The Last Unicorn (film)

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The Last Unicorn
Last unicorn.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by
Produced by
  • Jules Bass
  • Arthur Rankin, Jr.
Screenplay by Peter S. Beagle
Based on The Last Unicorn 
by Peter S. Beagle
Starring
Music by Jimmy Webb
Edited by Arthur Rankin, Jr.
Production
company
Distributed by Jensen Farley Pictures
Release dates
  • November 19, 1982 (1982-11-19)
Running time 84 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Box office $6,455,330 (US)[2]

The Last Unicorn is a 1982 American animated fantasy film directed by Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin, Jr. and featuring the voices of Alan Arkin, Jeff Bridges, and Mia Farrow as the Unicorn. The film was produced by Rankin/Bass for ITC Entertainment, and animated by Topcraft. Based on the novel The Last Unicorn written by Peter S. Beagle, who also wrote the film's screenplay, the film is about a unicorn who, upon learning that she is the last unicorn in the world, goes on a quest to find out what has happened to the others of her kind.

The film features additional voices of Tammy Grimes, Keenan Wynn, René Auberjonois, Robert Klein, Angela Lansbury, and Christopher Lee. The musical score and the songs were composed and arranged by Jimmy Webb, and performed by the group America with additional vocals provided by Lucy Mitchell. The film earned $2,250,000 on its opening weekend and grossed $6,455,330 domestically.[2]

Plot[edit]

In an enchanted forest, a unicorn learns she is the last of her kind; a butterfly reveals that a demonic animal called the Red Bull herded her kind to the ends of the earth. Venturing into unfamiliar territory beyond the safety of her home, the Unicorn journeys to find them and bring them back.

The Unicorn is captured by the witch Mommy Fortuna, and is put on display in the witch's Midnight Carnival. She makes friends with Schmendrick, an incompetent magician under the services of Mommy Fortuna. While most of the attractions are normal animals with a spell of illusion placed on them (like a Manticore being a toothless lion, a Satyr being a crippled chimpanzee, and the "Midgard Serpent" being a mere cobra), Fortuna has also captured the immortal harpy Celaeno as well. With the help of Schmendrick, the Unicorn escapes, and in the process frees Celaeno, who kills Fortuna and her henchman Ruhk. The Unicorn and the wizard later gain a second traveling companion, Molly Grue, the careworn lover of bandit leader Captain Cully.

When the Unicorn nears the seaside castle of King Haggard, supposed keeper of the Red Bull, she encounters the animal, which turns out to be a monstrous fire elemental. At the last moment before her capture, Schmendrick's unpredictable magic transforms her into a human woman with white knee-length hair. In this guise the Red Bull is uninterested in her and departs. The Unicorn suffers tremendous shock at the feeling of mortality in her body. While Molly wraps the Unicorn's human form in a blanket, Schmendrick states that the magic chose the form and not he and promises that he will return her to normal after the quest is complete.

Schmendrick, Molly Grue and the now-human Unicorn proceed to King Haggard's castle. Haggard is at first unwelcoming, and Schmendrick introduces the Unicorn as his niece, Lady Amalthea. Schmendrick requests that the three of them stay there as members of Haggard's court, only to be told that the only occupants of the castle are Haggard, his adopted son Prince Lír and four ancient men-at-arms. Haggard consents to lodging the trio, replacing his more competent on-call wizard, Mabruk, with Schmendrick, and setting Molly Grue to work in his scullery.

Amalthea begins to forget her identity and her reasons for coming to the castle, and falls in love with Prince Lír. Caught in her newfound emotions, she struggles with thoughts of abandoning her quest for the sake of mortal love. Haggard confronts Amalthea in private conversation, hinting at the location of the unicorns, yet from the waning magic in her eyes, he has doubts regarding his previous suspicions that she is more than she seems. Molly learns the location of the Red Bull's lair from a talking cat.

Molly, Schmendrick and Amalthea are joined by Lír as they enter the bull's den. Schmendrick reveals Amalthea's true identity to Lír after explaining what they are looking for. Lír is unmoved and says that he loves her anyway. This makes Amalthea want to abandon the quest and marry Lír, but Lír dissuades her. The Red Bull appears, but is no longer deceived by Amalthea's human form and chases after her. As Lír struggles to protect her, Schmendrick turns Amalthea back into the Unicorn, but she is unwilling to leave Lír's side. The Bull drives her toward the ocean, just as he earlier drove all the other unicorns, but she manages to run away and the Red Bull gives chase. Lír tries to defend her, but is killed by the bull. Enraged, the Unicorn turns on the Bull and forces him into the sea. Carried on the white surf of incoming tides, the other unicorns emerge en masse from the water, causing Haggard's castle to collapse into the sea as they rush past, with Haggard falling to his death.

