“The Last Unicorn,” based on the book by Peter S. Beagle, is a wistful fantasy that moves at its own pace. The well-characterized fantasy is a good example of 2-D animation of the 1980s.
Upon learning she may be the last unicorn, a female unicorn (voiced by Mia Farrow) goes on a quest to find the rest of her race. She's captured by an evil witch (Angela Lansbury), then saved by the bumbling magician Schmendrick (Alan Arkin).
Going through Greenwood Forest, they meet up with Molly Grue (Tammy Grimes), who berates the unicorn for not arriving when she was young and beautiful and dreamed of meeting a unicorn. Still, she joins them in their quest. When they near the castle of King Haggard (Christopher Lee), they are beset by the Red Bull. As the unicorn is about to be captured, Schmendrick uses his magic to turn the unicorn into a young woman. The Red Bull has no interest in her as a human, and the three escape.
At King Haggard's castle, Schmendrick introduces the now-human unicorn as his niece Lady Amalthea. Haggard's kingdom has largely gone to seed — the only remaining people are King Haggard, his adopted son, Lir (Jeff Bridges), and a few guards. He agrees to put the trio up, with Schmendrick replacing his court magician, and Molly Grue working as a scullery maid.
Lady Amalthea begins to fall in love with Prince Lir, and as she becomes more fully human, she begins to forget the reason for her quest. But King Haggard wonders about the magic in her eyes, and he may know more about the disappearance of the unicorns than he lets on.
The film explores adult themes of identity and loss of innocence while remaining child-appropriate throughout. (The violence in a few scenes and Amalthea's brief nudity, remaining partially covered by her flowing hair, are well within a PG rating.) Rene Auberjonois (“Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”) is memorable in a small role as a talking skull who has information that Schmendrick needs about the Red Bull.
The music for the film was written by Oklahoma's Jimmy Webb, with songs performed by America. The film bears similarities to later Hayao Miyazaki films. Some of the animators of “The Last Unicorn” were later involved with Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli.
Extras include an audio commentary with Beagle and book publisher Connor Cochran, featurettes and an audio description of Beagle's books.
— Matthew Price