Most people’s cartoon knowledge is not much better than Roger Bacons’ (who is someone who lived in the Middle Ages, I looked that up), so I’m taking it upon myself to explain some of the world’s greatest cartoons. In this week’s edition: The Last Unicorn.
A long, long time ago, when unicorns were not caked all over your Instagram feeds and no one would even consider mounting an inflatable one on a hot summer day, unicorns were just mythical creatures who occasionally popped up in cartoons and on the backpack of that one arty kid in school. TV-wise, there was The Last Unicorn, a 1982 movie I have seen over and over again, but my recollections are vague due to the fact I was probably 5 years old at the time. Let me provide context: my babysitter had it on VCR tape and would always drop me, my brother and sister in front of this scary tale of unicorns, creepy circus witches and a horrific bull that was permanently on fire.
Here’s what I remember:
- It was scary as hell.
- The unicorn appears to be the last one of her kind and turns into a woman with long white hair, an irritating spot on her forehead and the saddest eyes since Droopy.
- The sad eyes are because she hates being human, something I couldn’t understand back in the days: why on earth would you want to be some kind of horse and sleep outside?!
- There was a continuous discussion going on between my babysitter and her friends on whether the prince was hot or not. He had big babylike eyes, something weird going on with his nose and golden curls (who matched the unicorn’s silver hair perfectly). Babysit and her friends would always laugh at how ugly he was, except for one girl who always wore a firm sleeveless vest and declared she liked his nose. I thought he was cute too, but was afraid to admit it in front of the big girls and turned bright red every time he appeared on screen.
- There was a funny-looking magician with a pointy had and a very unflattering (this time for real, no discussion there) nose walking around, but no idea what his part in the story was.
So far for my recollections. I Googled the whole thing again and found out a few bizarre details about the movie…
But first thing first, the plot: a talking unicorn with floaty manes is casually minding her own business in an enchanted forest, when a meddlesome butterfly informs her that all her sisters have been captured by the Red Bull, an abominable monster, and she is now the only one left of her kind. The unicorn decides to set off on a journey to free them, but foolishly gets captured herself by a witch called Mommy Fortuna, and put on display in the latter’s freak circus. All the “mythical creatures” on display there are in fact normal animals with a spell of illusion placed upon them. Unable to see she just caught a real-life unicorn, Mommy Fortuna biebediebabedieboos an extra horn on the unicorns forehead and that is that. In comes Schmendrick, the weird-nosed magician, who frees the unicorn and accompanies her to the castle of evil King Haggard, the keeper of the Red Bull. Upon their arrival, there is a regretful encounter with the fiery beast and Schmendrick uses his limited magic to turn the unicorn into a human woman. As mere mortals don’t interest the bull, he leaves her alone for now. The pair enters the castle and is greeted by Prince “Maybehot” Lìr, his adoptive father King Haggard, a wizard named Mabruk and four weathered guards. So far for the royal household, let’s say it’s not particularly cheerful. The unicorn is presented as Lady Amalthea and goes on sulking about being a girl now instead of a horselike creature, while prince Lìr, being his best possible fairy tale prince, convinces himself he’s in love with her. Now that everybody sits together in the lion’s den and all is set for a big brother-like awkward cohabitation situation filled with suspicion, possible love stories and murder plots, while a giant fire bull is roaming outside, you can imagine the story gets to an explosive ending!
The movie was made by Topcraft, a Japanese animation studio that was basically the herald of Ghibli Studio -as the latter, set up in 1985, would go on to hire all the biggest talents from Topcraft. So yes, we’ve got an important icon of animation history here. Also, it is based on the eponymous 1968 fantasy novel by Peter S. Beagel and tackles a lot of interesting themes, such as the loss of enchantment and the struggle to form one’s identity. For now though, and in honor of my inner child, I’m keeping it simple. Watching the whole thing again confirmed two things for me: it is indeed a very scary movie, but above all incredibly, impossibly… awkward! Here are the weirdest scenes:
- This movie is scary as hell!
Yes, this harpy has both a beard ànd three boobs!
- In general, there are a lot of boobs in there…
This is a tree with boobs hugging Schmendrick. Seriously, what am I supposed to say here?
- So, according to this movie, old people are the enemy. The whole thing reads like an animated campaign for wrinkle-cream.
That includes old cats.
I must disagree with Firm Vest Girl and Younger Me, the prince is not hot.
It is visually stunning though, look at all those pretty unicorns escaping their marine prison in one graceful wave!