Upon hearing that she may be the very last of her kind on Earth, a Unicorn (Mia Farrow) goes in search of others like her. Her quest won’t be easy, as it leads her straight to the evil King Haggard (Christopher Lee) and his infamous Red Bull! And the journey is made even more complicated when, to protect her from the envious wrath of Haggard, a spell is cast to turn the Unicorn into the Lady Amalthea, a young, beautiful, human woman. But with this new body comes new thoughts and feelings, such as love for Haggard’s son, Prince Lir (Jeff Bridges). Will the Unicorn get lost inside this new body? Will she meet the fate of the other Unicorns? Or will she be able to defeat Haggard and his Red Bull with the aid of her friends, Schmendrick the bumbling magician (Alan Arkin) and Molly Grue (Tammy Grimes)?
I worship animated movies. Growing up, I was influenced by so many films, both mature (Watership Down, Wizards, Heavy Metal, Fire and Ice) and family friendly ones (Peanuts, Rankin/Bass, Disney, Charlotte's Web, and Looney Tunes). I also went crazy for the anime style. As a kid, I would run home and try to catch any episode of Star Blazers, Shogun Warriors, or Speed Racer I could. I went into reviewing this disc with all of these favorites in mind, and curious as to how The Last Unicorn compares.
The Last Unicorn, based on the popular Peter S. Beagle book of the same name, tells the story of a female unicorn on a quest to save other unicorns, which have been driven to a distant land by the fearsome Red Bull. If she doesn't, she'll truly be the last of her kind. Along the way, she encounters a witch (Mommy Fortuna, played by Angela Lansbury) who cages her, making her an exhibit in Fortuna's traveling circus. With some help from a rookie spell-caster in the circus, Schmendrick (excellently voiced by Alan Arkin), the Unicorn escapes, also freeing a monstrous Harpy named Celaeno (Keenan Wynn), who disposes of the evil witch. The Unicorn and Schmendrick continue the journey to confront the Red Bull and find out what happened to all the other unicorns. Along the way, they befriend Molly Grue (Tammy Grimes), paramour to the bandit leader, Captain Cully (also played by Keenan Wynn).
The Unicorn finally comes horn to face with the fearsome, gigantic, fiery Red Bull. She's simply overmatched in this moment, and thanks to Schmendrick's random magic spell, she's turned into a human woman. The Red Bull, no longer spotting the Unicorn, gives up the fight, and heads back to a castle by the sea. The woman awakes from the spell, devastated at her transformation, even having a hard time with her new two legs, but continues her journey nonetheless.
The trio shows up to the castle, ruled by King Haggard (featuring Christopher Lee's booming, classic voice). The "newly born" woman is introduced to the king as Schmendrick's niece, "Amalthea". King Haggard's adopted son, Prince Lír (played somewhat flatly by Jeff Bridges) falls madly in love with Amalthea, and though she fights her feelings at first, she grows to love the prince. But she's here to find and save the unicorns! This sets up a final showdown between the Red Bull, Amalthea, and Prince Lír. Turns out, Schmendrick has one more trick up his sleeve, and restores Amalthea to her original self, the Unicorn. The final seaside battle is set, in a spectacular final fight sequence. I really appreciated the bittersweet ending to the film, which adds a great final touch of melancholy.
This was my first time ever seeing this movie. As a big fan of animation, I was blown away by the art. I've loved Rankin and Bass ever since I was a child, and it's clear nearly all the characters were in their style. The drawings of the unicorn, which looked anime influenced, are top notch. The backgrounds are stunning. There's simply no cheating of animation, no shortcuts, it's like one long moving painting. The voiceover work by the cast is mostly excellent, and it's amazing they landed as many big names as they did for the film. They mention in the special features that Disney considered 20 million dollars to be the starting point for their "budget" feature film releases. This film's budget was a little over 3 million. Folks, this rivals most any Disney movie I've ever seen. With beautiful art, a great story for kids and adults alike, this can and should easily be termed a classic.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
The Last Unicorn comes as a BD50, region A only, Blu-ray disc in a standard blue keepcase slipcase, with a cardboard outer slipcover. Also included is a DVD and digital copy of the film.
