The Last Unicorn (1982)

G | 85 mins | Children's works | 19 November 1982

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HISTORY

According to a 27 Feb 1980 LAT article, associate producer Michael Chase Walker first read Peter S. Beagle’s novel, The Last Unicorn, in 1975 as a twenty-three-year-old animator living in New York City. Walker optioned the novel on 3 May 1976, his birthday, and eventually acquired the film rights two weeks before the contract was set to expire for an undisclosed amount. Although Beagle had recently been hired by director Ralph Bakshi to adapt J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (1954-55) into an animated feature film, Walker was unable to generate studio interest in The Last Unicorn because he was inexperienced as a producer, according to LAT. However, in early 1979, Marble Arch Productions president and executive producer Martin Starger contacted his former television colleagues, producer-director Jules Bass and his partner, Arthur Rankin Jr., to discuss the project, and Bass admitted that he had just read the novel and had hoped to option it, himself. The producers agreed to collaborate and set a budget of $4 million. LAT noted that the filmmakers aimed to draw adult audiences and cast the picture accordingly. As noted in the 19 Nov 1982 NYT review, the film marked the “first major theatrical animated feature” produced and directed by Rankin and Bass, as their previous projects were made for television.
       A 27 Oct 1972 HR article announced that the film was set to be produced by the newly-formed Balaban & Quine Inc., owned by Judith Balaban, the daughter of former theater owner and Paramount Pictures president, Barney Balaban, and her ... More Less

According to a 27 Feb 1980 LAT article, associate producer Michael Chase Walker first read Peter S. Beagle’s novel, The Last Unicorn, in 1975 as a twenty-three-year-old animator living in New York City. Walker optioned the novel on 3 May 1976, his birthday, and eventually acquired the film rights two weeks before the contract was set to expire for an undisclosed amount. Although Beagle had recently been hired by director Ralph Bakshi to adapt J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (1954-55) into an animated feature film, Walker was unable to generate studio interest in The Last Unicorn because he was inexperienced as a producer, according to LAT. However, in early 1979, Marble Arch Productions president and executive producer Martin Starger contacted his former television colleagues, producer-director Jules Bass and his partner, Arthur Rankin Jr., to discuss the project, and Bass admitted that he had just read the novel and had hoped to option it, himself. The producers agreed to collaborate and set a budget of $4 million. LAT noted that the filmmakers aimed to draw adult audiences and cast the picture accordingly. As noted in the 19 Nov 1982 NYT review, the film marked the “first major theatrical animated feature” produced and directed by Rankin and Bass, as their previous projects were made for television.
       A 27 Oct 1972 HR article announced that the film was set to be produced by the newly-formed Balaban & Quine Inc., owned by Judith Balaban, the daughter of former theater owner and Paramount Pictures president, Barney Balaban, and her husband, Don Quine. Although the company intended to focus on family films, the article stipulated that The Last Unicorn was an “adult musical fantasy-adventure” and that Quine teamed with Beagle to write the screenplay. However, neither Quine, nor Balaban & Quine Inc., are credited in the film.
       According to a 30 Nov 1979 NYT brief, the film was set to begin principal photography in Jan 1980.
       As noted in a 10 Mar 1982 DV article, the film was initially scheduled for release through Associated Film Distribution (AFD), which “serviced product” from Marble Arch, as well as other studios. According to DV, Universal Pictures negotiated with AFD in 1981 to act as their domestic distributor, and The Last Unicorn was set to be the first AFD film released under the new deal. However, Universal was “less than enthusiastic” about the picture, and New World Pictures took over as distributor in Mar 1982. New World is not credited in the picture. The article stated that the film cost $5 million and had been complete for four months, suggesting that the film may have started production in late 1979.
       Although actor Rod Colbin’s casting as a “featured voice” was announced in a 5 Feb 1980 Var news item, he is not credited in the picture. The 19 Nov 1982 NYT review stated that actor Paul Frees, who played the “Talking cat,” was initially cast as the “Speaking skull,” but Rene Auberjonois, who claimed that The Last Unicorn was his favorite novel and ardently pursued the filmmakers, won the role.
       A 7 Aug 1980 Rolling Stone article reported that songwriter Jimmy Webb spent nearly one month composing the seventy-eight minutes of music in the film, and three of the “narrative songs” were performed by the band America.
       The film received mixed reviews. According to Var on Nov 17 1982, the animation was lacking conviction, but the cast’s vocal performances redeemed the film. The 17 Nov 1982 HR review appreciated Beagle’s adaptation, which maintained the “fragility” and “nicely stated philosophies” of his novel, and hailed the vocal flourishes of Mia Farrow, in her role of “Lady Amalthea/The Last Unicorn” and Angela Landsbury as “Mommy Fortuna.”
       On Dec 20 1982, DV reported that the film received the California Film Advisory Board’s Award of Excellence.



