It's kind of bittersweet to review The Last Unicorn (1982) immediately after hearing about the death of beloved actor Christopher Lee. He provides a commanding voice for King Haggard, the unhappy ruler of a kingdom reluctantly entered by second-rate magician Schmendrick (Alan Arkin), bandit's wife Molly Grue (Tammy Grimes), and Lady Amalthea (Mia Farrow) who, currently in human form, doubles as the last remaining unicorn in the land. Very few people know her true identity; she's almost forgotten it herself since Schmendrick's form-changing spell protected her from The Red Bull, a horrific beast who drove her species to the ends of the world. King Haggard employs Schmendrick as a court magician while his adopted son, Prince Lir (Jeff Bridges), gradually falls in love with Lady Amalthea. Her real reason for being in Haggard's kingdom, of course, is to once again confront The Red Bull and free the surviving unicorns, but these newfound affections for handsome Prince Lir tempt her to abandon the quest.
The Last Unicorn was adapted by Peter S. Beagle from his popular novel, which has sold more than five million copies worldwide since its first printing in 1968. He didn't expect such a massive reaction to the novel, and was equally surprised when producer Michael Chase Walker enthusiastically bought the rights for just under today's equivalent of $200,000. Unfortunately, most studios weren't interested in the project until Walker approached Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass; mostly known for holiday specials like Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, they had just finished the animated adaptations of The Lord of the Rings and Return of the King...and though Beagle was an adamant non-fan of Rankin-Bass productions at the time, they went ahead with the project anyway. Japanese company Topcraft handled the bulk of animation duties before dissolving in 1985 and forming what is now Studio Ghlibli. The character designs and styles are a distinct mixture of Japanese and American styles (occasionally due to miscommunication) with lush, detailed backgrounds and slightly limited but capable animation.
Unlike most animated productions, The Last Unicorn's music (written by Jimmy Webb, and performed by America and a handful of the film's voice actors) was completed before the animation and, for this reason, is often timed to match up extremely well with what's on-screen. In fact, there's almost too much music bursting at the seams: it's rare for The Last Unicorn to go for more than five or ten minutes without a majestic, sweeping excerpt from the original score, revisit new "chapters" from the title track, or feature a character sing words that mirror what's either just happened or right around the corner. Unlike Disney productions from the decade or more recent animated films, however, The Last Unicorn resists upbeat song-and-dance routines, excessive sentiment, and extreme silliness, which even extends to the slightly downbeat but well-earned ending that puts a button on the film's original, effective, and mature story that's easily a notch or two above and beyond the genre's usual boundaries.
The Last Unicorn beat incredible odds during production and, like the book, exceeded popular expectations; if it didn't, we wouldn't be getting a second high-def release than 30 years after its theatrical run. Unlike the 2011 Lionsgate Blu-ray, this "Enchanted Edition" arrives via Shout Factory, released in tandem with a recent screening tour of the film in select cities through 2016. Armed with a new 1080p transfer and a new slate of thoughtful bonus features, it's a well-rounded package that pairs nicely with the 2011 Blu-ray but stands pretty well on its own too.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, The Last Unicorn looks good on Blu-ray...again. As most fans are aware of by now, the film's recent screening tour made use of a new 2K digital print of the film, and this new source material is the basis of Shout Factory's new 1080p transfer. The result is certainly different and, in some respects, better: it's substantially less noisy than the 2011 Lionsgate Blu-ray, image detail is a bit more refined, and colors appear slightly more polished and even overall. The only downside---and the jury's still out on this one, to be honest---is a slightly decreased level of film grain, which some may perceived as excessive DNR or smoothing similar to Disney's botched release of The Sword in the Stone. There's still certainly a modest amount of film grain on display during most of The Last Unicorn, and the image looks extremely pleasing in-motion. Some of said grain appeared a little clumpy, possibly due to disc compression, but it's hardly problematic and makes this more of an "alternate option" than a genuine step up or down. It all comes down to preference and, combined with the all-new bonus features present on this new Collector's Edition, means that die-hard fans will probably end up owning both discs anyway.
DISCLAIMER: The promotional images used on this page are strictly decorative and do not represent the Blu-ray under review.
There's less to say about the DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix, aside from the fact that (1) a folded-down DTS-2.0 option is also included, and (2) the optional censored version from the Lionsgate Blu-ray is not (and it won't be missed). This is a surprisingly active and clean mix, with strong dynamic range and no shortage of surround activity and channel separation. The only minor quibble I had was the film's slightly overcooked soundtrack and music, which often fight for attention with the dialogue; it's especially frustrating in a handful of scenes when, quite frankly, music isn't needed to begin with. Even so, The Last Unicorn has always sounded like this as far I remember, so it's more of a source material decision than a problem with the disc itself. Optional English subtitles are included.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
The interface on both discs offers smooth, simple navigation with separate options for chapter selection, setup and bonus features. This two-disc package is housed in a clear dual-hubbed keepcase with colorful double-sided artwork; also included are a matching Slipcover
and a Digital Copy
redemption slip. It's locked for Region A/1 only.
As mentioned earlier, the bonus features here are, for the most part, completely different than the 2011 Lionsgate Blu-ray
, which contained no shortage of old and new supplements itself. The main attraction is a new feature-length Audio Commentary
with author Peter S. Beagle and associate producer Michael Chase Walker, along with screening tour coordinators Connor Cochran, Terri Kempton and Travis Ashmore. This is obviously a bit livelier in comparison to the Lionsgate commentary (which only featured the first two participants); there's a lot of good first and secondhand info and, though some comments are repeated elsewhere, fans will definitely want to have a listen.
"True Magic: The Story of The Last Unicorn" (43:28) offers a terrific look back at the film's inception and production, and also includes comments about the adaptation from its source novel, release difficulties, the film's impact and legacy, fan reactions and more, as told by Peter Beagle, Michael Chase Walker, and Connor Cochran. For more Beagle, we get a few Highlights from The Last Unicorn Worldwide Screening Tour (11:18) that also includes fan stories and snippets of Q&A footage. Also included is a rough-looking Animated Storyboard Collection (7:25), as well as an equally rough-looking Theatrical Trailer (2:47) presented in 1.33:1. Overall, this is a solid collection of supplements that, when combined with the Lionsgate Blu-ray, paints a detailed picture of the film's production and legacy.
Not many people expected two separate Blu-ray editions of The Last Unicorn in the last five years (let alone one, to be completely honest), but you can't argue that this animated classic deserves the extra attention. Featuring a solid story, striking animation and backgrounds, terrific voice acting, and a (mostly) memorable soundtrack, it's held up remarkably well during the past 30+ years and can still be enjoyed by animation and fantasy fans of all ages. Bolstered by a recent screening tour featuring a brand new 2K print of the film, Shout Factory's new "Enchanted Edition" Blu-ray serves up a different-and-possibly-better 1080p transfer and several new extras that almost completely differ from the respectable 2011 Lionsgate Blu-ray, which makes this a no-brainer for die-hard fans of the film. Those completely new to The Last Unicorn might as well flip a coin, but this one's obviously a strong effort. Highly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.