Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Last Unicorn

The Last Unicorn; animated fantasy, USA/ UK/ Japan, 1982; D: Jules Bass, Arthur Rankin, Jr., S: Mia Farrow, Alan Arkin, Jeff Bridges, Tammy Grimes, Christopher Lee

In a forest, a unicorn overhears the conversation of two hunters who speculate that she is the last of her kind. Curious, and willing to find out what happened to other unicorns, she travels across the country, but is captured by a witch, Fortuna, who uses her as a circus attraction. A clumsy, young magician, Schmendrick, releases her and they continue their quest together with Molly. In order to save her from the Red Bull, an entity that is persecuting unicorns, Schmendrick transforms the unicorn into a woman. They arrive at a castle near a beach, where it turns out that the king, Haggard, is collecting all the unicorns because they make him happy. His adoptive son, Lir, falls in love with the woman. Transforming back into the unicorn, she defeats the Red Bull and saves all the captured unicorns from the sea.

The long awaited big screen adaptation of Peter S. Beagle's eponymous novel, "The Last Unicorn" is, just like most US animated films for adults, a mixed experience. On one hand, it is touching, but that unfortunately wonders off into syrupy-melodramatic way too often, also aggravated by the 'ecstatic physiognomy' design of the characters, especially the maudlin look of the unicorn. Also, it is a prime example of how only two stupid scenes can "contaminate" and disrupt the whole rest of the storyline, here evident in the cringe worthy, bizarre moment where Schmendrick is tied to a tree and uses his magic to make it come to life, only to almost get suffocated by the female tree's "breasts" and the excessive sequence where a skeleton imagines to be drinking from an empty bottle. However, there is something enchanting in the core story of the unicorn who thinks she might be the last of her kind, speaking of some themes as loneliness, but also platonic love, transience and the extinction of innocence in the subplot when she transforms into a woman and discovers the alien feeling of lost love for the first time, resulting in a poetic line ("No sorrow will live in me with that joy - save one. And I thank you for that part, too"). Overall, the lines are the best ingredients in the film, and some are so good they break you heart ("It is a very rare person who is taken for what he truly is"; "I've had time to write a book about the way you act and look, but I haven't got a paragraph. Words are always getting in my way"), which hints that they worked in better harmony in its original, written form. Still, it is appropriately fairytalesque and opulent, with a naive, but optimistic happy ending, and has a different feel than many films of its kind.


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