Friday, 7 August 2015

Where in the World is The Last Unicorn?

I rewatched The Last Unicorn this past week with my girlfriend. So yeah... that was a weird animated fantasy film from 1982, wasn't it? I don't know how else to introduce the film, so there it is.

After watching it again, it was apparent that it would be a great film to review since it is so weird in a lot of different ways. For example, an article by the AV Club describes how the film is a horror show of terrifying images wrapped in gorgeous animation and a oddly odd fantastic tale.

Similarly, this Buzzfeed list lists the 20 creepiest and most bizarre moments from the movie, including the almost surreal moment when Captain Cully casually asks Schmendrick the wizard if he would like a taco. A taco. Keeping in mind that this is fantasy story set in a faux-medieval European backdrop like most fantasy stories, which means it is pretty Caucasian up in there, why the hell would he offer him a taco?

The 20 Creepiest & Most Bizarre Moments From "The Last Unicorn"
"Don't mind if I do but I could really go for some tequila if you've got any." 

Again, this in a time where people dressed in armour slayed dragons and , not to mention Captain Cully and his crew are outlaws living in a forest as though they're Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men (who they actually directly reference). Earlier in the scene they were complaining about eating rat soup, how do they even know what a taco is?

No seriously, I want to know. Supposedly this line is even in the book that the film is based on, so it isn't an ad-lib by the voice actor or some sort of in-joke by the screenwriter. This was written on a page for a novel about an unicorn set in a magic medieval world populated solely by white people and everyone, including the author's editor, was apparently cool with it.

How did the tacos get there? How do they exist in that world?

"Uh, magic?"

And there are many things I could talk about in my irreverent tongue-in-cheek way, like the Boob Tree, because there is a boob tree in this children's animated film for kids. That's a tree with boobs just in case you weren't sure.

But aside from the puzzling moments or traumatic scenes of real dark violence, there is much to admire about the film. The animation is beautiful, if very 80s in the movements of the characters, which are slightly stilted. However those somewhat jerky actions kind of add to the otherworldly or fantastical element of the film by giving the characters unnatural movements, especially the unicorn herself.

The designs of the characters are great, exaggerating the grotesque elements and somewhat misshapen form of Mommy Fortuna, the horrifying menace of the Red Bull, and the sleek, delicately gorgeous look of the Last Unicorn herself.

"Gazing at the solitary moon in the sky is a metaphor for my own loneliness."

However, as my girlfriend repeatedly mentioned while we were watching the film, the unicorn seems oddly Japanese in her design with large anime-eyes. This becomes even more apparent when she turns into a human halfway through the movie, looking like a more delicate Sailor Moon.

This isn't all too surprising considering that the animators were Japanese but still seems to stick out since none of the other designs have any overt anime influence. The rest of the human characters definitely appear more earthy than ethereal and if they have big eyes, they seem more Disney than anime (even though I know historically, anime got the big eyes thing from Disney but you know what I mean).

These two don't look like they should be in the same movie.

To be fair, perhaps the anime-style design of the unicorn's human form was intentional in order to highlight her 'otherness' in contrast to the less elegant and more earthy designs of the human humans. It certainly emphasises her mythical allure whilst she's an unicorn.

But there are other little touches in this movie that are great, like when Molly first meets the unicorn and bursts into tears, cursing her for coming too late. That she has been waiting for the unicorn since she was a girl but the unicorn has come when she is old and no longer new and innocent. It's actually a rather emotive scene that emphasises Molly's sense of lost youth and missed opportunity almost poignantly.


Oh, can I go back to the weird things about this movie? Since I've got one I don't think other people have mentioned. The theme song is by America. No, not the country, the band. Yes, that's right, the folk-pop band, America.

Famous for their 1971 hit, "A Horse With No Name", America were known for their tight three part harmonies and catchy folk songs with pop melodies, none of which screams theme song for a fantasy film. Surprisingly the song is rather fitting despite the occasional overwrought line and slight sappiness, providing a nice musical refrain for the film which matches its whimsical yet melancholic mood quite succinctly.

Did I mention there was singing in this movie? Because there is. Not a lot of it but there are songs. And they are sung. Some of them by the actors. None of whom can sing. While all of the actors they cast are tremendous stars and bring considerable voice talent to the film... they can't sing.

But they gave them songs to sing. This adds another layer of oddness to the film. Jeff Bridges in particular struggles to hold a tune in his duet with Mia Farrow. However, if I'm being honest, I quite like these imperfect performances since they add a vulnerability to the songs which underscores the melancholic feel and adds to the charm of the film.

I mentioned the boob tree, right?

And that's the thing, despite all the weirdness or scary moments, what really sticks out about the film is its charm. There is something rather charming about it. It's a surprisingly mature, bizarre, yet charming, examination of the themes of immortality, loneliness, what is happiness, and innocence.

As is usual with these blog posts, I never got round to talking about everything I wanted to talk about the thing I was talking about but I guess this will do. If you want, you could also tweet me about it and we can talk there or something.


The Last Unicorn (film) Wikipedia page

The Last Unicorn was nightmare fuel to a generation of kids - The AV Club

The 20 Creepiest & Most Bizarre Moments From "The Last Unicorn" - Buzzfeed

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