What if unicorns were all around us, hidden only by our unbelief? With that magical idea as a start, Peter S. Beagle penned his book, The Last Unicorn, a tale of life, love and loss that became a well-read favorite of many, especially young girls. Looking for a fantasy tale along the lines of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr. (TV’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Mad Monster Party) approached Beagle with the idea of turning his book into an animated feature. The author consented, adapting his own work into screenplay form.
The story takes place in an unnamed time in an unnamed land, where one female Unicorn may be all that’s left of her kind. A sunglasses-wearing Butterfly tells the Unicorn of a menacing Red Bull who years ago drove all the unicorns away, inspiring the Unicorn to set out to find her lost kin. When the Unicorn stops for a rest, she is captured by a gnarled witch named Mommy Fortuna and placed on exhibit in the old crone’s carnival. One of Fortuna’s assistants, a bumbling magician named Schmendrick, takes pity on the creature and frees her, offering to join her quest.
The two travel toward the castle of bitter King Haggard, where the Red Bull lives. Their path leads them to an encounter with the Bull itself, and in order to save the Unicorn’s life, Schmendrick transforms her into a human being, a beautiful lass named Amalthea. Thus disguised, Amalthea and Schmendrick pass into Haggard’s castle, where Amalthea catches the eye of the King’s son, Prince Lir. Amalthea, turning more and more human as time passes, starts to reciprocate the young man’s feelings, but her destiny calls, and the Red Bull awaits.
Magical and emotionally-charged, The Last Unicorn touched a tender spot in the hearts of viewers young and old. Jimmy Webb composed the movie’s songs, which were performed by the group America (“Horse With No Name”). Buoyed by young girls’ fascination with unicorns, the film inspired several new fans to the horned equestrians.
Out of circulation for several years, the movie was re-released on video in 1998, much to the relief of those several fans who had worn out VHS copies during the long wait.