I've been in the mood for some 80s fantasy for a while now, so last night I watched The Last Unicorn.
The Last Unicorn has always to me seemed to be about self-fulfilment, with the unicorn at the beginning of the movie and King Haggard at the end representing poles of extremely abstract takes on the idea while other characters, like Schmendrick, in his quest to become a magician, and Molly Grue, in her desire for the lost purity of her youth, represent more literal, down to earth ideas of identity.
Even Mommy Fortuna, in her bid for immortality through her captive harpy, and Prince Lir, in his new attempts to define himself as a "hero" for Amalthea, are trying to carve out a solid definition of themselves in the world.
Only King Haggard, perhaps because of his age and wisdom, has realised the root of these quests is really just to be happy, but perhaps by becoming so removed from the more traditionally understood routes of self-realisation, he's become callous.
The unicorn, removed from human passions, is unable to feel regret, but she's driven almost without her ability to understand her desire to find out the fate of her fellow unicorns, uncomfortable being alone. Her motives aren't sharply defined, and in a way, her character at the beginning of the movie, for its alien quality seems like an identity forming in a nebula, brought closer to definition by the characters she meets and interacts with, culminating in Schmendrick turning her into a human.
Then her story becomes a little different, and we see a story optimistic on a sort of arch-theoretical level as we get, in contrast to the ridiculous Schmendrick's desire to "be something you're not", something grander than he is, we have the unicorn trying to define herself as a human, something less grand than she is. Since Schmendrick does end up being a powerful wizard, the idea of the story may be that people are often better than they think they are, but not giving yourself much credit is valuable, as the unicorn seems to have benefited from her experiences as a human.
Visually, two things struck me as I watched the movie this time. For one thing, I found myself noticing how similar the animation was in this Rankin/Bass cell animated film to Rankin/Bass's stop motion films, like their well known Christmas specials of the 60s and 70s. And I noticed the film's beautiful design--even this anonymous hunter at the beginning has a fabulous, curly art nouveau beard;
And the look of the film also owes a tremendous debt to Disney's Sleeping Beauty, though what The Last Unicorn lacks in budget for its animation, as compared to Sleeping Beauty, it makes up for with a more satisfying focus on its female lead--the title character of Sleeping Beauty is barely a character at all.
Though, at the same time, Aurora's animation has a great deal more life than Amalthea. It makes me think about what a great film The Last Unicorn would be if reanimated with a greater budget--actually, it wouldn't even need to be that much greater now, since computer colouring has eliminated the need to spend money on paint, a deficiency that caused the characters in The Last Unicorn to be coloured with precisely the same colours regardless of lighting.
But when it comes to voice actors, The Last Unicorn is no slouch. I was particularly admiring Christopher Lee's performance as Haggard, but everyone else is good, too, except Jeff Bridges seemed like he hadn't quite grown into himself yet. Mia Farrow's great, except when she sings. It's not so much that she has a bad voice as that she just doesn't have the right voice for the material, but then I have a sort of love/hate relationship with The Last Unicorn's music, which I think I like entirely for reasons of nostalgia, but it's hard to say.
There are great performances for minor characters, too, and I especially love Rene Auberjonois as the skeleton. Even Mommy Fortuna's Igor-like assistant, Ruhk, gets an interesting voice, comedian Brother Theodore.