Labor Day weekend is upon us. The official closeout of summer and welcoming in the start of school and Autumn. (Although I live in Michigan, which means we will probably have an Indian summer late into September).
At the end of summer I almost always read and/or watch The Last Unicorn. Why? Because it’s perfect for the end of the season. Unicorns in myth often represent spring and the whole story of the Last Unicorn is about the end of something ancient, myth passing away into something new and different but equally good.
The book, by Peter S. Beagle is full of beautiful prose that reads like poetry. It is full of whimsy as well as high mythology which combines the best aspects of all fantasy.
The movie which is animated by Topcraft and directed by Rankin Bass of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” Heat-miser, and animated “The Hobbit” fame, manages to capture that whimsy and mythos in its adaptation. The animation is really beautiful, even if it looks a little to anime-esque at times
Peter S. Beagle actually provided the screenplay for the film, which is cool, but you can tell at times relies on narrative devices that are great in book form, but seem awkward on screen. (Mia Farrow as The Last Unicorn talks to herself and it’s…..uncomfortable?).
The plot is that the last unicorn overhears some hunters in her wood talk about her possibly being the last of her kind. Bemused and concerned she sets out to find out if she really is the last. She learns that the Red Bull drove them all into the sea at the ends of the earth.
She is joined on her quest by Schmendrick the magician played perfectly by Alan Arkin, a hap-hazard wizard in training and a woman named Molly Grue, who is Captain Cully’s love. Captain Cully is basically a send up to Robin Hood and his merry men except much less merry. Molly is the Mary Magdalene figure in this story and I love her. Linked below is by far the best scene in the film. If you can watch it without crying you are a grinch.
Other characters include King Haggard played by Christopher Lee, fantasy king for our times. And his son Prince Lir played by Jeff Bridges which equals #awesome.
I enjoy that the unicorn is female. It opens up to a different interpretation of the unicorn mythos. Traditionally, in most literature and fairy tales (outside of My Little Pony), unicorns are portrayed as male. The medieval male unicorn curing the water of poison, appearing only to virgins only to be hunted down, killed and resurrected. He was supposed to be a Christ figure. Which is cool, I can dig that. However, why not a female unicorn? They represent beauty and purity which are most commonly portrayed as feminine virtues. Little girls (and grown-up girls) love unicorns so it only makes sense. Essentially though, the story of the Last Unicorn only really works if she is female. Toward the end of the novel and the film she has to be turned into a human woman in order to be kept safe. She learns what it is like to be a mortal human with all of it’s messiness and wonderfulness. She learns to love and also becomes the only immortal unicorn who lives to regret. At the end of the story she is changed, but she is grateful for that change.
This is a modern fairy tale full of all the trademarks of the genre, beauty, goodness, truth, and redemption. What’s not to love? It’s up there with The Princess Bride as my favorite modern fantasy.
ps. the film has music from the band America. Yes.