From a riddle-speaking butterfly, a unicorn learns that she is supposedly the last of her kind, all the others having been herded away by the Red Bull. The unicorn sets out to discover the truth behind the butterfly's words. She is eventually joined on her quest by Schmendrick, a second-rate magician, and Molly Grue, a now middle-aged woman who dreamed all her life of seeing a unicorn. Their journey leads them far from home, all the way to the castle of King Haggard.
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The Last Unicorn
Jules Bass, Arthur Rankin Jr. (1982)
Because it stars a unicorn and its animated, people seriously underestimate this movie. I'm assuming you've never seen it, and if you have it was as a child. I also assume you think me silly or adorable or stuck in my Disney Princess phase for naming this as one of my favorites, if not very favorite.
First: It's not Disney by any stretch of the imagination or looseness of that term. Different studio, different animation, different sentiment, different spread of actors, made almost entirely in japan, and by actual Japanese people not weird Disney cronies overseeing anime – IE Spirited Away.
Second: Themes dealt with are way more advanced than most people watching will pick up on. These themes include: Loss of Innocence. Confronting/Losing one's Identity. Nature versus Nurture. Descent into Madness. Conquering of Fear. Coping with Annihilation.
Name me adult movies that do all these? The Shining? One of them. Independence Day/Armageddon? One. Silence of the Lambs... ok, three.
That's right. Fuck people and their anti-unicorn prejudices.
The only concession I make on the abject unicorn-ness is the fact that the film, like The Bible, only becomes truly interesting when you interpret it allegorically. However, since people do this naturally with Alice in Wonderland it shouldn't be too hard. Besides, Peter S. Beagle, the author, also wrote the screenplay and probably saw this as his chance to re-edit his own story, cutting down on the sprawl that the adventure tends toward in written form.Θ This makes the movie so tightly plotted, with each character's appearance so distinct in the unicorn's development, one cannot help but lean on allegory.
Now, with that out of the way. We open with a wood. The animation here is antiquated by even the standards at the time – 1979. There are physical layers being filmed in Snow White era (1930s) stop motion to show depth. Its gorgeous and tactile. The trees appear two dimensional and three dimensional at the same time and it's magic. Next up, we have some relatively human men ride through this wood with a prologue of sorts: We live in a rational world and all the unicorns are dead, isn't that a pity? Except, these woods are weird? Thank creation (not god) there is one unicorn left in the world.
The audience now knows that the world is almost without unicorns. Allegorically, science has killed fancy and there are people who regret this. Further, with the established meaning of unicorns in symbolism being innocence, the world is almost completely ruined beyond innocence. Immediately we meet with the most innocent of creatures, the one that is fictional. We have a short soliloquy where she comes to first terms with the annihilation of her species, and the mystery involved in it.
Her first interaction with another creature is half a conversation with a butterfly. The butterfly's personality resembles many a nutcase throughout literature. All he does is spout off snippets of poetry and music. After listening to something like gibberish which only loosely follows the unicorn's own external monologue, she embarks on a Gilgamesh/Joseph Campbell quest.
As such, she encounters many more a helper and hindrance. Each one progresses her self awareness until she is no longer like the other unicorns she strives so hard, for so long to save. The great tragedy of this is that at its climax, she renders her own goal moot. Her brethren return but she is no longer, truly one of them. Thus, she remains the loneliest survivor of annihilation in the history of fiction.
For me, where it becomes most interesting is when she is transformed into a human. This brings up the conflict of whether we are what we look like or are we how we think. As Amalthea, the Unicorn completes her loss of sanity and innocence. Only with her helpers does the quest even stay online; she has become as wayward and easily swayed as the butterfly who inadvertently tipped the scale and convinced her off to find her peeps(and just as inadvertently herself). This vulnerability to the plot does nothing but exemplify the tenuous hold people have on themselves when thrust into circumstance. Its nothing short of brilliant.
If I were to explain fully, everything that is brilliant about this film, however, I'd write a full treatise on it, or at least a collection of essays. Have I already started this, you ask? Why yes! They should be finalized and ready to go out to magazines and literary journals the world over by the end of next year.