The Last Unicorn

October 15, 2009

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The Last Unicorn is an animated film with intriguing restraints. It’s an American production but animated by a Japanese studio called ‘Topcraft’, which went on to animate Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind under Miyazaki’s direction, and their top animators being hired afterwards to form the legendary Studio Ghibli. So there are things like voice acting and narrative structure that feels distinctly western, yet it’s not quite as western as one would believe. Facial expressions and animated movements for example, aren’t wildly exaggerated like that of Disney (although that probably has more to do with limited budget). And while it’s a fairy tale, it’s not exactly intended for children as the film can get  very violent (not explicitly, but horrifying for children with active imagination), and there’s an underlying sense of sorrow, content and transience that you won’t find in most American animations. Ultimately it feels like the movie is being restrained from becoming complete, which I am grateful for because it leaves something else behind that void that charms me.

I highly recommend The Last Unicorn to anyone looking for a heart-felt fairy tale that aged like a fine wine. It’s an immortal’s journey towards mortal life, and learning to value regret and love that exists only within death, just like in Casshern Sins.

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Another thing that should interest you at cross-cultural level is that its wonderful opening is inspired by the famous Unicorn Tapestries. The animation brings the creatures and flowers depicted in the original tapestry art to life, ever so briefly before fading, phasing in and out of motion. You can check out the youtube clip below the pictures. Absolutely love the fantastic opening, love the song too.

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And you can see how the characters are set in a detailed background art, especially those flowers and plants that begs similarities with the original tapestry’s textural qualities. Such examples can’t be found so easily later, mostly because of the changes in setting.

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18 Responses to “The Last Unicorn”


  1. I’ve seen this many times as a child, and at least once as an adult.

    “I’m aliiiiiiive, I’m aliiiiiiiiiiive!”

    These words are all I remember from the song, and frankly from the show. Alongside Flight of the Dragons this was one of the more interesting animated films I saw as a child and if memory serves, I have it archived for a timely rewatch.

  2. schneider Says:

    This is the one written by Peter S. Beagle, am I right? I didn’t know there was an animated version…

  3. Kim Says:

    One of my favorite animated films that I watched many times as a child and now own the DVD as an adult. I actually met Peter S. Beagle (at an anime convention no less) who wrote the original story. He was a really cool guy. I got him to sign my Last Unicorn book which I recommend if you enjoyed the film.

  4. Yi Says:

    The fantastical intricate backgrounds really does make The Last Unicorn such an amazing animation. Also, great comparison to tapestries. ^ ^

  5. OGT Says:

    @schneider @Kim: THANK YOU for mentioning Peter S. Beagle. I was afraid I’d have to point this out.

    I’ve never seen The Last Unicorn but I probably should, as I’ve heard nothing but gushing love from the people I know who’ve seen it. I know we’ve a VHS copy at the library, but it’s enough of a classic that there should be a DVD there too. I mean, we have Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal and Willow and The Neverending Story (I should also read that, curse you Michael Ende) DVDs, so the chances of having a Last Unicorn DVD are pretty high.

    (this comment is apropos of nothing other than me having the flashbacks to 80s-fantasy-movies-that-I-saw-in-the-90s-or-00s)

  6. 2DT Says:

    Fascinating. One thing I love about medieval art is how preciously little they care about the things we often care about, like perspective and realism. Instead, the main concern seems to be iconographic and transcendent (unfortunately, the only example I can think of is “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” which is Renaissance).

    The way you describe this film sounds like wabi-sabi in animated form. I don’t know if I can track it down here, but I will certainly try. Cheers.

  7. kadian1364 Says:

    That video and all this talk of childhood faves suddenly reminds me of one of mine: The Land Before Time, a movie from an era when mainstream western film makers still cared about animation as a medium. The Last Unicorn appears to be of that same vein, so will try to check it out.

  8. gaguri Says:

    @ghostlightning

    I’m alaiiiiiiveeee~ I’m a~liiiiiivee

    Ins’t it classic. Hey you should definitely show this to your little baby in future =D. Wish I could’ve watched this at a younger age.

