicorn movie we watched & the reply was “It was better than I thought it would be!”. lol – What does that mean?! I think she was humoring me when she agreed to watch it, then. How sweet! I do think she’s a little too young for it as some of the themes at the end are too grown-up to fully be understood. There’s nothing I’d consider “inappropriate” but it’s a bit “out there” if your kid doesn’t like weirdness plus the Red Bull may be too scary for the very young who scare easily. I can see it being one she’d rediscover & possibly love in two or three years so I’d maybe recommend it to kids of 8 or so. She does love the young Studio Ghiblis, though, (Ponyo, Kiki’s Delivery Service & of course My Neighbor Totoro) so she was probably better able to handle any strangeness.
Hopefully I’ve given a bit of an idea as to what this movie is like – I’m going to include a clip of the opening at the end of this post to give you a better idea. This is one of those movies I’m hoping to “introduce” to people here but it’s definitely not going to be loved by anyone who isn’t into this sort of thing or the other films I mentioned in the review. I also think being over 35 & under 10 would help. This is exactly the type of animated movie that obsessive film lovers my age who have young kids look for. I forgot to mention that this movie includes songs by America that are the very definition of late 70s/early 80s “easy listening”. If you like K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the Seventies, you may be able to handle this film. Or if you’re the type to get that reference.
My Rating: 8/10
**I’m including a clip of the opening of this film to give you an idea what it’s like. If you can’t make it past the song by America at 2 1/2 minutes in without gagging, this movie may not be for you… 😉
Great write up! I loved this movie when I was a kid. I always showed it to my friends because they’d never heard of it. I felt like my family was the only one with the VHS. lol
It is *really* weird though. It’s been years since I’ve seen it, it’s probably going to be even stranger if I see it again.
Thanks! 🙂 Yeah… I had some movies like that where I was pretty sure I was the only one of my group of friends who’d seen it. Lol – it IS really weird! I’m not sure what most kids would actually think of it today. I was just used to growing up with strange films in the 80s. I did enjoy watching this now for the first time, though. 🙂
How have you never hear of this!? Travesty! I actually love this movie with all my heart. So much so that I wore out the VHS when I was younger. I actually rewatched this the other day and BAWLED when she was singing about not knowing who she was and what her purpose was and how she used to be so sure of herself and now she’s so confused… I’m crying now… Haha! But it’s honestly so good. GREAT REVIEW!!!
Thanks! 🙂 Lol!! I was hoping I’d hear from fans of this one & it seems there were a few. I have no idea why I’d never heard of it! I can see why it’s a cult classic. It’s an odd one! But it was like an “American Ghibli” so, yeah – it was totally the type of thing for me. Glad to hear from fans of it! Can’t say it made me cry… Lol. But it was GOOD. 🙂
Great review! I remember surreptitiously watching this by myself when it came out on video. I was 17 and I was afraid I’d never hear the end of it if my friends found out I wanted to see it. Anyway, I fell in love with it and I’m so happy it’s on Netflix so I can embrace my inner child again! Have you watched Howl’s Moving Castle BTW? That’s a great animated movie with adult appeal.
Lol. Don’t be ashamed! Not sure if it’s any worse than me forcing my family to watch it as a grown adult. 😉 Yep! I’ve seen all the Miyazaki Ghiblis. Love them! Howl’s isn’t my very favorite of them but it’s one of the most visually stunning. Love that the same animators of this formed Studio Ghibli. 🙂
What’s a bronie?
You. Probably. Secretly. 😉
HMMMMM – that’s pretty helpful!
I never learned how!
DO IT! NOW!
I saw this as a child. I knew it was a production from Rankin/Bass but had no idea that the animation by the studio Topcraft, had members that went on to form Studio Ghibli. That makes perfect sense when you see this. I really need to watch this again. Great review!
Thanks! I’m happy to hear from people who’ve seen this one. I was really impressed. 🙂 Yeah – I’m glad I read about it & the Ghibli connection – I knew I had to see it after reading that! It definitely has a Ghibli sort of feel to it. Very glad I watched it. 🙂
Always loved this movie! Great review!
Thanks! 🙂 Seems a lot of people loved this movie… Can’t believe I’d never heard of it!
Fine, fine post! I’ve never seen this one but it sounds enchanting.
Thanks! 🙂 Oh, it really is. Glad I checked it out! Definitely worth a watch – especially for anyone who is a fan of Rankin/Bass or Studio Ghibli. 🙂
It’s kind of funny now that I think about it, but even though I watched a lot of the Disney films when they came out at the theater, repeated home viewings were almost always the lesser known animations like this one, Secret of NIHM, A Mouse and His Child, and Wizards when I was probably too young to get it. But I loved it then and still love it now. My daughter also loves it, especially the name Amalthea. One of my favorite parts was the skeleton played by Rene Auberjoines (sp?) Who played Odo on Deep Space 9. It still has some gorgeous animation, they also did a short comic adaptation written by the novel & screenplay’s author Peter S. Beagle that is quite lovely. Nice to see someone new to this film!
