Have you ever wondered what unicorns are like? Truly like? The mindset of one? Imagine what it would be like if you could be told a story through the eyes of a unicorn. Imagine the bliss one might feel, and understand the duties of a unicorn…What if it was the last one known to exist? The Last Unicorn is the perfect depiction of the life of a unicorn, and it’s a captivating story about love and regret.
The depiction of an Arabian unicorn: cloven hooves like a goat (not hoofed), long spiral horn on forehead, lion-like tail, lean legs, long neck, and in some cases a wispy beard. The most commonly known type of unicorn, residing in Arabia (also known as the Middle-East), and tend to grow to about 3-4 feet tall. Usually light in color with a beautiful long silvery mane. The other types of unicorns are: Indian, Sumatran, and Serican; all who’ve resided in parts of Asia.
In an animated film, stars the beautiful unicorn (voiced by Mia Farrow) who starts off by witnessing two huntsmen enter her forest. Upon their conversation, one tells the other that wherever a unicorn dwells, the animals residing in it’s forest will begin to take on magical abilities, especially disappearing ones. They left convinced that the forest had no game, and that the unicorn (whom they did not see) should stay safe in its forest protecting their woodland friends.
Startled by the news, she asks herself questions with no one to answer. Except a butterfly!? No wonder. Butterflies are known to be a representation of endurance, change, hope, and life. Her one flicker of hope to finding the other unicorns. However, all butterflies ever know of are songs, poetry, and overheard conversations. But wise he was as well – not to mention a hoot to watch! Robert Klein voices the butterfly – a comedian playing a comical character, perfect! Personally, he’s my favorite character! With only a few words of wisdom, the butterfly compels the unicorn to “find the others, if you are brave.”
On her journey, she encounters multiple kinds of humans. Most wish to capture her, while a few only wish for her mere company. The most revered animal in all the fairy kingdom is the unicorn. They are the epitome of pure innocence and light. “Visible only to those who search and trust, and generally mistaken for a white mare,” said a wise butterfly. It is said only virgin maidens and young children are capable of approaching unicorns. Like in the movie Legend (from 1985) starring Tom Cruise in his first big screen role, when the princess is the only one allowed to touch the unicorns due to her purity.
Thanks to her faithful companions: Schmendrick (Alan Arkin), a second-rate magician who aims to become a powerful magician (or wizard if you ask me), and Molly Gru (Tammy Grimes), a spirited woman full of spunk and heart, the unicorn becomes the Lady Amalthea. Her new life allows her to experience womanhood, becoming a torn individual who experiences the past as well as the present. An exquisite conundrum!
You know how music has the ability to express what words can’t? Well her song sums up her tragic tale: “Once, I can’t remember, I was long ago, someone strange. I was innocent and wise, and full of pain. Now that I’m a woman, everything has changed. Once, when I was searching, somewhere out of reach, far away, in a place I could not find, or heart obey. Now that I’m a woman, everything is strange.” – Lady Amalthea
All music was beautifully composed and arranged by Jimmy Webb, and performed by America with the London Symphony Orchestra. The soundtrack was one of the best-selling albums of 1983 in Germany. My favorite song is “Man’s Road”, due to its soothing, melodic tune and poetic lyrics.
During the unicorn’s travels, she encounters the harpy, Celaeno, which is a true harpy in Greek/Roman Mythology, encountered by Aeneas/Odysseus. According to the unicorn, they “are two sides of the same magic”. Harpies are horrendous bird-like women, usually with the body of a bird and the head of a human woman, known for scavenging and dropping foul “droppings” onto whatever they wish to claim. Vile creatures, they are. Only seen in Greece according to stories.
As Amalthea, she falls for Prince Lir, voiced by the talented Jeff Bridges (Yes, The Dude from The Big Lebowski) upon visiting King Haggard at his castle. They couldn’t have cast anyone better than Christopher Lee for the voice of King Haggard, I mean he’s the perfect villain voice-wise. The man committed to the project, always awaiting approval from the author, Peter S. Beagle, practically begging actually to approve of his monologue delivery. Christopher Lee also provides the King Haggard’s voice in the German version of the movie. Impressive! He even appeared for the recording sessions with his own copy of the book, with several markings to indicate things that must not, in his opinion, be omitted.
I’m in love with the scenery and animation of this film, the colors, and most of all the depths that the movie dives into. The lines said really strikes a chord, moving you in a way that startles you. Both in good and bad ways. Which makes it the perfect fairy tale, combining tragedy with heroism. The duality of life is shown clearly through this film by the unicorn’s transformation. I would go so far as to say that The Last Unicorn pays true homage to the novel and a truly classic fairy tale considering its wonderful and tragic all at the same time. Most movies don’t have that essence.
The thing to keep in mind in this film, is the nature of the situation. A unicorn is on a quest to rescue her fellow unicorns, but love gets in the way. When Maggie Gru confronts the unicorn about appearing before her at long last, after all those years of searching, as a woman. No longer a fair maiden. How heartbreaking that scene is to watch knowing this in mind. A woman no longer has the ability to connect with unicorns, due to loss of her virginity. The unbearable humility to have to appear before this grand pure being… as a tarnished, jaded adult. It’s almost the same as if you were to meet an idol crush of yours, but you realize you are years past your prime. Not quite the same, but similar. None the less, it’s heartbreaking. This film deserves 10/10 stars!
Directors: Jules Bass, Arthur Rankin Jr.
Writers: Peter S. Beagle (both screenplay and novel)
Some lines in particular that I love:
“There are no happy endings. Because nothing ends.” -Schmendrick
“Never run from anything immortal; it only attracts their attention.” – Unicorn
“Because I be, what I be. I would tell you what you want to know if I could, mum, but I be a cat. And no cat anywhere, ever gave anyone a straight answer.” – The Cat
“Unicorn, mermaid, sorceress… no name you could give her would surprise OR frighten me. I love whom I love.” – Prince Lir
Fun Facts To Know:
- In 2010, co-director Jules Bass revealed that Jeff Bridges called him out of the blue, volunteered to do this film for free, and recommended his friend Jimmy Webb for the soundtrack.
- Paul Frees speaks for Haggard’s court magician, but also provides the voice of the peg-legged cat in Haggard’s castle as well as the amorous tree.
- The animation for the film was done by the Japanese studio Topcraft, who also animated Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984).
- The word ‘Schmendrick’ (the magician) is based on the Yiddish slang word “schlemiel”, which means “unlucky bungler”.
- The unicorn, Amalthea, was the name for the she-goat who nursed the baby Zeus. According to one version, he broke off one of her horns (leaving her a uni-horned goat) and the broken horn spilled forth a wealth of fruits and foods. This is the origin of Thanksgiving’s “horn of plenty”. This horn which spilled forth the bounty of food is connected to the idea of the unicorn’s horn being a source of magical healing powers.