As I've said before, The Last Unicorn is a source of comfort and nostalgia for me. I really want to watch or read it right now, but I'm traveling and unable to access any of my copies of the movie, the book, or the soundtrack. So instead, I'm going to write about it and why it's awesome and any fantasy fan of any age should love it in general, as well as why it's so personal to me. Except not in that order.
|"Am I the only unicorn there is? The last?"|
So when things get really crappy, I like to watch the movie again to try and escape back to that feeling. It may be kind of strange, but if I let myself and don't try too hard, I can kind of forget whatever made me pop it in to begin with, and for that hour-and-a-half, I feel like everything is just fine, and I'm loved and cared for. So I watched it enough as I was growing up that by the time I was in high school, the VHS was worn and didn't work any longer.
|The box is destroyed, too. It took me a long time|
to find an image of the right VHS copy- this thing must
be hard to pretty rare nowadays.
Because here's the thing. I didn't realize it as a kid because unicorn! Prince! Talking cat! But it's actually quite dark and has myriad mature themes running through. And the "d"-word gets said a few times. So I, and a number of fans, absolutely hated the first DVD release because they edited a, "DAMN YOU!" out of one of the best, most moving scenes in the movie (and a, "Damn!" from another scene, which reduced comedic effect). As a kid, I didn't realize how incredibly sad, mournful, and of course angry the character saying it is as the time, but as I grew older, I came to recognize the power of that scene, and now, even though it didn't when I was little, that part makes me cry a little, every time. And yes, the, "DAMN YOU!" in there is incredibly moving because it shows just how broken the character feels- she uncharacteristically lashes out and goes beyond her usually somewhat blunt but sincere nature to one aiming deliberately to hurt. To hurt in the way she felt hurt. And then the moment when she comes around is just as powerful, too.
And there are multiple scenes like that in the movie, scenes I came to appreciate for their beauty and poignance when I became old enough to truly appreciate that in a movie.
Some other things I came to appreciate are:
- The art. I made the connection that it reminded me of Thundercats and the animated version of The Hobbit as a young-un, but when I got older, I realized it was produced by Rankin/Bass, the company that made all of those Christmas claymation specials in the sixties*. And I came to realize that yes, Topcraft, the animated studio that provided the art, made all those titles I was thinking of, and was actually the precursor to Studio Ghibli. The detail in the backgrounds, and the character design are incredible, and so many of the stills from the movie make for great wall-hangings (which isn't really the case for most Disney movies, as much as I love Disney).
- The voice acting. Just look at this cast. Come the fuck on.
- The music. It has a few lovely themes that invoke notions of a place and time closer to the Dark Ages or medieval times, yet it still manages to sound contemporary. The songs by America are kind of corny on their own, yeah, but they fit the film perfectly. And I really enjoy the song Prince Lier sings because when you read or listen to the lyrics, you realize it has a very complex rhyming scheme, and the lyrics themselves are delightful and perfectly fitting for the way the film portrayed Lir. And the harmonies that pop out in the end when Lady Amalthea joins in the tune are wonderful. In truth, pretty much all of the songs have relatively sophisticated rhyme schemes and any time there are harmonies, they're lovely. (And yeah, Mia Farrow is terrible singing her solo song- that's why another woman does it on the soundtrack, and also for her reprise during Lir's song in the movie already.)
Likewise, my love for the book the movie is based off of (and the screenplay was by the same author, Peter S. Beagle) has evolved. I first read it when I was thirteen or so, but I didn't own my own copy until I was in college. And by that time, I was able to appreciate the subtleties in Beagle's writing- the slight satire, the significance of the contemporary bits of poetry and song lyrics he inserted, the way his own depictions of the characters were less straight-forward, more complex than the movie (not that the movie's characters weren't interesting). In truth, the book is really a deconstruction of both fairy tales and the fantasy genre- there are a few moments where the characters and events don't quite break the fourth wall, but they sure as hell smack up against it, and in ways that are so easy to get lost in- ways that make it easy to forget that the fourth wall is being almost-crossed in the first place. (Like a scene where a bunch of characters are talking about what heroes are for.) It's no wonder the book has such a huge following and fandom (seriously, just Google it and let your eyes boggle at all of the fansites and boards and Deviant Art pages with pictures). Beagle is an incredibly beautiful storyteller, and the mythology he sets up in the book is solid and "believable" enough that it took me years to realize a lot of it is stuff he came up with (like the explanation for unicorns in the sea, for example).
So I have a few copies of the book, too, as well as the most recent version, a graphic novelization of it.
So not only do I love the book because it's the basis of the animated film, but also because it's an amazing story in its own right- well-written, thought-provoking, and boundary-pushing in subtle ways that sneak right by ya.
Also, a small, interesting tidbit, Loreena McKennitt covered the main title song from the movie a few years ago**:
When I think about it more, I realize that I don't really think the book or movie were made for kids entirely. There's so much going on in both, the the themes are dealt with in such deep, usually brutal ways, I think Beagle wrote both book and screenplay with the intent of hitting adults hard. Sure, kids can enjoy them, but adults can appreciate them.
Which leads back to yours truly.
I've had a very difficult... well, I'll say summer to be specific. But really, I've been pretty miserable since starting grad school. I'd watch the movie or read the book to escape all of the bullshit from my university and the people and institutions that keep throwing me under the bus, taking advantage of me, etc., and it got me through strep and shingles and countless depressive moments. I was careless not to bring it with me on this trip, especially since the thought crossed my mind as I was packing. So since I love it so much, I won't try and pirate either the book or movie, but if I end up going to a place with a bookstore before I leave Seattle, I'll probably end up buying another copy.
|I feel like I should confess, I already had all of these images in my |
haddrive,except the one of the VHS tape...
Appendix: I found this tumblr slideshow thing when looking for a good picture of a particular scene. It's funny, and this person brings up a pretty good point I hadn't thought of: That some of the themes, while usually traditionally feminine, are done so well, they're really more gender neutral as it should be. And yeah, the Unicorn/Amalthea is feminine, but incredibly strong- the choice she makes in the end, and her ability to carry on, is worthy of any story hero.
Also, the title of the post comes from this.
*When I was little, my favorite of these was The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. Unlike The Last Unicorn, I've grown to realize it's crap and the only reason I liked it was because Rankin/Bass was totally going for a pseudo-Tolkein thing in the way they did it- really, the only scenes worth watching are the ones where the forest deities are debating Claus's fate. And the part where they're all parading in at the beginning.
**I can't help but think that the myriad other options for this song on YouTube that didn't have clips from the movie were made by people whose lives clearly aren't complete- because if they didn't think to at least get a single image from the movie for a cover of its theme song, they probably haven't seen it. Poor saps. And yes, I'm slightly judging them. Not because they haven't seen it, but because... well... Sure, Loreena McKennitt writes some kind of hippie stuff, but this cover is just so far and away from anything else in her personal lexicon that why these people didn't think to look into the song's origins before posting it on YouTube fails to come to me. Of course, this could also be coming from my kind of sometimes snobby way of viewing music. 'Nother post, that is, and not even fully conceived, let alone up for your reading pleasure.