I give this beautifully animated Rankin/Bass movie...a 62/100.
Let me ask you: have you ever heard of Rankin/Bass? Of course you have, and even if you haven't, you're guaranteed to have seen at least some of their movies, namely their animated or stop-motion Christmas specials. Frosty The Snowman, Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town, etc. But did you know they made non-holiday movies as well? You didn't? No surprise there. Funnily enough, they made some pretty good animated movies. They even made several animated movies for Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, BEFORE Peter Jackson got his hands on the franchise! Bet you didn't know that, now did you? I sure didn't! But we're not here to talk about LOTR. Instead, we're going to focus on another Rankin/Bass animated book adaptation: The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle. A lot of my animation-loving friends had seen it and loved it. I even heard that many of the Japanese staff who worked on the movie went on to work for Ghibli, which is saying something! I had intended to watch the movie, as I thought it looked great, but could never find it. Then I randomly found it on Netflix and sat down to watch it. At first, I thought it started out great!...but the second half went downhill. Hard.
Sorry, but I don't think this movie is the masterpiece people make it out to be. Believe me, I want to like this movie more than I do!
Based on the novel by Peter S. Beagle, the story centers around a unicorn who lives in an enchanted forest, but has never seen others of her own kind. When she overhears some soldiers saying all other unicorns are gone, the unicorn can't believe it, so she leaves her safe forest and goes on a journey to find the rest of her kind. On the way, she meets a rookie magician named Schmendrick and an old lady named Molly Grue, who accompany her on her quest to find other unicorns and see what the deal is with this so-called Red Bull. Yeah, that's literally it. The story isn't much to write home about, as it's been done many times before in many other mediums. But that's not to say it can't be done well. At first, the story is rather interesting. However...we'll get to why it went downhill later on.
Anyway, onto the positives: first off, the animation. I don't think I need to say much about the animation other than it's just beautiful. Every scene is painted and drawn in painstaking detail, from the bright, lush colors of sunlit forests to dark, brooding caves and castles near the stormy seas, perfectly capturing the atmosphere and feel of a scene. The artwork really sucks you in, which really helps the immersion. I did notice a couple goofs here and there, such as the occasional body part being oddly proportioned, but it's a cartoon. What do you expect? Also, considering this was animated by people who would eventually go on to make Studio Ghibli, is it really any surprise that the animation looks as good as it does?
Honestly, I didn't find the music to be very memorable even though I liked the soundtrack, but the songs were very good as far as I know. Most of them were sung by an old band called America, who I honestly never heard of. Then again, I was born in 1993 so I know nothing about them anyhow. I really did like their Last Unicorn song, which plays at the beginning and end of the movie. I did, however, find out that the soundtrack was done by an actual orchestra, and I'm a sucker for orchestras, so...forgive me for being kinda superficial here, but I'm willing to give it points just for that alone. Yeah, I'm soooo objective, right?
In the first half of the movie, the characters are...okay, I guess. Not bad, but not particularly reaching any highs in terms of character development either. Schmendrick was pretty fun, and Molly, while her characterization was inconsistent at first, eventually came into her own later on. Note how I only talk about the first half of the movie and not the second half. That's because the movie REALLY derails after the second half, and it's overall quality takes a nose dive harder than a fat man jumping into a pool. No, I'm not even kidding. Few movies and shows I've seen have transgressed from so good to so utterly bad in such a short amount of time. As much as I really want to like this movie more than I do, other than the animation, I honestly can't say anything positive about the utter mess this movie becomes. When the characters find their way to a mysterious dark castle, the movie loses all of its subtlety and does away with everything that made it good. The stay at the castle is unnecessarily padded out, the characters lose all their charms, new ones are introduced that serve utterly no purpose, and so on. The unicorn in particular really suffers when she's made to turn human, because when she becomes a human girl, she suddenly turns into this whiny, indecisive, bland, lovesick shoujo anime girl with no agency or self-awareness. Oh, and the movie introduces a love interest to her, and the romantic development between them is just BAAAD. When they first meet, the unicorn understandably doesn't want to be near him, but not two scenes later, the two kiss and make out even though they not only just met, but have no reason to even get together in the first place! The reveal at the end is not only really stupid, it also raises a lot of questions that the movie makes no attempt to answer.
I hate to be so hard on this movie, as it really could have been something great and did something with its premise. But as it is, I can't recommend it unless you want a study on how not to write a story. The Last Unicorn tries to be good, but the awful second half just isn't worth the watch.