Cloaked Critic Reviews The Last Unicorn Picture


"The Last Unicorn" is another fantasy novel turned animated masterpiece by the same men who made the original Hobbit movie the timeless classic that it is. Released in 1982, produced by Rankin/Bass Productions and animated by Topcraft (who later went on to become Studio Ghibli), "The Last Unicorn" is based on Peter S. Beagle's novel of the same name, and unlike with most book-to-film adaptations, Beagle had the honor of writing the screenplay for the movie as well, so the film is therefore a fairly loyal adaptation of the book.

Immediately, one thing that wins this movie points is the way they chose to depict, the unicorn. They went with the folkloric representation which depicts the unicorn as being more deerlike with a long lion-esque tail, as opposed to that cliche crap I hate where lazy motherfuckers just draw a white horse with a horn on its head. DO YOUR RESEARCH PEOPLE!! That's not how they were described! Unicorns are described as being horselike, but they are not simply horses with horns; more specifically they are pure white with a horselike forebody, the hindquarters of a stag, lionlike tail, and of course the iconic spiraled horn extending from their forehead. Much like with dragons, it's rare to find any pop culture media that does the old lore any inkling of justice. This movie and the book that spawned it are the only sources in modern fiction that appear to be well-versed on unicorn lore, and make attempts to incorporate elements from said lore; as opposed to some hack writer pulling a bunch of random bullshit out of their ass. In addition to the attention to unicorn lore, Beagle even goes so far as to include references to other mythological beasts as well; such as the manticore, the Midgard Serpent, and even Celaeno the harpy from Greek mythology who all appear during the Midnight Carnival scene. This sort of attention to detail is something I love, and wish writers would pay more credence to, because after studying folklore and the occult for almost ten years now I can say for certainty that much of what is stated and described in folklore more than trumps a lot of the TV/movie cliches that you constantly see litter the big and small screen...seriously, who the fuck made Tolkien a prime authority on fairy lore anyway!

As I watched this movie, I often found myself wondering if Schmendrick was this funny in the book, because the cartoon equivalent of the character is goofier than Goofy. Of course it's a good thing that he is in this movie, because otherwise this story would be fairly mirthless. I mean it's filled with wonder and intrigue, but that alone doesn't make for a very entertaining film. The only other character in this movie to make me laugh anywhere near as much is the talking cat with the peg-leg. He's only in the movie for an incredibly short bit, but in just that sliver of time his sharp sardonic wit makes him a short-lived piece of comic gold. Hmm, a talking cat with a peg-leg...I wonder if the cat in this movie is related to Disney's Peg-Leg Pete. Oh, and I can't forget about that alcoholic skeleton. He was a barrel of laughs too.

Watching the movie, it seems apparent that some of the finer details of the story were left out because the motives and background behind King Haggard and the Red Bull are left quite vague. I mean I have little doubt that the Red Bull is some kind of demon, but how and why the fuck is it working for Haggard? How the hell does he manage to control such a beast? The sole motivation and insight into these two characters are that Haggard clearly suffers from a severe case of depression and is using the Red Bull to capture and imprison all the unicorns in the world in the sea by his castle because they are allegedly the only thing which can stave off his unhappiness...although the effects must be temporary, because even with all the unicorns minus one he's still one gloomy bastard. Of course I'd be lying if I said I could not sympathize with him, for I too suffer from a near-crippling depression and nothing can ever make me happy for very long either.

It kind of presents an interesting angle for the villain though. Most villains are motivated by greed, a lust for power, or delusions of grandeur, but Haggard's sole motivation is that he's chronically depressed. I mean, this doesn't make his deeds any less evil and self-centered, but it's kind of understandable if you think about it. What would you do if you were chronically depressed your whole life? If you ARE a chronically-depressed person, how do you deal with it? Generally, you try to surround yourself with things that make you happy; however few things those are and however fleeting the happiness they bring may be. Simply put, Haggard was just a sad, unhappy motherfucker who spent his entire life trying to make himself not so sad and ultimately resorted to using a devil bull to capture unicorns and trap them in the sea...makes sense (sort of).

Of course watching this movie now, I find it nearly impossible not to smirk a bit whenever they mention the Red Bull because of that stupid energy drink of the same name. I've actually joked in past that after this movie the Red Bull went on to get a job working as the mascot for the beverage company. I wouldn't actually be surprised if the people who conceived the idea for the drink didn't swipe the name straight from this story.

The part of this movie that hits me in the feels the hardest is when Schmendrick is forced to change the unicorn into a human. There's a very deep existential conflict which comes into play there, for the unicorn consciously knowing she's a unicorn is forced to cope with the plight of being a mere mortal human (just like what all your Otherkin friends are always complaining about). For the first time in her eons-long life she is exposed to the complex array of emotions that plagues the human mind. People generally associate emotion with being mankind's greatest strength, but I've long seen it as being man's greatest weakness; for emotion is honestly the root of all irrationality and foolishness. Emotions are powerful and unpredictable masters who have a long history of driving even the wisest of men to act against the infallible logic of common sense.

The experiences the last unicorn undergoes as the Princess Amalthea leaves her forever changed, for she is now the only unicorn to have ever known the human emotions of love and regret. It's a transformation of monumentous ramifications if you stop to think about it, because if you've never been able to love or regret for countless centuries, to suddenly be thrown into the traumatic mess which are those emotions, and then forever be stricken with the memories of them...well, to put it best into perspective, imagine living forever with the feelings associated with falling in love for the first time and having your heartbroken for the first time. Yeah, the unicorn will be living with that for the rest of eternity. I understand better now what Schmendrick meant when he said "I've done you evil and I cannot undo it." He did her evil alright. In fact, he unwittingly condemned her to a neverending emotional Hell! They say it is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all...but the people who say that are idiots! Those who have never known love and heartbreak are some lucky bastards, and I envy the fuck out of them! Granted, it is only because of her love for Lir that the unicorn was able to fight back and defeat the Red Bull, but I consider that more due to the fact that pain is a far stronger motivator than fear, and there's no greater pain than the loss of a loved one.

This is definitely one of my all-time favorite movies. The 80's was truly the last age for great fantasy. Back then people knew how to portray good fantasy and portray it well. Originality and imagination were held in higher regard in those days. Gradually since then, fantasy stories started becoming more and more bland and uninspired until we ended up the crap that litters the theaters and internet these days. Back then it was all about story, art, and design. Nowadays people rely too much on overblown CGI graphics that just look cheap and tacky. Such methods are only used because the mainstream can shit them out faster and negate the months of hard work and painstaking detail that goes into the classic styles of animation via ink and paint; which is frankly the only true way to capture the true essence of the imagination, and stories like this which are rich with that essential essence should never be portrayed any other way. In this current age, when awful live-action remakes are a staple of bad decisions, I hope like hell they leave this story alone, because I shutter to think of how they would fuck this up with a live-action cast and that god-awful CGI crap!
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