That’s interesting – I just picked up Wizards on DVD! Never seen it. Don’t know what to expect but it looks good. 🙂 Oh – I like the sound of the comic adaptation.
I really did love the animation on this one – glad I checked it out. And it’s great to hear from fans of this! I don’t know… You may have been one of the people I heard from on Twitter about this? I can see why it’s a cult classic. Am surprised I’d never heard of it before. 🙂
I saw this movie for the first time as a kid, I was probably six or so. I remember being weirded out when Schmendrick was tied to the tree and was basically motor boating her huge tree boobs. But I did love this movie and watched it a bunch. And that carnival… so melancholy and sad! That gets me every time too.
Hahaha! Yeah – those tree boobs were odd! Think he had a woody after that? 😉 How has everyone but me heard of this movie before? Glad to hear from so many people who like it, though. 🙂
Great review! I will wait ten years till I reach 35 then watch it 😀
Hehe. That’s not how it works. In ten years, I’ll say that only those over 45 would like it. But you can still watch it now if you WANT. 😉 lol. You might like it! But it’s very odd. And very 1982. 🙂
I absolutely adore this film. I watched it as a child and have revisited it many times since then, only now appreciating that it features the vocal talents of such screen giants as Christopher Lee, Jeff Bridges and Mia Farrow. It is very strange but it’s also very touching.
I love hearing from so many people who loved this film! 🙂 Am so surprised I’d never heard of it before. It’s very odd but also sweet and the animation was lovely. Glad I watched it! 🙂
It’s definitely a good one. I saw it a few times as a kid, and had fond memories of it, and watched it again about a year ago. I was surprised at just how mature some of the themes really are — you don’t expect existentialism or anything like that in a “kids’ movie”. I mean, what kid is really going to grasp Amalthea’s horror at suddenly being mortal, or the notion that she’ll always be different from the rest of her kind afterward? And of course Molly’s outburst (“How dare you come to me now?”) will fly right over their heads.
Had no idea the animation team here went on to become Studio Ghibli. I’d always wondered what happened to the people who had made this and The Flight of Dragons (another childhood favorite of mine, which I think is even more “cult”. Certainly it’s harder to find on DVD….)
Thanks for the comment. 🙂 Now I’m curious about The Flight of Dragons! I see it’s also Rankin/Bass. I totally want to see that now too! Yes, I think the themes in this one were over my kid’s head but I think she’ll grow to love it. I prefer kids’ movies to not be dumbed down – kids can grow into these sort of movies & they’ll love these more grown-up movies that much more when they’re adults. 🙂
I agree; it’s great when a movie can be enjoyed at multiple levels at different ages.
Great review! I only saw this recently, but I’d say I liked it. Parts of it were certainly odd (I could barely understand that butterfly at the beginning), but I’m a fantasy fan so I still enjoyed it, particularly the songs. Perhaps because they share the same animators and style, it most reminded me of the Rankin/Bass version of The Hobbit, a film I’ve loved for years. I think The Last Unicorn has more in common with that than with the Ghibli films.
Thanks! 🙂 I’m curious about the Rankin/Bass Hobbit now but I’ve always been more interested in the Ralph Bakshi Lord of the Rings. I should check them both out at some point. I did enjoy this one a lot, strange as it was… 🙂
I actually have both of those on VHS (guess I’m old too). It’s cool to see how Bakshi’s LotR paved the way for Peter Jackson’s, but it was hit-and-miss for me (too much rotoscoping). Definitely give The Hobbit a try though.
I’ll give them both a try someday. I’ve had the LOTR one on DVD for years so I really should! Will see if I can find a copy of The Hobbit. 🙂
I cant believe u never heard of this????
I use to watch this on cable with my sister over and over, but I must honestly admit that I recall nothing about it now (so I guess I need to rewatch it).
what’s even more surprising is that no one got ur K. Billy reference….sad, sad world 😦 guess I’ll chop an ear off 🙂
I vaguely remember the song by America and just googled it to view the video.
Very nostalgic for me 😦
I can’t believe you never heard of The Dead Zone. Lol! 😉 You could rewatch this but I don’t think you’d like it now – it’s so odd. You don’t like “weird”! 🙂
This seems like a perfect lesson in “don’t judge a b̶o̶o̶k̶ film by its cover”, because I definitely would’ve skimmed past that poster on a streaming site / in a video shop (ah, video shops) / etc. I nearly skipped this review for the same reason… but it sounds awesome, the rest of the pictures look awesome, and I must see it. (Also, I’d never heard of it either.)
Ah, I miss video shops so much! Yeah… It’s a shame the movie looks like a young, girly thing with the cover. Being a girl, I wouldn’t have skimmed past it as I must admit I still love unicorns even as an adult. Lol. 😉 But, yeah – I’ve heard from just as many men who grew up on this as women. It’s definitely worth checking out if you like the sound of it. It IS odd, though! But I like weird. 🙂
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I love it when you add your daughter’s opinion, it’s so sweet!
Aww. Thanks! 🙂 I started feeling weird talking about kids films without mentioning my kid’s own opinion. I enjoy adding that in now plus discussing the movies with her more to get her thoughts. 🙂
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