The video on this release is a 1:85:1 AVC encode, and a recent encode from the brand-new 2K source. It looks incredible. The colors are spectacular. The greens in the forest, the orange and yellow sunsets, the consistency and pure whiteness of the Unicorn, it all pops off the screen. The red of the fiery bull is striking. The contrast is above average throughout - in a dark forest scene, the blacks were inky, and the shadowed owls and deer played well off the darker background. There's film noise in some light-blue sky sequences, but its source, and not overly distracting. The animation is spectacular, from the excellent character design, to the slightly abstracted backgrounds. As a first time viewer, and former failed art student, I loved every frame of it. The movie consistently exhibits excellent detail; individual brush strokes, especially in the trees, present well in backgrounds. There's source issues - sporadic flicker and background warping, some noticeable scratches and film dirt in nighttime sequences, but nothing that took me out of the film. I don't have the 2011 HD release to compare it to, but it's amazing when compared to the flat looking, soft, nondescript look from the accompanying DVD. It's an astounding piece of moving artwork, and the encode does it justice.
There are two audio tracks, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. The 5.1 track is outstanding for a film this age, and utilizes all channels when music is present, especially in the opening song from the film. Sequences with crickets, wind, water drops, and most of the magic sound effects show in the rear surrounds, and it sounds great. The subwoofer punches often, in the numerous songs, and the battle scenes (most effectively in the Harpy sequence, and especially the Red Bull fight at the end). Dialogue is perfectly mixed and presented in the center channel. Still, this is mostly a Left/Center/Right driven film, and while I would have liked more surround, what does play in the rears sounds fantastic. The 2.0 track, noticeably louder than the 5.1, also sounds superb, with dialogue, sound effects, and bass presenting vividly. I heard a Godzilla sound roar effect at 57:00 in, when the prince battles a dragon, and I can only guess Toho gave their blessing? I didn't hear any noticeable hiss, distortion, dropouts, static, ticks, or anything problematic in either track. Just incredible for a film 33 years old.
Audio commentary with Peter S. Beagle, Michael Chase Walker, Connor Cochran, Terri Kempton and Travis Ashmore- Features the author and his business manager, associate producer, and others associated with the film. They do a great job not stepping on each other during the film, and offer great insight on the casting, individual moments in the film, the music, the art, fan reaction, as well as the interplay between the animation offices of Rankin/Bass and the Japanese animation unit. This is simply a must listen to for fans. One particular conversation of note outlined the difficulties of getting the film made, distributed, and its showing in the U.S. as well as abroad. One of the more informative, well prepared commentaries I've heard.
True Magic: The Story of The Last Unicorn (HD, 43:29) - Some doubling of content from the commentary (getting the film made, fan reaction, distribution, etc.), but interesting in spots.
Highlights from The Last Unicorn Worldwide Screening Tour with Peter S. Beagle (HD, 11:18) - Some nice fan stories and footage, along with Q and A moments from the film tour with the author, Peter S. Beagle. It's sentimental and endearing to see the fans devotion and their personal attachments to the book and film.
Animated Storyboards (HD, 7:23) - Very rough montage of storyboards, set to music and dialogue from the scenes in the movie. I had a hard time making out some of the drawings, since this piece features an extremely low bit rate, which results in very soft, jaggy storyboard images.
Original Trailer (SD, 2:48) - A 4x3 trailer of the film. If you ever want a shocking comparison piece to how good the film looks now, this is it.
What a fantastic blast from the past. I never saw it in 1982, but I'm sure glad I saw it now. No doubt its impact then, and if I saw it when I was 12 would have been even more significant, but it's a joy regardless. It more than "holds up" for me, as the story, the character designs, the acting, and especially the art seem timeless. It's clear after I watched it why so many people hold this movie with such sentimental affection. A truly great animated film, and one I'm sure young kids will never forget. 2D animated feature films are almost extinct, but thankfully, a retro release like this is a no brainer for fans. Also an easy sell for collectors eager for great, classic, hand-drawn animated fare. Featuring fantastic video and audio presentation, and a decent amount of new extras, this release is highly recommended!