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The Last Unicorn (1982)
Rated G

Starring: The voices of: Mia Farrow, Alan Arkin, and Jeff Bridges

Rating:
****
out of
*****

At some point in your life, you will come across a movie that touches you for some unknown reason. It will speak to you and, although you might not understand exactly what it's saying, you'll get the meaning anyway. You'll be unable to shake it for quite awhile after viewing it. I have found a film like that. Its name is The Last Unicorn.

Released in 1982, this animated feature from directors Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass, who are probably more well-known for their Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer TV special, tells the story of a unicorn's search for her lost brethren, who have been chased from the land by the Red Bull.

To find her companions, the last unicorn is forced to leave the safety of her forest to enter the realm of man. Men cannot see the beauty of a unicorn, seeing only a horse in its place. Shortly after beginning her journey, the unicorn is captured by Mommy Fortuna (Angela Lansbury), a witch who can see her true identity. She is displayed in Mommy Fortuna's carnival (although Fortuna has to add a second horn to the unicorn's head because most humans cannot see the true horn she possesses.) While held captive, the unicorn meets Schmendrick (Alan Arkin), a kind but awkward magician who is desperately trying to perform real magic. He recognizes the unicorn's beauty and helps her escape the carnival. The two of them travel together to find the Red Bull, who is rumored to dwell in the kingdom of King Haggard (Christopher Lee).

I will not give away the details of their journey, save to say that it is, like any fantasy quest, full of danger and challenges. This particular quest is quite enchanting.

It's difficult for me to say exactly what is so appealing about this movie. It is definitely more than the sum of its parts. The soundtrack, performed by America, is haunting and moving without ever becoming corny or overly obvious. The voice acting, especially by Alan Arkin and Christopher Lee, is fantastic. King Haggard is not so much a villain, but a misunderstood and lonely old man and it is Lee's voice that gives him a humanity that so many animated characters lack. Arkin's Schmendrick is so goofy, awkward, and genuinely funny that you'll find him irresistible. Jeff Bridges, as Haggard's son, Prince Lir, is appropriately heroic sounding. His character shows an unexpected vulnerablity in the later stages of the story. Only Mia Farrow, as the title character, is less-than-stellar here and, frankly, it doesn't matter.

The animation is a bizarre combination of anime-inspired designs and somewhat shoddy-looking backgrounds. But for each poorly animated scene, there is one that make you gasp in awe. For a 21-year-old cartoon, this film stands up quite nicely. It certainly looks old-fashioned, but even that is endearing.

At the root of it all is the story -- a classic quest to find something thought lost forever. Friends help friends through the dangers of the quest and find their true potential along the way. This is not simply a child's film. It is a film speaks to everyone in a kindhearted tone that audiences of all ages should appreciate. (Although more sensitive parents should note a few "Hells" and "Damns" are included in the dialogue and some of the imagery may be too scary for younger children.)

The Last Unicorn is a woefully unappreciated film that should rank as a classic right alongside any of Disney's better known but lesser quality efforts.

Trivia: Christopher Lee showed up for the recording sessions armed with his own copy of the book, with several places marked to indicate things that must not, in his opinion, be omitted. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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