The Last Unicorn

Yesterday was hot, humid, and miserable, and I hid inside most of the day, practising yoga, writing in my journal, and discovering that there’s nothing good on TV on Sunday afternoons. After a brief period of fruitless channel flipping, I decided to watch The Last Unicorn. I bought the DVD a few weeks ago, largely to assuage my curiosity about why some of the women I know find this film so compelling. I’m not going to bother writing (much) about the obvious hero’s journey stuff or the Rankin-Bass animation nostalgia that the movie stirred in me or even the cheesy/awesome soundtrack by America. Others have no doubt already addressed these topics. Instead, here’s what I got from the film: it’s basically a coming of age story for a girl who wants to find out what happened to all of her friends. She discovers that they’ve been collected (for lack of a better word) by a bitter old king in a lonely castle by the sea. In the course of discovering this, she begins to undergo transformations leading towards adulthood, and she learns of the costs and curious appeal of mortality.

There’s kind of a lot packed in there, actually:

  • The hero is a girl. This still hardly ever happens in pop culture, though I guess it’s a bit more common now than it used to be.
  • The bitter old king, collecting youth as if it possesses some quality that can be reacquired; isn’t this pretty much exactly how pop culture works now? Look at that big dust-up about Miley Cyrus a few months ago. Why do we care? What the hell was she doing in the middle of People magazine or whatever it was in the first place? I think a lot of adult (or proto-adult) culture is based on vicariously living out fantasies through teens and tweens.
  • I don’t know what to make of the film’s ending. She succeeds in freeing her friends, with rather limited help from her male companions. Interestingly, the film’s romantic figure, the classic hero, is pretty much useless. She ends up saving him. It’s her friend, the wizard, who gives her the most help – but even here, his help is limited, and for the most part she saves her friends and herself on her own. But what exactly has she saved? She retains her immortality by eschewing the advances of the prince, but in doing so, she learns regret. (The hero is always fundamentally changed by the journey; this is why Frodo needs to leave Middle Earth at the end of The Lord of the Rings. But I digress.) What is the film trying to say about childhood and adulthood?
  • I can see why this movie was important to girls who first saw it when they were on the cusp of adolescence. It must have offered some solace that although big changes were afoot, some semblance of who they were as children could carry through with them to adulthood. I’m vastly over simplifying here, I know; partly this is because I’m not done mulling this over. Also, pedagogic as this may be, I want my readers (all three of them) to think about this for themselves (if they’ve seen the film) and not be over burdened with my ruminations.

In addition to the above, I guess the thing I liked most about the movie is that it was genuine. It didn’t contain the sort of self-referential oh-aren’t-we-clever humour that permeates most animated and kid’s films today. The film told a story that I as an adult (or reasonable facsimile thereof) found interesting and thought provoking, but it also appealed to kids. It did this not so much by the schizoid approach of cute little animals and over-the-little-ones’-heads pop culture references, but by telling a simple story, and telling it well.

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2 Responses

  1. Is this based on the book The Last Unicorn? James Beard or something like that?Girrrllll power…

  2. H’mmm… not sure. Isn’t James Beard a cookbook author? Or a pirate? I can’t remember.Grill power too!

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