There is a forest of perpetual spring. A unicorn (Mia Farrow) resides in it, and this is why the forest is so pure and untouched by the outside world. The unicorn overhears two hunters call her the last of her kind. She cannot believe that she is really the last one in all the world. But she learns from a butterfly that all the unicorns were pushed to the end of the earth by a monstrous red bull. The unicorn ventures on a quest to find the others, but she is imprisoned in the carnival of a witch named Mommy Fortuna (Angela Lansbury). She manages to escape with the help of hapless wizard Schmendrick (Alan Arkin) who accompanies her on the quest. They are soon joined by Molly Grue (Tammie Grimes), a bandit’s wife. Their journey ends when they reach the kingdom of the cruel King Haggard (Christopher Lee), who has been using the red bull to capture all of the world’s unicorns.
The Last Unicorn is exceptionally gorgeous and it’s also a very existential and philosophical film. Despite mainstream trends and audience tastes today, this kind of animated film is not out of the ordinary. The medium has produced a number of rich and resonant stories. Aside from the sumptuous artwork, character designs and sophisticated themes, the film lacks superficiality. The visuals alone are never enough for a film; it is the beating heart of the story and characters that truly counts. And that’s what I think The Last Unicorn is, a beating heart that is gloriously alive and clothed in visual splendor.
The unicorn is transformed into a woman by Schmendrick in order to protect her from the red bull, who loses interest in her once she becomes human. She is called Lady Amalthea. In human form, she is acutely aware of her own mortality, and sings of her sorrow at being imprisoned in this new body. Unicorns cannot feel regret, but from her fleeting time as a human, and brush with love, she is the first unicorn in all the world to be regretful.
The film is permeated by melancholy and is a meditation on human nature, which is flawed and foolish. A talking cat reveals to Molly Grue that he knows the true identity of Lady Amalthea. Humans are incapable of seeing that which is right in front of them. Earlier, in Mommy Fortuna’s carnival, the spectators were merely fooled by the witch’s illusions. She made them see magical creatures when they were really shabby, forlorn animals.
“It’s a very rare person who is seen for what he truly is.”
The existential pondering of the film isn’t overwhelming. There are moments of humor. While Schmendrick is a bumbling fool, he doesn’t merely occupy comic relief. He yearns to do real magic, and finally does. He at last becomes what he’s always wanted. Molly was belligerent the first time she met the unicorn, because she’d waited years to see one when she was an innocent girl, and she never got the chance. But she softens and becomes the unicorn’s confidante and ally. She and Schmendrick are the only ones who see the unicorn, so naturally they are the ones who befriend and aid her.
A tranquil film, The Last Unicorn also boasts some thrillingly epic action sequences, and is an astonishing fantasy adventure.