Bill’s Wife Knows Best Marathon: The Last Unicorn (1982)

Another film in this marathon, another chance for my wife to try and kill me!

Screenplay By: Peter S. Beagle
Directed By: Jules Bass & Arthur Rankin Jr.

I had issues with the story of The Last Unicorn, well, maybe issues is too strong of a word. I found the story in The Last Unicorn to be tenuously put together at best. On the other hand my wife had absolutely no problems with the story, and neither does my daughter. I’m not sure what they saw that I didn’t, or I should say what they gleaned that I didn’t, but they clearly connected with the story in a way that I could not. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t completely befuddled by The Last Unicorn, it’s not like the story Peter S. Beagle has penned is one that reaches MENSA type levels. But, there is a vagueness to it, an aloofness from moment to moment that never quite worked for me. I guess I was looking for something more in terms of narrative drive and structure, but the movie and I never came to terms in regards to our respective visions.

Animation was one realm where The Last Unicorn and I did see eye to eye. The animation provided by the Japanese company Topcraft is not the most arresting, nor is it always on the mark. There is, however, something to its water color style that I found appealing. I was initially surprised to learn that the core members of Topcraft went on to be some of the founding members of Studio Ghibli. The more that I think about that tidbit of information the more sense it makes. I can see in The Last Unicorn little moments here and there where the animation is very reminiscent of early Studio Ghibli. I was especially fond of the animation found in the Red Bull, a horrifyingly realized character that helped to make the fantasy of The Last Unicorn more believable.

The final moments of the film is when the pieces make the most sense, when the story rests in a position that I can navigate to more swiftly. Those final moments are also when the film comes closest to being genuine and honest in its tone, message, and narrative. The idea of regret and taking on human emotion helps to make the rest of the film easier to swallow. The ending doesn’t completely make up for the needlessly murky narrative that was the majority of the film, but it helps.

I don’t know if anything could help the rather tame music, so tame and innocuous that it was instantly forgettable. I know that my wife absolutely loves the music, based on the popularity of the soundtrack so did a lot of other people, but I thought the music was very distracting. I was already having trouble with the narrative, and having a large chunk of the film presented through the soft and passive music didn’t help matters.

I said some negative things about The Last Unicorn, probably far too negative to escape my wife’s wrath. That being said, I did like The Last Unicorn, the more I think about the film the more I am enamored with the animation and with the ending. Maybe upon repeat viewings the rest of the film will take a better place in my minds eye. The music most likely never will, but I like The Last Unicorn despite its musical flaws, and that says something.




Sarah’s Soapbox

The Last Unicorn may not be my favorite movie, but it is one that has always stood out in my mind as being really good. First of all, I love the animation style of this movie. The entire thing is very pleasing to my eye. It is not realistic or fancy, but the simplicity of the animation reminds me of a children’s picture book brought to life, and I adore it for that reason. Going along with the animation, I liked the simplicity of the music. I know my husband will disagree, but I thought the simple songs really helped move the story. I also found the lyrics incredibly simple, but memorable, and they made for good transitions throughout the film.

I also really enjoyed many of the characters in this film, and the lessons they teach us. Like the wizard Schmendrick, a miraculously powerful wizard who has no faith in himself at first. He believes he can only do silly tricks and useless spells, but then goes on to save the day many times by finally having some faith in himself. And King Haggard, who took his love for something that made him happy and did terrible things because of it out of greed and fear. Some of the characters could have been more well developed, but for the most part I enjoyed what they did with them.

The story itself is a wonderful one, even though I feel it is a very sad, or bittersweet one. Although the movie is about a unicorn it reminds me all too well about life and growing up. There’s a scene when the wizard Schmendrick turns the unicorn into a human girl to save her from the Red Bull and she cries out “I can feel this body dying all around me.” I always feel more emotional than I think a movie about a unicorn should make me feel, that quote is a great example of this. To me the unicorn is a symbol of purity and young innocence, like a child. When she becomes a girl and is forced to endure human emotions it is like growing up and losing your innocence to me. I always cry at the end, when she is a unicorn again and she explains that she is no longer like the others because she has regret, but the she still thanks the wizard Schmendrick for it. Again, maybe I am far too emotional about a movie about a unicorn, but it means a lot to me.




2 responses to “Bill’s Wife Knows Best Marathon: The Last Unicorn (1982)

  1. As a young teen, I loved The Last Unicorn– it was one of my favorite films. Recently I caught part of it. Well, it didn’t stand up to time. The voice acting, in particular, was rather grating. I should just reread the book because Peter Beagle is always good.

    On the other hand, America is awesome and their soundtrack was great.

  2. Oh Steve, your love of the soundtrack confounds me 🙂

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