On the beach, the Unicorn magically revives Lír before departing for her forest. Schmendrick assures Lír that he has gained much by winning the love of a unicorn, even if he is now alone. The Unicorn briefly returns to say goodbye to Schmendrick, who laments that he has done her wrong by burdening her with regret and the taint of mortality. She disagrees and thanks him for having helped to restore unicorns to the world; though she is the only unicorn to feel regret, she is also the only unicorn to know love. Schmendrick and Molly watch the Unicorn depart for her home in the woods.

Cast[edit]

  • Mia Farrow as the Unicorn / Lady Amalthea, the titular "last unicorn" who, in her search for the other unicorns, is transformed into a young woman and learns about regret and love.
  • Alan Arkin as Schmendrick, a magician who accompanies the Unicorn on her quest to find others like her. Beagle commented that he was a bit "disappointed" by the way Alan Arkin approached the character because it seemed "too flat".[3]
  • Jeff Bridges as Prince Lír, King Haggard's adopted son who falls in love with Lady Amalthea. Although he is later told by Schmendrick that she is a unicorn, his feelings for her remain.
  • Tammy Grimes as Molly Grue, the love of Captain Cully who joins Schmendrick and the Unicorn. While explaining that there was no particular reason that he did not write a detailed background for Molly Grue's character, Peter S. Beagle stated that he has "always been grateful" to Grimes because she "brought such vocal life to the character that she covered things I didn't do."[3]
  • Robert Klein as The Butterfly, the creature that gives the Unicorn hints as to where to find the other unicorns.
  • Angela Lansbury as Mommy Fortuna, a witch who uses her illusory magic to run the Midnight Carnival, which showcases mythical creatures that are, in truth, just normal animals. Later, the harpy Celaeno, one of the two real mythical creatures, kills her and her henchman, Ruhk.
  • Christopher Lee as King Haggard, the ruler of a dreary kingdom who has never been happy, save for when he looks at unicorns. Beagle described Lee as "the last of the great 19th Century actors, and either the most-literate or second-most literate performer I've ever met."[4] When Lee came in to work, he brought his own copy of the novel wherein he took note of lines that he believed should not be omitted.[5] Lee, who is fluent in German, also voiced King Haggard in the German dub of the film.
  • Keenan Wynn as The Harpy Celaeno, a real harpy that was captured by Mommy Fortuna, freed by the Unicorn, and kills Mommy Fortuna and Ruhk out of vengeance for trapping her, the Unicorn and the other animals
    • Wynn also voices Captain Cully, the leader of a group of bandits.
  • Paul Frees as Mabruk, King Haggard's court magician who is replaced by Schmendrick.
  • René Auberjonois as the Skull that guards the clock that serves as an entryway into the Red Bull's lair. Beagle praised Auberjonois' performance, saying "he could have played any role in that movie and I would have been happy ... He's that talented."[4]
  • Brother Theodore as Ruhk, a hunchback who works for Mommy Fortuna. He, along with Mommy Fortuna, is killed by the Harpy Celaeno.
  • Don Messick as the Cat that gives Molly Grue clues regarding the whereabouts of the Red Bull's lair.
  • Nellie Bellflower as the Tree that speaks and falls in love with Schmendrick after he accidentally casts the wrong spell on it.
  • Edward Peck as Jack Jingly, Cully's Men
  • Jack Lester as Hunter #1, Old Farmer, Cully's Men
  • Kenneth Jennings as Hunter #2, Cully's Men

Production[edit]

Peter S. Beagle stated that there had been interest in creating a film based on the book "early on". Those who expressed interest included Lee Mendelson and Bill Melendez, though Beagle had been convinced by one of their partners' wives that they were "not good enough", and former 20th Century Fox animator Les Goldman. At the time, Beagle believed that "animated was the only way to go" with regard to the film, and had never thought of making it into a live-action film. Rankin/Bass had been the last studio that the film's associate producer, Michael Chase Walker, approached, and Beagle was "horrified" when he was informed that they had made a deal with Walker. Beagle stated that he has "…come to feel that the film is actually a good deal more than I had originally credited", and went on to say "There is some lovely design work – the Japanese artists who did the concepts and coloring were very good. And the voice actors do a superb job in bringing my characters to life…"[3]

While Rankin/Bass provided the film's dialogue and story based on Beagle's work, the animation was done by the studio Topcraft. The studio was later hired by Hayao Miyazaki to work on Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, and their core members eventually went on to form Studio Ghibli.[6] According to Beagle, the final film ended up being "remarkably close" to his original script, although one scene at the end involving an encounter with a princess was "animated but eventually cut."[3]

Release[edit]

The cover of The Last Unicorn 25th Anniversary Edition DVD

The Last Unicorn premiered on 648 theaters in the United States on November 19, 1982,[2] and earned $2,250,000 on its opening weekend.[2]

The film was released on VHS by Playhouse Video in 1983, ITC in 1988, and Family Home Entertainment in 1994.

