The Last Unicorn
Official theatrical poster
Directed by
Screenplay byPeter S. Beagle
Based onThe Last Unicorn
by Peter S. Beagle
Produced by
  • Arthur Rankin Jr.
  • Jules Bass
  • Masaki Iizuka
CinematographyHiroyasu Omoto
Edited byTomoko Kida
Music byJimmy Webb
Distributed byJensen Farley Pictures
Release date
  • November 19, 1982 (1982-11-19)
Running time
93 minutes[2]
CountryUnited States[3]
Box office$6.5 million (US)[4] or $3.4 million[5]

The Last Unicorn is a 1982 American animated fantasy film directed and produced by Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass, from a script by Peter S. Beagle adapted from his 1968 novel of the same title. The plot concerns a unicorn who, upon learning that she is the last of her species on Earth, goes on a quest to find out what has happened to others of her kind.[6] It was produced by Rankin/Bass Productions for ITC Entertainment and animated by Topcraft.

Voice performers for the film include Alan Arkin, Jeff Bridges, Mia Farrow, Angela Lansbury, and Christopher Lee. The soundtrack was composed and arranged by Jimmy Webb, and songs were performed by the group America and the London Symphony Orchestra,[7] with additional vocals provided by Lucy Mitchell.

Critical reviews were mixed to positive, and the film was a commercial failure grossing $6.5 million in the United States.[4]


A female unicorn learns from two hunters and a butterfly that she is the last of her kind since a malevolent entity called the Red Bull has herded unicorns to the ends of the earth. The Unicorn journeys to find them.

The Unicorn is captured by the witch Mommy Fortuna and displayed in her Midnight Carnival. Most of the attractions are normal animals enhanced by illusions to appear as mythical beasts. Fortuna uses a spell to create another horn on the unicorn's head, as the carnival visitors cannot see her real form. Fortuna keeps the immortal harpy Celaeno captive as well, deeming the risk secondary to the deed's prestige. The unicorn is befriended by Schmendrick,[8] an incompetent magician in the service of Mommy Fortuna. With the help of Schmendrick, the Unicorn escapes, in the process freeing Celaeno, who kills Fortuna. The Unicorn and Schmendrick gain a second traveling companion with Molly Grue, the careworn lover of Captain Cully (the disappointing reality behind the myth of Robin Hood).

When the Unicorn nears the seaside castle of King Haggard, keeper of the Red Bull, she encounters the beast, a monstrous fire elemental. Before she can be captured, Schmendrick uses his unpredictable magic, transforming her into a woman. The Red Bull loses interest in her and departs, but the Unicorn is shocked by the sensation of mortality. Schmendrick promises to return her to normal after the quest is complete.

Schmendrick, Molly Grue, and the now-human Unicorn proceed to the castle. Haggard is at first unwelcoming. Schmendrick introduces the Unicorn as Lady Amalthea, and requests that they become members of Haggard's court, only to be told that the only occupants of the castle are Haggard, his adopted son Prince Lír and four ancient men-at-arms. Haggard consents to lodge the trio, replacing his more competent wizard, Mabruk, with Schmendrick, and setting Molly Grue to work in his scullery. Mabruk leaves after recognizing "Amalthea" for what she truly is, jeering that by allowing her into his castle Haggard has invited his doom. Due to her new human emotions, Amalthea begins forgetting her true self and falls in love with Prince Lír, and considers abandoning her quest in favor of mortal love. Haggard confronts Amalthea, hinting at the location of the unicorns, yet from the waning magic in her eyes, has doubts regarding his suspicions that she is more than she seems.

Molly finally learns the location of the Red Bull's lair from the castle's cat. Molly, Schmendrick, and Amalthea are joined by Lír as they enter the bull's den, and are trapped there by Haggard. Schmendrick explains to Lír what they are looking for and reveals Amalthea's true identity. Lír declares that he loves her anyway. This makes Amalthea want to abandon the quest and marry Lír, but Lír dissuades her. The Red Bull appears, no longer deceived by Amalthea's human form, and chases after her. Schmendrick turns Amalthea back into the Unicorn, but she is unwilling to leave Lír's side. The Bull begins driving her toward the ocean just as he had driven the other unicorns. Lír tries defending her, but is killed by the Bull. Enraged, the Unicorn turns on the Bull and forces him into the sea. As the beast is engulfed by the water, the missing hundreds of unicorns emerge from the raging sea, carried on the incoming tides. With their release, Haggard's castle collapses into the sea, and Haggard, watching all from the battlements, falls to his death.

