The Last Unicorn

Movie Information

Walk-in Theatre presents The Last Unicorn at dark on Friday, Aug. 10, in the parking lot behind the Bledsoe Building in West Asheville. Sponsored by the merchants of the Bledsoe Building. As usual, admission is free, but please leave pets and alcohol at home.
Score:

Genre: Animated Fantasy
Director: Jules Bass, Arthur Rankin Jr.
Starring: Mia Farrow, Alan Arkin, Christopher Lee, Angela Lansbury
Rated: G

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.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

3 thoughts on “The Last Unicorn

  1. mike

    I was 34 when it came out, and i loved it.

    Of course, it helped that i loved the book beforehand.

  2. Just Someone

    Just wanted to let you know that the “much cruder stylized imagery, a unicorn that looks like an anorexic My Pretty Pony” was a direct reference to(in fact, its basically just an animated and slightly edited version of) a famous 15th/16th century series of tapestries called The Hunt of the Unicorn or The Unicorn Tapestries and is not just a poor choice in art style, but a very faithful, creative, and clever nod to the history and mythology of the Unicorn.

    Learn yourself your history before you talk about poor design choice: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hunt_of_the_Unicorn

    Additionally, Alan Arkin’s performance of Schmendrick was underdone on purpose because he felt that with Christopher Lee and Angela Lansbury chewing the scenery and hamming it up(wonderfully, though), the audience would appreciate someone more dry and easy and simple.

    Just thought you should be aware of these things since they seem to discredit a couple sticking points of your review.

    • Ken Hanke

      Knowing the supposed story behind something does not actually alter anything. That may be why Arkin is walking through his role. It doesn’t change the fact that he is. As for its authenticity — and, by the way, I’ve seen those tapestries — that doesn’t mean that it was a good choice in this medium.

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