*/**** Image D Sound D
screenplay by Peter S. Beagle, based on his novel
directed by Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass
by Walter Chaw Rankin & Bass' typically sloppy adaptation of Peter S. Beagle's classic The Last Unicorn (adapted for the screen by Beagle himself) is terribly voiced and animated, even by the '70s Bakshi/flash-frozen/Saturday-morning conveyor belt standard. The melancholy poetry of Beagle's novel, rife with dread and the vertiginous feeling of falling into chaos, is notable for its similarity to the big eye, little mouth of traditional anime but falls short of that gold standard in terms of performance and detail. Mouths don't move, backgrounds are static and recycled, and it doesn't help that the colours on the print making it to the DVD format look as though they'd been left in the front window for too long.
Its archetypal quest story--coloured by a psychedelic flash of freakism--the only thing recommending it, the film follows the exploits of the titular beastie (voiced by Mia Farrow) as she leaves her enchanted forest to find out what's happened to the rest of her kind. It's sort of "Demon with a Glass Hand" for the fairytale set, especially when the unicorn is turned into a beautiful woman by the best efforts of bumbling magician Schmendrick (Alan Arkin), who has previously saved her--in the film's best sequence--from Mommy Fortuna's (Angela Lansbury) travelling curiosity show. Seems the Red Bull herded all the unicorns away under command of evil King Haggard (Christopher Lee); will the last unicorn follow her now-human heart into the arms of dashing Prince Lir (Jeff Bridges), or remember her duty to her kind and free them from bondage?
Weighted with moments of surprising power yet undone by crazed-crank nickelodeon pacing and a score by America that lends a falsetto gravitas to the piece (destroying any illusion of involvement with the core tale), The Last Unicorn fits into the lower quadrant of the mad explosion of fantasy and science-fiction films from the 1980s. Farrow and Bridges are singularly ill-suited to voice work (not so Lansbury, as exhibited by her performance in Beauty and the Beast), while some fun is had in the surprise to find that the character design of Haggard was an obvious inspiration for "The Simpsons"' Mr. Burns.
The picture earns a few more points for attempting to be mature animation in a country that, to this day, generally disdains such things, but a noble failure is a failure still, particularly when one considers that this "mature" animation is cut with slapstick and ridiculous musical interludes. It's a nice gesture to buy and champion the title, it just shouldn't be in the bargain that you have to watch it, too.
Artisan DVD does their standard hackjob on The Last Unicorn, bringing this revered title to the format in a grainy and washed-out fullscreen presentation with a 2.0 stereo audio track that is as tinny as it is hollow. There are no special features on the disc, not even a trailer or production notes, re-establishing the distribution house as the absolute bottom in terms of respect for catalogue titles and innovation in regards for restoration. Look for it at Tuesday Morning stores for a slick $3.99 sooner than you might think. Originally published: April 29, 2004.