New on Video: Approximate Anime in The Last Unicorn

Rankin/Bass's 1982 The Last Unicorn has always held a peculiar place in the fantasy-film firmament, particularly among male sci-fi/fantasy fans. It couldn't be more outwardly girly — it's about a unicorn, for Pete's sake, and horses are bad enough, let alone freakin' unicorns — but I've known any of a number of boys over the years who swear by it, the kind of boys who to do this day still won't admit in public that they watch My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. (They also prefer the Pegasus pony Rainbow Dash to the Unicorn ponies Twilight Sparkle and Rarity, who are clearly superior, but I digress.) And as part of the film's revival over the past several years, Shout! Factory is releasing on Blu-Ray / DVD combo pack on June 9.

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Adapted by local writer Peter S. Beagle from his own novel, The Last Unicorn is the story of the titular Unicorn (Mia Farrow), whose search for others of her kind indirectly results in her being transformed into a human woman named Lady Amalthea. Among other things, she now has to deal with the emotions that come with being a biped.

The Last Unicorn was (barely) released during that early 1980s period of somewhat darker children's animation — it wouldn't have been out of place in the “Not Suitable for Children: Scary Animal Animation” series that just concluded at the YBCA — and has always been something of a cult item. It's a lovely film in spite of its limited budget; on the commentary track, Mr. Beagle's business manager Connor Cochran says that while the official budget is $3.5M (compared to the $20M+ that was typically spent on Disney films), he can only confirm that about $2.75M was actually spent. Also helping is the fact that not only did Mr. Beagle write the screenplay himself, the producers encouraged him to keep it as faithful to the book as possible, especially after he intentionally wrote his first draft to bring it more in line of their previous product. Seriously, that, like, never happens.

Also adding to the film's allure over the years, and particularly during the Reagan and Clinton eras, is the fact that it was largely animated in Japan. Nothing made nerds feel more badass pre-Internet than knowing they were watching that something that technically qualified as anime.

Shout! Factory is riding that wave to an extent, as the credits on the back of the box proudly say “Animated in Japan.”

Though the male characters in The Last Unicorn tend to have the big schnozzes that are so typify Rankin-Bass — seriously, remember the Minstrel of Gondor from the beginning of their Return of the King? How did he even keep his head up straight with that thing attached to his skull? — the Unicorn's easy-on-the-eyes human form as Lady Amalthea is a bit more like what we've come associate with anime.

Plus, you know, she's voiced by Mia Farrow, so she can't not look like a big-eyed waif. Verisimilitude and all. In any event, if you've never seen The Last Unicorn, it's very much worth checking out — and nobody'll make fun of you, either.

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