This is one of those “you had to be there” in order to really get the appeal affairs. It’s kind of the Generation X version of my generation’s fondness for the Rankin-Bass produced Frosty the Snowman (1964). In other words, nearly everyone who waxes rhapsodic over The Last Unicorn (1982) starts off noting how they “grew up on the film.”
Viewed dispassionately by someone who was 27 or 28 at the time the film appeared, it’s at best a mixed bag. It starts out with some terrific multiplane camerawork of a forest done up in the colors of a Maxfield Parrish painting—an effect that lasts just as long as it takes to hit the opening credits. Suddenly the fantasy realism gives way to much cruder stylized imagery, a unicorn that looks like an anorexic My Pretty Pony and a title song by the pap-rock group America (who quickly prove that time had not dimmed the vapidity that propelled them to the top of the charts in 1971 with “A Horse With No Name” and “Sister Golden Hair”).
There are good things after that, including Robert Klein giving voice to a butterfly that converses in everything from pop standards to snatches of poetry by Yeats, Christopher Lee as King Haggard and Angela Lansbury as Mommy Fortuna. But the good performances are balanced against several voice performers who seem to be in full “just sign the check” mode—the usually reliable Alan Arkin is chief among the offenders. There’s also an uneasy mix of fair-to-crude animation. The overuse of cycles is alarming, and characters often seem to be moving in front of the backgrounds rather than through them. Still, it’s a pleasant enough little tale with enough good bits to make it painless—and, of course, if you grew up on it, you’ll probably cut it a lot more slack than I have.