The Last Unicorn (1982)
Reviewed for TheBluFile.com by Dustin Putman(Release Date: June 9, 2015)
Based on the 1968 fantasy novel by Peter S. Beagle, 1982's "The Last Unicorn" holds a forlorn, poetic beauty that separates it from the more conventional family-targeted animated features of its timeor any era, for that matter. Sensitively directed by Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr., the film has the power to enchant viewers of all ages, giving children more to think about and consider than the average entertainment of this sort. In a magical forest, a Unicorn (voiced by Mia Farrow) learns that she may be the last of her kind and sets out to confront the intimidating Red Bull, who has allegedly herded the rest of the unicorn population and entrapped them at the ends of the earth. Teaming up with novice magician Schmendrick (Alan Arkin), she heads for the castle of King Haggard (Christopher Lee), the alleged keeper of the Red Bull. When Schmendrick's spell goes awry, the Unicorn is transformed into a blonde-tressed human woman named Amalthea and begins to fall in love with the king's kind-hearted adopted son, Prince Lir (Jeff Bridges). As Amalthea moves closer to the Red Bull and struggles with whether or not she wants to return to her original form, she becomes the first unicorn in existence to experience human feelings of mortality and regret.
"The Last Unicorn" is perhaps not as well-known as Disney's oeuvre, but it deserves to be. Lovingly brought to life through exquisite hand-drawn animation and a talented voice cast led by a poignant Mia Farrow, the film features a slew of memorable characters in a story where the existential stakes are resoundingly high. Natural bits of humor arise from the narrative, but Rankin & Bass are not interested in pandering with obvious comedy or wisecracking sidekicks. Instead, their empathy is always with the title character, a gentle-souled mythological creature who yearns to find meaning and acceptance in a lonely land where there is no one else like her in sight. Complemented by a soundtrack of thoughtful, pleasantly melodic original songs by America, "The Last Unicorn" is inspiring if admittedly a bit of a downer. Even if everything works out for the best by the end, there is an undercurrent of heartache in its cinematic fabric. This is as it should be, mirroring the Unicorn's own emotional catharsis during her short but unforgettable time as a human.
Originally released on Blu-ray in 2011 from Lionsgate, "The Last Unicorn" has been freshly remastered in 2K by Shout! Factory for this superior 2015 edition. The difference between the two is pretty staggering, with this new release's 1080p transfer head and shoulders above the Lionsgate disc. Age-related damagedirt, hairs, nicks, scratchesis all but entirely nonexistent in this transfer, while colors are boldly ravishing. Depth is stunning, with scenes such as the opening and closing ones set in the forest looking three-dimensional as the camera moves between the trees and greenery. Meanwhile, image detail and clarity are top-notch, made all the more impressive because the picture is well over thirty years old. There are a few ever-so-minor examples where the animated cells seem to fluctuate in tone, but most viewers will not even notice and it is probably inherent to the source. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio isn't the most active of mixes when it comes to the surrounds, but it is nevertheless full and powerful when it counts. The songs and score are glorious to hear, while dialogue is well-modulated. A 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio is also appreciably included as an audio option.
- Audio Commentary with author-screenwriter Peter S. Beagle, associate producer Michael Chase Walker, Beagle's business manager Connor Cochran, and Conlan Press team members Terri Kempton and Travis Ashmore
- "True Magic: The Story of The Last Unicorn" Featurette (43:29, HD)
- Highlights from The Last Unicorn Worldwide Screening Tour with Peter S. Beagle (11:18, HD)
- Animated Storyboards (7:23, HD)
- Original Trailer (2:48, SD)
The folks at Shout! Factory have outdone themselves with the Blu-ray release of "The Last Unicorn: The Enchanted Edition." The film, and its lovely animation, have never looked better than they do right here. For viewers who have not seen the movie before, they are in for a real treat. For fans who may already have the 2011 Blu-ray, this is an easy double-dip for the exceptional 2K picture remastering and additional bonus content. "The Last Unicorn" has built up a passionate cult following over the years, but it deserves to be discovered by an even wider audience. Whether one is seeing it again or for the very first time, this Blu-ray is sure to remain the crowning home video version for many years to come, rendering all previous releases on VHS, DVD and Blu-ray obsolete. Buy it.