Last Watch Date - May 29, 2023
Total Times Watched - So many times. SO MANY.
This movie is a childhood classic for me, but also one I got my kids watching when they were younger. I can't even count the times I've seen this movie. I remember watching it on repeat as a kid and all three of mine did it as well (at different points of their lives). What's funny is that I was thinking of this movie recently and mentioned it to my wife and kids, then I just happened to be watching the Always Sunny pod that came out today and Glenn mentioned it in there. It's like I was meant to watch it today.
It's worth mentioning that I am not a fan of anime in general. I can't even think of other movies that I would consider anime that I have seen. My older kids are into it and I find it annoying and silly. This movie, though, is that strange fever dream sort of animation that Rankin & Bass were known for. If you've seen The Hobbit animated movie, you kinda-sorta know what to expect in terms of animation. The story and the cast are unmatched though.
Speaking of the cast, Mia Farrow plays the unicorn / Lady Amalthea. You also have Alan Arkin as Schmendrick the magician/wizard/sorcerer, Angela Lansbury as Mommy Fortuna, and Christopher Lee as King Haggard. Oh god, he's SO GOOD as Haggard. The funniest thing is that he grew to look like Haggard over time. Maybe he kind of looked that way in 1982 too though. The one weak spot here is Jeff Bridges AKA "THE DUDE" as Prince Lir. He has to be the most wooden animated voice actor I've ever heard. I have no idea if it was direction or not (though I tend to doubt it), but they should've recast that role. I also want to make a special shout-out to René Auberjonois in his role as the Skull.
Most of the movie focuses on the unicorn and her quest to find the rest of her kind. She meets up with Schmendrick after being captured, and the third of the group pops up when they come across a few bandits on the road to Haggard's castle. Molly Grue is such a cool name and she's a pretty interesting character. Once again, the voice acting is magnificent with her. But Mia Farrow's unicorn is possibly the most soulful animated character I've ever seen. Her voice aches when she talks about the fate of the other unicorns. She brings such an emotional heft to what could be a somewhat silly movie. I mean, it's a fantasy movie about unicorns and a red bull that drives them to the sea. So.. yeah.
If I were to give this movie any criticism, it would fall on the animation itself. It's clearly missing a LOT of frames throughout much of it, with jerky movements and some bizarre artistic liberties taken (thinking of the horny tree here). There are also a lot of flickery and flashy scenes that become an annoyance rather than a cool effect. If you're familiar with Studio Ghibli, you'll recognize this animation. While it didn't exist YET, the main folks from Topcraft formed Studio Ghibli years later. They also animated The Hobbit and Return of the King (amongst others) from Rankin/Bass.
Let's not end on a negative here. The soundtrack was done by the band America. I have no idea how this came about or why, but it's a pretty amazing choice. You may know America from their big songs like Sister Golden Hair Surprise, Tin Man, Horse With No Name, or Ventura Highway. They bring that same feel to this movie, though much more somber and maybe a bit quixotic. I can't imagine this movie without America, and similarly, I think of this movie every time I hear America. Ventura Highway is an amazing song and I'll fight anyone who disagrees.
While this is sold as a children's movie, it's pretty dark and probably a touch scary for kids. I remember being freaked out as a kid (especially by The Skull), but I even felt uncomfortable watching it now as a middle-aged man.
I can't recommend this movie enough. It's SO good. If you've never seen it, do yourself a favor and get on that. I've never met someone who didn't like it.