The first U.S. DVD, released by Lionsgate in April 2004, was made from poor-quality masters and the video and audio both suffer.[7] Upon the release of this DVD, Conlan Press lobbied Lionsgate to "to do something about it." Lionsgate licensed the German video masters and audio mix, and came up with a "25th Anniversary Edition" DVD which was released in North America on February 6, 2007.[7][8] It has audio and visual quality superior to the original U.S. release, and is in 16:9 widescreen format, but has several swear words edited out, and as a result of being taken from PAL masters, plays 4% faster than the original film, resulting in a slightly higher audio pitch than normal. The new DVD edition includes a featurette with an interview with the author, as well as a set-top game, image gallery, and the original theatrical trailer.[8][9] Conlan Press is offering the 25th Anniversary Edition DVD for sale.

Due to ongoing contractual disputes, none of the proceeds of DVD purchases through other sources will reach Peter S. Beagle. However, because of the special agreement Conlan Press made with Lionsgate Entertainment, more than half of the payment for copies purchased through Conlan Press will go to Beagle. In addition to the standard version of the DVD, Conlan Press offers the option of purchasing individually personalized autographed copies.[8] As of October 2011, over 2,500,000 copies of the DVD have been sold.[10]

On February 11, 2011, Lionsgate released The Last Unicorn on a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, which included two English audio tracks: one with the swear words edited out (from the earlier "25th Anniversary Edition" DVD), and the original unedited audio track.

Reception[edit]

In a New York Times review, Janet Maslin called The Last Unicorn "an unusual children's film in many respects, the chief one being that it is unusually good. [...] features a cast that would do any live-action film proud, a visual style noticeably different from that of other children's fare, and a story filled with genuine sweetness and mystery." and said that "no one of any age will be immune to the sentiment of the film's final moments, which really are unexpectedly touching and memorable".[11] Beagle himself called the film "magnificent" in comparison to J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, for which he also wrote the screenplay.[12] The film currently retains a 58% "rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes,[13] with an 82% viewer approval rating.

A 1982 Variety reviewer praised the script and voice acting, but was not impressed by the film's animation.[14] "However vapid the unicorn may appear to the eye. Mia Farrow's voice brings an almost moving plaintive quality to the character."[14] The review also praised the vocal talents of Arkin, Lee, and Frees.[14]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "THE LAST UNICORN (U)". British Board of Film Classification. 1982-05-05. Retrieved 2013-03-31. 
  2. ^ a b c d "The Last Unicorn". Box Office Mojo. Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2009-05-15. 
  3. ^ a b c d Liu, Ed (2007-02-05). "Peter S. Beagle on The Last Unicorn 25th Anniversary". Toon Zone. Archived from the original on 2007-02-13. Retrieved 2009-05-15. 
  4. ^ a b Beagle, Peter S. (2007). The Last Unicorn. USA: ROC. pp. 247–280. ISBN 978-0-7607-8374-0. 
  5. ^ Simpson, Paul (2004). The Rough guide to Kid's Movies. Rough Guides. p. 182. ISBN 1-84353-346-4. 
  6. ^ Hairston, Marc (November 2001). "The Last Unicorn". utd500.utdallas.edu. Retrieved 2007-09-09. 
  7. ^ a b "Conlan Press - DVDs". www.conlanpress.com. Retrieved 2009-05-15. 
  8. ^ a b c "Fans help world-famous author Peter S. Beagle when they get the new 25th Anniversary DVD Edition of The Last Unicorn through Conlan Press" (PDF) (Press release). Retrieved 2007-09-04. 
  9. ^ Carter, R.J. (February 6, 2007). "DVD Review: The Last Unicorn - 25th Anniversary Edition". www.the-trades.com. Retrieved 2008-12-12. 
  10. ^ "Conlan Press - The Latest News". www.conlanpress.com. Retrieved 2009-05-15. 
  11. ^ Maslin, Janet (1982-12-19). "Last Unicorn, An Animated Fable". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-11-08. 
  12. ^ Hennessey-DeRose, Christopher. "Interview: Peter S. Beagle goes back to his fine and private place to continue the saga of The Last Unicorn". Science Fiction Weekly. Archived from the original on 2008-07-22. Retrieved 2008-11-08. 
  13. ^ "The Last Unicorn (1982)". www.rottentomatoes.com. Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2009-05-16. 
  14. ^ a b c Variety Staff (January 1, 1982). "The Last Unicorn". Variety. Retrieved 2009-07-21. 

External links[edit]