DVD Review: The Last Unicorn - 25th Anniversary Edition
Release Date: February 6, 2006
· Arthur Rankin, Jr.
· Jules Bass
· Alan Arkin
· Jeff Bridges
· Mia Farrow
· Tammy Grimes
· Robert Klein
· Angela Lansbury
· Christopher Lee
· Keenan Wynn
· Paul Frees
· Rene Auberjonois
· IMDb: The Last Unicorn
by R.J. Carter
Published: February 6, 2007
Originally released in 1982, the Peter S. Beagle fantasy classic has been made available once again on DVD in this 25th anniversary edition, digitally cleaned up and presented in theatrical widescreen format.
Alan Arkin and Mia Farrow headline this epic quest in which a lonely unicorn (Farrow) overhears two hunters comment that whatever unicorn currently lives in the forest is the last of her kind. Wondering if they speak the truth, she sets off to find where the rest of the unicorns have gone.
Human men who see her only see a white mare, and are incapable of recognizing the magical creature she truly is. But some people have the magic and the sight to recognize her for what she really is. One of them is Mommy Fortuna (Angela Lansbury), an old witch who runs a traveling carnival full of tired old animals whom she has enchanted so that paying customers think they're seeing creatures of myth and magic. Mommy Fortuna captures the unicorn and puts a fake horn on her so that the people who can't see her as a real unicorn will believe, making for an interesting double bluff of a lie that is really the truth.
Fortunately for the unicorn, Mommy Fortuna has something of an incompetent wizard in her employ named Schmendrick (Arkin). Schmendrick can also see the unicorn for what she is, but is canny enough not to let the witch know. He releases the unicorn, who in turn frees the other animals -- one of whom is the only other real creature of magic in captivity, a harpy (with triple dangling bare breasts; G-ratings were slightly easier to come by in 1982) who kills Mommy Fortuna while Schmendrick and the unicorn flee.
The unicorn has heard a story about a red bull, owned by King Haggard, who reportedly drove all the unicorns away. Schmendrick confirms he's heard that story -- and about a hundred others about the red bull and Haggard, so who knows what to believe? But Schmendrick and the unicorn have other problems when they're beset by outlaws in the employ of Captain Cully (Keenan Wynn). The outlaws aren't that much of a problem, however, as they only exist as an excuse to introduce Molly Grue (Tammy Grimes), who joins Schmendrick and the unicorn -- a good thing, because she actually knows the way to King Haggard's land.
As the trio approaches the castle, there is a sudden surge of magic: the flaming red bull comes out of the sun and gives chase to the unicorn, herding her. Schmendrick, in an act of desperation, casts a spell that changes the unicorn into a human woman. With the unicorn gone, the red bull disappears. But the unicorn -- now the Lady Amalthea -- is uncomfortable and afraid in her new body. But she has to remain in this form if she wants to find what happened to the other unicorns without arousing the bull.
On Her Own Two Feet. With magic wrought by Schmendrick,
the unicorn is transformed into a woman.
It turns out that Haggard's castle is in the worst state of disrepair. King Haggard (Christopher Lee) and his son Prince Lir (Jeff Bridges) serve as their own guards, with only a handful of others in the castle. King Haggard sends away anyone and anything that doesn't make him happy, the result being that he has precious little left. But he's willing to give our heroes a chance in his kingdom, replacing his wizard Mabruk (Paul Frees) with Schmendrick, and letting Molly Grue work in the kitchen -- mostly because he senses something about Amalthea that he can't quite prove. But the longer Amalthea stays in human form, the more human she becomes in spirit, falling in love with Prince Lir and forgetting the purpose of her quest. Worse, she's now mortal, and will eventually die. Schmendrick and Molly must find where the red bull is hidden, and force Amalthea to confront it in order to find the rest of the world's unicorns, if indeed they still exist.
The animation is a mix, being 99% the Rankin/Bass style used in "The Hobbit", with the remaining 1% -- that being the images of the unicorn and Amalthea -- leaning more toward Japanese shojo. The film drags a bit in places where it becomes more of an animated music video to songs performed by America, and I wonder if it might be too slow for the children of this generation.
A Unicorn Learns Regret. Lir sacrifices himself for Almathea.
Special Features on this disc include the original three-minute theatrical trailer, an eight-and-a-half minute featurette with Beagle as he talks about writing The Last Unicorn, as well as Two Hearts -- a short story featuring the return of Schmendrick, Molly and an aged King Lir, for which he won a Hugo Award. He also talks of his first meeting with artist Rebekah Naomi Cox, when she was a fan at a convention showing her portfolio of The Last Unicorn artwork.
If you want to know more about Beagle's career, there's an audio-only segment that runs for about six minutes, stepping through his stories and songs, from A Fine and Private Place to The Last Unicorn: The Lost Version, I See By My Outfit, The Inkeeper's Song, Tamsin, and The Line Between.
For the younger viewers there's a trivia game, "Escape the Red Bull". Answer your question correctly and Almathea pushes the bull closer to the ocean. Answer incorrectly, and the bull herds Almathea toward the sea. Four questions answered correctly will win the game. There's also "Schmendrick's Magical Gallery", which features stills from the movie, as well as photos of Beagle and paintings of unicorns (nineteen images in all).
Audio is in English only (5.1 or 2.0 Dolby Digital), with subtitles available in English or Spanish.
Previews on this disc include "Happily N'Ever After", The Doodlebops, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Volume 6.