Academic Network University of Washington, Seattle; student: Britta A. Kallevang [email protected], Advisor: Jennifer M. Bean [email protected] . SBC 4/3/12. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
10 Mar 1982
p. 1.
Daily Variety
20 Dec 1982.
---
Daily Variety
17 Nov 1982
p. 3, 16.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Oct 1972.
---
Hollywood Reporter
17 Nov 1982
p. 3, 13.
Los Angeles Times
27 Feb 1980
p. 1, 5.
Los Angeles Times
20 Nov 1982
Calendar, p. 1.
New York Times
30 Nov 1979.
---
New York Times
19 Nov 1982
Section C, p. 10.
Rolling Stone
7 Aug 1980.
---
Variety
5 Feb 1980.
---
Variety
17 Nov 1982
p. 14.
Variety
31 Aug 1983.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANIES
PRODUCTION TEXTS
A Rankin/Bass production
In association with ITC Films
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
PRODUCERS
Pres
Prod
Exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog/Cam
ART DIRECTORS
Addl storyboard seqs
Tapestry des
FILM EDITOR
MUSIC
Mus and lyrics
Songs performed by
Addl orch
Addl orch
SOUND
Sd eff
Rec eng
Rec eng
Rec eng
Rerec mixer
PRODUCTION MISC
In charge of prod
Prod coord
ANIMATION
Anim coord
Asst anim coord
Cont anim
Backgrounds
Backgrounds
Backgrounds
Char des
Cont & anim dir
Key anim
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel The Last Unicorn: A Fantastic Tale by Peter S. Beagle (London, 1968).
DETAILS
Release Date:
19 November 1982
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 19 November 1982
Production Date:
began late 1979 or January 1980
Physical Properties:
Sound
Recorded in Dolby Stereo™
Color
Animation
Duration(in mins):
85
MPAA Rating:
G
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In a magic forest, two archers remark that there is only one unicorn left in the world and decide to hunt elsewhere. The Last Unicorn overhears and wonders if they are right. Sometime later, the Last Unicorn is befriended by a singing Butterfly and asks if he has seen other unicorns. The Butterfly replies that the unicorns were chased from the forest by the Red Bull of King Haggard and the Last Unicorn sets out on a quest to find them. She soon learns that her horn is not visible to mortal men. After traveling vast distances, the Last Unicorn is discovered by an aged fortuneteller, Mommy Fortuna, who captures her for a traveling show. At the show, the Last Unicorn observes that Fortuna has cast a spell to make people perceive ordinary animals as mythological creatures. Schmendrick the Magician, a member of Fortuna’s troupe, befriends the Last Unicorn and claims to see her true identity despite his limited knowledge of the supernatural. He promises to protect the Last Unicorn from a vicious harpy named Celaeno, who is held captive in a nearby cage. That night, Celaeno unsuccessfully attempts to escape and Fortuna boasts that her magical powers are invincible. Fortuna claims to know the whereabouts of the Red Bull, but she refuses the Last Unicorn’s pleas for release. However, when Fortuna leaves, Schmendrick frees the Last Unicorn and she unlocks the other creatures from their cages with her horn. Despite Schmendrick’s protests, the Last Unicorn unleashes Celaeno and the harpy kills Fortuna. While Schmendrick and the Last Unicorn escape to find King Haggard and the Red ... +


