#WayBackWednesday – The Last Unicorn (1982)

We’re all stuck in the house, right? There’s never been a better time to dig into those retro movies that you’ve always wanted to watch, but never had the time for. Personally, I’m a bit of a retrophile and tend to watch more older flicks than newer ones. On Fangirlish, you can now look forward to a retro review from me each Wednesday in this column. I’ll be highlighting one throwback movie a week, offering a spoiler-free review of the film, any throwback thoughts from my childhood, and where you can watch the movie yourself. Sit back, relax, and enjoy #WayBackWednesday.

Today’s #WaybackWednesday film is one that I did not watch in its entirety until I was an adult. Why, you ask? It’s because Rankin/Bass’ The Last Unicorn scared the 6 year old snot out of me. I remember watching the first half of the film in school on a rainy day recess. Forced to stay indoors due to the weather, my first grade teacher popped The Last Unicorn into the VCR. While I remember enjoying the music and animation, I also remember being terrified of the monster of the film, The Red Bull. A giant flaming red bull chasing helpless unicorns to the ends of the earth absolutely horrified me. The image seared so deeply in my brain that I recall having at least one nightmare involving The Red Bull. Check out the original trailer to see for yourself. 


Creepy, right? Well, maybe not so much now, but you can imagine why it might be scary for a little kid. While I took several years to come back around to The Last Unicorn, the beautiful animation captured my imagination. I still thought of its beauty long before I ever revisited the film. The Last Unicorn is based on the novel of the same name by fantasy author, Peter S. Beagle. I have not yet read the novel, so I cannot comment on how this film fairs as an adaptation, but I think it’s important to note that Beagle himself is credited for the screenplay for the film. 

Where The Last Unicorn really shines is in its animation. You might be familiar with Rankin/Bass from their iconic claymation Christmas cartoons from the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. This is the same company, but instead of claymation, we have 2D traditional animation. You may have also seen their adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s, The Hobbit and The Return of the King. They are also the studio behind the original Thundercats cartoon series. The animation for me is a product of its time. The look and feel of the animation screams 1970s and 80s to me, but coupling that with the soft rock score by the band, America, and we’ve got a solid example of non-Disney animation from the 1980s. 

Upon rewatching the film for this column, I was taken aback by a few things. Predominantly, this is a significantly more mature film than I originally thought. It has scary imagery, a few swear words, and frankly, a lot more boobs than I ever expected to see in a children’s movie and it still got a G rating. 

The 80s were a very different time. 

While this is perhaps a film better suited for older kids and adults, I also know that I remembered none of those things from my childhood, save for my terror at The Red Bull. As an adult, I appreciate the stellar voice cast for this film. You have big screen names like Jeff Bridges, Mia Farrow, Sir Christopher Lee, Angela Lansbury, Alan Arkin, and Rene Auberjonois, but you also have voice acting legends like Tammy Grimes, Paul Frees, and Don Messick rounding out the cast. The latter have been in just about every cartoon or holiday special you’ve ever seen from the 1970s and 80s. 

Overall, this is an animated gem from the 80s that is worth revisiting, not just for its top notch cast and gorgeous animation, but for its theme. The idea that innocence and beauty are worth protecting is relevant for all time. It pushes back on selfishness and praises kindness and courage. Those are ideas worth remembering every day. 

The Last Unicorn is streaming now on HBO GO and HBO NOW. 

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