    @schneider

    apparently so!

    @Kim

    Wow that’s awesome, I don’t think I have any books or CDs signed by my favourite author/artists =(. I’ll definitely track down that book now since I’m in a mood for it.

    @Yi

    Always nice to see inspired works of animation =)

    @OGT

    I trust readers like you to point out stuffs like this! Today we learn that gaguri doesn’t read books ><

    And that's a nice list of movies to check out for people looking for older movies, thanks for that.

    @2DT

    There's definitely a trace of wabisabi in there, but probably not as much since it's still very western. Still it'd be worthwhile if you could find it somewhere, if you are against getting it from internet (haha…)

    @kadian1364

    Ooo I watched that dinosaur movie! Definitely great, much more children-friendly than Last Unicorn of course, so maybe it won't appeal to me as much now but most definitely loved it at my childhood.

  9. Gargron Says:

    My mother’s favourite movie. I watched it with her when I was small. Good anime.

  10. gaguri Says:

    I wish I could’ve seen it with my parents as a child too. Most stuff I watched were disney, though I can’t really blame my parents can I, haha.

  11. Gargron Says:

    Everybody watched Disney, actually, everybody still does it. And there is nothing bad in it, at least for the old stuff that was original and kind — the new 3D is just blasphemy, I think.

  12. gaguri Says:

    Yea I don’t think Disneys are bad, although I suppose I grew upto appreciate them less and more like stuffs like Avatar/Dennou Coil/Last Unicorn.

    As for the new 3D they’re not bad either, things like Wall-E and Nemo are still wonderful, just that I wouldn’t call them innovative, they’re more or less same just in different package.

  13. kadian1364 Says:

    So I got around to seeing this, and I’ll just say, it’s fun to “discover” little-talked about cartoons once in a while. I was also glad to see it wasn’t above being absurdly silly at times (like ero-tree and the pirate cat LOL).

    I’m a bit of a Pixar fan, but they do play it safe most of the time. Just how much do you push the envelope for artistic sake, and how much do you hold back to be accessible to a mass audience/children? Would you show The Last Unicorn to kids despite it being a bit more mature in sensibilities than most toons? How do you entertain a general audience without speaking down to them? Maybe it’s just the case that higher reaching a narrative tries to be, it lowers the number of people than appreciate it.

  14. gaguri Says:

    Hehe, yea it was quite humorous at times, but it kept it quite low to not interefer with more dramatic elements imo.

    And I would definitely show kids The Last Unicorn, I guess it’s upto them to enjoy it or not imo (i.e. watch what i give u whether u like it or not, kekeke). As for artistic vs accessibility, truly best works are imo transformative works that can change people’s tastes, values, perceptions, etc. by showing them something new within something more familiar and conventional. It’s just the case of marketing and getting people to actually watch them imo. I wrote more about these works (Minor anime) before but I won’t really recommend anyone to read them unless they feel like a totally tl;dr post haha.

  15. vendredi Says:

    I finally got around to watching this movie in it’s entirety recently. It’s absolutely gorgeous, and for 1969 anime it looks far better than a lot I’ve seen – it truly has a timeless look to it.

    It’s wonderfully conventional yet contrary at the same time, not afraid to poke at tropes and stereotypes but without making light of how powerful they can be and willing to go with them, such as Lir’s heroic resolution at the climax.

    A real masterpiece – if only there were more movies like it.

  16. gaguri Says:

    Always pleases me to see people taking up my recommendations, just makes my time here so worthwhile. I’m glad you immensely enjoyed Last Unicron, I wouldn’t go as far as to calling it masterpiece, but certainly timeless. And its ending very beautiful.


  17. There was more than ONE UnicRon??? HOW DID THE UNIVERSE SURVIVE???


  18. i have seen this movie one hundred times. it is really good. i myself is a #1 fan of unicorns[literly]. my coputer desctop backroud is even a unicorn


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