November 19, 2012, marks the thirtieth anniversary of Rankin-Bass’s beloved fairy tale “The Last Unicorn.” Based on Peter S. Beagle’s classic 1968 novel, and with a screenplay written by the author, the movie features an all-star voice cast, including Mia Farrow in the dual roles of the Unicorn and Lady Amalthea, Alan Arkin as Schmendrick the Magician, Jeff Bridges as Prince Lir, Christopher Lee as King Haggard, Tammy Grimes as Molly Grue, and Angela Lansbury as Mommy Fortuna.
“The Last Unicorn” tells the story of a unicorn who discovers that she may be the last of her kind left, in Faerie and in the world. This is doubly disturbing to her because unicorns are immortal. They can be captured and killed, but they do not simply die. She leaves her enchanted woods in Faerie to discover what has happened to the rest of her people. On the way she encounters a witch (Mommy Fortuna) who imprisons her, an inept wizard (Schmendrick) who rescues her, and a middle-aged woman (Molly Grue) who has been expecting her since childhood.
Eventually the unicorn, in company with Schmendrick and Molly Grue, finds her way to the realm of King Haggard, who has used a mighty red bull to imprison the other unicorns. When she first confronts the bull, however, the unicorn is overwhelmed by fear. Through the intervention of Schmendrick, who for only the second time in his life summons true magic, she is saved—by being turned into a human. The unicorn (using the name Amalthea), Schmendrick, and Molly Grue enter Haggard’s service.
The three adventurers are befriended by Haggard’s adopted son and heir Prince Lir, and soon a romance blossoms between the prince and Amalthea. Her feelings for him, however, lead her to forget her mission and her identity. It takes a huge sacrifice on Lir’s part to bring the quest to a close.
“The Last Unicorn” is the best known and most popular of all of Rankin-Bass’s theatrically-released films. The production company founded by Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass is best known for its television specials, like the puppet-animation Christmas classic “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (1964) and its traditionally animated production of “The Hobbit” (1977). The company released its first full-length theatrical cartoon, the fairy tale-based “The Daydreamer,” in 1966.
“The Last Unicorn” is available for home viewing in a variety of formats, ranging from VHS to DVD to Blu-ray to Amazon Instant Video download. The Blu-ray feature, which was released in a Blu-ray-DVD combo pack last year, includes some new features, such as an audio commentary by Beagle and publisher Connor Cochran, a featurette on “Immortal Characters,” and a track called “Peter S. Beagle and His Work.”