In a magic forest, two archers remark that there is only one unicorn left in the world and decide to hunt elsewhere. The Last Unicorn overhears and wonders if they are right. Sometime later, the Last Unicorn is befriended by a singing Butterfly and asks if he has seen other unicorns. The Butterfly replies that the unicorns were chased from the forest by the Red Bull of King Haggard and the Last Unicorn sets out on a quest to find them. She soon learns that her horn is not visible to mortal men. After traveling vast distances, the Last Unicorn is discovered by an aged fortuneteller, Mommy Fortuna, who captures her for a traveling show. At the show, the Last Unicorn observes that Fortuna has cast a spell to make people perceive ordinary animals as mythological creatures. Schmendrick the Magician, a member of Fortuna’s troupe, befriends the Last Unicorn and claims to see her true identity despite his limited knowledge of the supernatural. He promises to protect the Last Unicorn from a vicious harpy named Celaeno, who is held captive in a nearby cage. That night, Celaeno unsuccessfully attempts to escape and Fortuna boasts that her magical powers are invincible. Fortuna claims to know the whereabouts of the Red Bull, but she refuses the Last Unicorn’s pleas for release. However, when Fortuna leaves, Schmendrick frees the Last Unicorn and she unlocks the other creatures from their cages with her horn. Despite Schmendrick’s protests, the Last Unicorn unleashes Celaeno and the harpy kills Fortuna. While Schmendrick and the Last Unicorn escape to find King Haggard and the Red Bull, the young man confesses he is not a real magician. Later, Schmendrick is captured by a band of outlaws headed by Captain Cully. Cully’s companion, Molly Grue, warns the outlaws that Schmendrick is a threat, but the young man impresses the group by feigning magic. Unbeknownst to Schmendrick, the Last Unicorn watches from afar and aids him with her magical powers, invoking ghostly characters from Robin Hood, and he gains confidence in his abilities. However, Cully is displeased by the trick and ties Schmendrick to a tree. Attempting to free himself, Schmendrick unwittingly transforms the tree into an obese, amorous woman and the Last Unicorn rescues him from her cleavage. As the friends escape, they are stopped by Molly, who recognizes the Last Unicorn and bemoans she was not visited by the magical creature sooner. Molly joins their quest and guides her new companions toward Haggard’s fortress. That night, the travelers are awakened by a fiery ball of light that takes the form of the Red Bull. When the monster charges after the Last Unicorn, Schmendrick turns her into a beautiful young woman. Although the Red Bull withdraws, disinterested in humans, Molly reprimands Schmendrick, claiming that the unicorn will go mad in a woman’s body. Meanwhile, the human incarnation of the Last Unicorn cries that she is dying. However, the friends continue their journey and at the fortress’ gates, Schmendrick introduces the girl as Lady Amalthea. The guards permit the travelers inside and reveal themselves as King Haggard and his handsome son, Prince Lir. Learning that the men endure a lonely and joyless existence, Molly convinces Haggard to hire Schmendrick as his court magician. Although Haggard becomes suspicious of Amalthea because he cannot see his reflection in her eyes, the companions are permitted to stay at the castle and Lir unsuccessfully tries to win Amalthea’s heart. When Molly points out Lir’s heroism to Amalthea, the young lady recounts her quest for her fellow unicorns; however, King Haggard and his talking cat overhear the conversation and realize Amalthea’s true identity. Sometime later, the talking cat tells Molly a riddle about wine, a speaking skull, and a proper hour that discloses a secret entrance to the Red Bull’s lair and she shares the news with Schmendrick. Meanwhile, Amalthea has a nightmare and awakens to find Lir at her door. When he confesses his love, they kiss. Later, Haggard tells Amalthea that Lir is not his biological son and reveals his knowledge that Amalthea is a unicorn. Haggard explains that he ordered the Red Bull to seize her fellow unicorns because they were his sole source of pleasure. Wanting to keep the unicorns under control, Haggard commanded the Red Bull to chase them into sea beside his castle, and they remain captured in the waves. When Amalthea denies seeing unicorns in the sea, Haggard threatens to throw her into the water with them, but he sees his reflection in her eyes and backs away. Finding Amalthea in tears, Schmendrick guides her toward the Red Bull’s lair, where they reunite with Molly. The companions find the speaking skull and ask it to decipher the cat’s riddle. Although the skull is uncooperative, Schmendrick bribes it with wine and tricks it into believing an empty flask is full. When the skull instructs them to walk through a clock, it sees that Amalthea is a unicorn and alerts Haggard. Schmendrick fights off the king with a sword while Amalthea and Molly slip into the clock. There, they find Lir, who admits he followed them, and Schmendrick soon joins his friends. Haggard destroys the clock, leaving the companions trapped. When Lir tells of a recurring dream about the Red Bull chasing unicorns into the sea, Schmendrick informs the prince that his fantasy is true and Amalthea is the Last Unicorn. Lir vows to love Amalthea anyway and Amalthea begs Schmendrick not to change her back into a unicorn so she can marry the prince. However, the magician fears unicorns will become extinct. Just then, the Red Bull, now aware that Amalthea is a unicorn, appears and pursues her. When the girl injures herself, Schmendrick transforms her into a unicorn so she can run away and the Red Bull chases her out of the lair toward the sea. Lir is killed trying to defend her and The Last Unicorn retaliates. As The Red Bull retreats into the sea, he is overcome by waves of unicorns who charge to freedom on land. With the Red Bull dead, Haggard’s fortress crumbles and the king falls to his death. The Last Unicorn revives Lir with her magic horn and runs away. Sometime later, Lir bids farewell to Schmendrick and Molly, who have formed a union. When Lir is gone, the Last Unicorn appears to Schmendrick and tells him that he is now a true magician. Although she feels estranged from her fellow unicorns and regrets her lost love, the Last Unicorn returns to her clan in the magic forest. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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