Magic and Unicorns

I was thinking or writing something about The Last Unicorn, which I watched again after almost 30 years… but I got a bit tired for some reason.

The Last Unicorn suffered, I think, from things lost in the adaptation from the book to cartoon. Of course, when I first saw it back when I was eight, I didn’t much care. Magic! Unicorns!

But with an adult eye I see a film that could have been so much more, but didn’t, partly because it tried too hard to appeal to a young audience. Though I have never read it, my guess is that the book had a pretty profound theme of the conflict between possessiveness for personal pleasure versus unpossessive love. The theme is pretty much skimmed over in the film, mentioned briefly in stilted sentences, hinting at the depth it could have gone into.

Studio Ghibli might have done a better job. Maybe if part of the story cut out, and the remaining sections elaborated on in greater detail. (How did the young magician Schmendrick realize the best way to use his magic was to let it do what it wills? He suddenly starts using it while the focus is off him and on the other characters, without any explanation how he figured it out!)

The dialog feels like it was dubbed from another language, scenes feel disjointed. I feel like there was a lot more footage that ended up on the cutting room floor that would have made the story flow smoother. Wonder if there is Director’s Cut? Some films do feel better with the missing footage put in and the story extended, with scenes made less choppy, eg. David Lynch’s Dune.

There were visually stunning sequences: the introduction with the theme I’m Alive! by America, with rotoscoped animals blending into stylized tapestry-like backgrounds:

Some parts were profound: the sad animals in the hag’s menagerie in the first part of the film and people not seeing a thing’s true worth. And the climactic confrontation between the Unicorn and the Red Bull was both visually stunning and emotionally cathartic, the one scene that stuck in my memory for 30 years, apart from the opening!

I would love a remake, or at least a Director’s Cut.


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