‘The Last Unicorn’ still magical 30 years later

Hollywood Soapbox logoThe Last Unicorn, the animated movie based on the classic Peter S. Beagle novel, is the definition of magical. Featuring the voice talents of Jeff Bridges, Mia Farrow, Alan Arkin, Christopher Lee, Tammy Grimes and Angela Lansbury, the movie envelopes itself in the wonder of a fantastical world. Beagle struck literary gold when he created the story of this lonely, lost unicorn, and directors Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr. carried on the legacy in this fine, fine adaptation.

The story is wonderfully simple, which attracts the attention of younger viewers. The title character (Farrow) finds out that she is the last of her kind, but unwilling to accept extinction, she wants details. Setting off on a quest to discover the truth, the unicorn teams up with Schmendrick (Arkin), a magician, and Molly Grue (Tammy Grimes) for the long, arduous adventure. As expected, they face several trials and tribulations along the way, and the ultimate showdown takes place at a castle that hovers over the roaring ocean. There are good characters and evil ones; almost every trope on the fantasy checklist is accounted for, yet The Last Unicorn feels original and nothing like what came before and after its release.

The animation style, which may seem outdated to 2013’s 3D extravaganzas, feels appropriate for the film. The unicorn is beautiful, a slickly drawn creation that exudes loveliness. Molly Grue is a little more rough and tumble, a woman of the people and hardened by her allotment in life. Schmendrick is younger and more foolish, and the way in which he is drawn accounts for that side of his personality. This magician feels like our entry point into the story; we vicariously live in this fantasy world through his eyes.

Bridges voices Prince Lir, a character who becomes pivotal to the plot, and Lee is King Haggard (with a name like that, guess whether he’s good or evil). Perhaps the most beautiful scene involves a treacherous red bull (not the drink) and its violent protection of imprisoned unicorns. The finale of this story is dazzling, featuring well-planned animation and marvelous accompanying music. America, the band, actually provides lyrics for the songs.

Beagle, recognizing the enduring interest in his book and movie, has set out on a national tour of The Last Unicorn. That’s where Hollywood Soapbox caught the film: on a big screen in New York City with Beagle offering a Q&A before the screening. Hearing from this legendary fantasy writer and seeing this exquisite adaptation of his most successful book are experiences any fanboy and fangirl needs to partake in. The Last Unicorn may deal with the near-extinction of a legendary creature, but somehow it never fades away. The seminal book and important animated film grow and grow as more audiences capture the magic.

Click here for more information on The Last Unicorn tour.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • The Last Unicorn

  • 1982

  • Directed by Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr.

  • Written by Peter S. Beagle, based on his book

  • Starring the voice talents of Jeff Bridges, Mia Farrow, Alan Arkin, Christopher Lee, Angela Lansbury, Tammy Grimes and Robert Klein

  • Running time: 90 minutes

  • Rated G

  • Rating: ★★★★

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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