The Initial Release
The Last Unicorn was originally released into cinemas in November of 1982. The movie was based on a book of the same name written by Peter S. Beagle and was released in 1968 by Viking Press in the United States and by The Bodley Head in the U.K. The 1982 film was produced and directed by the famous animation team of Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass. The animation was completed by Topcraft, the company that would go on to become the core of the famous Studio Ghibli. According to Box Office Mojo the movie managed to bring in just over two million dollars on it’s opening weekend. Staying in theaters for just three weeks, the movie made a total of $6,455,330. The movie was released on VHS in 1983, reissued in 1988 and again in 1994. The first release on DVD was in 2004 with a special 25th Anniversary Edition released in 2007. Finally, in 2011, the movie made it’s first appearance on Blu Ray.
It wasn’t until 1985 when I saw The Last Unicorn for the first time. The movie quickly became a personal favourite of mine, and I wore out a few VHS copies of it. I eventually entered college, moved out on my own and even entered the workforce, but as time went by, I always wanted to return to watch this film. The Last Unicorn always returns me to happy times and gives me an air of nostalgia.
The Last Unicorn title may seem to describe the title quite openly. A butterfly (Robert Klein) informs the unicorn (Mia Farrow) that she is the last of the magical creatures. He informs her that a demonic animal called the Red Bull has chased all the unicorns to the ends of the earth. Leaving the safety of her home, she decides to find out if she truly is the last. Very early on in her journey, she is captured by an evil witch, Mommy Fortuna (Angela Lansbury) and put in her travelling show of magical creatures. She and a harpy are the only true magical creatures in this travelling show. Mommy Fortuna uses illusion to make a meek lion look like a manticore, a chimpanzee look like a satyr and an average snake look like a Midgard Serpent. Non-magical, normal humans can not see these creatures normally and hence the illusions.
Working for Mommy Fortuna is a fledgling wizard named Schmendrick (Alan Arkin) who does know exactly what the unicorn is. Schmendrick knows it’s wrong to hold such a creature prisoner, and so at night he sets her free. The unicorn also frees all the other creatures, including the vicious harpy. Schmendrick and the unicorn manage to escape the grounds before the harpy can find them. Schmendrick reveals to the unicorn that he is not as good as a magician as he would like, and she reveals her quest to him. A third person joins them after the pair come across a group of bandits led by Captain Cully (Keenan Wynn) and Schmendrick entertains them with illusions of the real Robin Hood. Captain Cully’s lover, Molly Grue (Tammy Grimes), is not as fooled as the rest of Cully’s men and upon discovering the unicorn, joins their quest.
As they travel and approach the castle of King Haggard (Christopher Lee), the Red Bull appears and Schmendrick has to act quick with his magic. Unfortunately, he turns the unicorn into a human woman. The name her Lady Amalthea and continue on to the castle. Molly becomes a cook for the King, Schmendrick becomes a jester/magician and Lady Amalthea hides away in her room. King Haggard’s son, Prince Lir (Jeff Bridges) tries to win her heart, but she is not interested in his deeds. Lady Amalthea begins to lose her magical qualities and losing her memories of being an actual unicorn. They learn the Red Bull makes his home at the castle and that the unicorns aren’t gone, but trapped in the waters and afraid to touch the shore due to the Red Bull. Molly and Schmendrick are trying to find the location of the Red Bull so that they can free all the unicorns the Red Bull has trapped.
One of my fondest memories of this movie was the song that began and ended the film. It was composed and arranged by Jimmy Webb and performed by America and the London Symphony Orchestra. The song, like the movie, is called The Last Unicorn and every time I hear it, I am transported back to the mid-eighties. There are other songs in the film and on the soundtrack that are wonderful, but this one stands out the most for me.
I also remember how much I felt that this movie, while animated, wasn’t necessarily for children under ten at the time. It’s hard to say where it would stand in today’s world of ever growing paranoia and over protection, but I imagine it might fall on the PG-13 side of things as opposed to a G rating. The story, the music and the classic Rankin/Bass style of animation always brings me back to my youth. I know the animation doesn’t truly hold up today, but I cannot help but pulling out the DVD and watching it every now and then.
The Last Unicorn Screening Tour
On April 20, 2013 Conlan Press launched a worldwide tour to show an HD digitally restored version of the movie. Making the tour even more enticing to fans, Peter S. Beagle was at the screenings signing autographs and holding a Q & A session before the showing of the film. I had the opportunity to attend the screening that aired in my hometown of Sudbury, Ontario, Canada. Meeting the man who wrote the book that inspired one of my favourite childhood movies was truly an honour. I received an autographed lithograph of the Canadian Screening Tour poster. Sadly, in June of 2015, Peter was having memory problems that needed medical attentions and the tour was put on hold. As time went on, it became evident that he would no longer be able to tour and make personal appearances. A new tour is being planned without Peter, but he will be doing a special video presentation to air before the screening.
The Last Unicorn Screening Tour has held 300 screenings in 153 cities all across the United States and Canada, with screenings in Germany and Austria as well. The film rights had been held by Michael Pakleppa until February of 2015, and now they belong back with Peter and Conlan Press. There have been many years of talk about doing a live-action version of The Last Unicorn, and I still hold out hope that it one day will happen.
Have you seen The Last Unicorn? I highly recommend it if you haven’t and then you can come back and tell me your favourite parts of the film in the comments below.