On the beach, the Unicorn magically revives Lír before she leaves him. Schmendrick assures Lír he gained much by winning the love of a unicorn, even if he is now alone. The Unicorn later says goodbye to Schmendrick, who laments he wronged her by burdening her with regret and the taint of mortality, which could make her unable to properly rejoin her kind. She disagrees about the importance of his actions, as they had helped restore unicorns to the world and made her experience regret and love. Schmendrick and Molly watch the Unicorn depart for her forest home.

Voice cast


Peter S. Beagle stated that there had been early interest in creating a film based on the book. Those who expressed interest included Lee Mendelson and Bill Melendez of the Peanuts television specials, though Beagle had been convinced by one of their partners' wives that they were "not good enough", as well as former 20th Century Fox animator Les Goldman. At the time, Beagle believed that "animated was the only way to go" with regard to the film, and had never thought of making it into a live-action film. Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass' New York-based production company, Rankin/Bass Productions, had been the last studio that the film's associate producer, Michael Chase Walker, approached, and Beagle was first "horrified" when he was informed that they had made a deal with Walker.[9] Beagle stated that he has since "…come to feel that the film is actually a good deal more than I had originally credited", and went on to say "There is some lovely design work – the Japanese artists who did the concepts and coloring were very good. And the voice actors do a superb job in bringing my characters to life…"[9]

While Rankin/Bass provided the film's dialogue and story based on Beagle's work, the animation was done at Topcraft in Tokyo, Japan, headed by former Toei Animation employee Toru Hara, with Masaki Iizuka being in charge of the production. The studio, which previously animated Frosty's Winter Wonderland (1976), The Hobbit (1977), The Stingiest Man in Town (1978), The Return of the King (1980) and other cel-animated projects from Rankin/Bass, would later be hired by Hayao Miyazaki to work on Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, and their core members eventually went on to form Studio Ghibli.[15] According to Beagle, the final film ended up being "remarkably close" to his original script, although one scene at the end involving an encounter with a princess was "animated but eventually cut."[9]


Main article: The Last Unicorn (album)

The musical score and the songs were composed and arranged by Jimmy Webb, and performed by the group America and the London Symphony Orchestra,[7] with additional vocals provided by Lucy Mitchell. The Last Unicorn soundtrack was recorded at De Lane Lea Studios in Wembley, England in 1982.[7] The album was released in Germany in 1983 by Virgin Records,[7] but has not been released in the United States; it includes the film score's symphonic pieces. In his review for AllMusic, James Christopher Monger called it, "an appropriately somber and sentimental blend of fairy tale motifs and dark, Wagnerian cues".[16]

The theme song is featured on the 1997 compilation album The Best of America.[17]


U.S. distribution rights were sold to Jensen Farley when Universal Pictures, who were due to release Associated Film Distribution's product (including ITC) in the United States, were not keen on the film.[18][19]

The Last Unicorn premiered in 648 theaters in the United States on November 19, 1982,[4] and earned $2,250,000 on its opening weekend.[4] It grossed a total of $6,455,330 in the U.S. and Canada.[4]

Home media

The first U.S. DVD, released by Family Home Entertainment on March 16, 2004, was made from poor-quality pan-and-scan masters. The company's owner, Lionsgate, later licensed the German video masters and audio mix and came up with a "25th Anniversary Edition" DVD which was released in North America on February 6, 2007. It has audio and visual quality superior to the original U.S. release, and is in 16:9 widescreen format, but has several swear words edited out, and as a result of being taken from PAL masters, plays 4% faster than the original film, resulting in a slightly higher audio pitch than normal. The new DVD edition includes a featurette with an interview with the author, as well as a set-top game, image gallery, and the original theatrical trailer.[20][21] As of October 2011, over 2,500,000 copies of the DVD have been sold. A Blu-ray edition of the film was released by Lionsgate on February 22, 2011; this release was sourced from a new transfer of the theatrical cut of the film, thus restoring the swearing and correcting the PAL speed-up issue, though the 25th Anniversary Edition was still included as an option on this release.[22]

On June 9, 2015, Shout! Factory released new Blu-ray and DVD versions of The Last Unicorn entitled "The Enchanted Edition". This edition was transferred from a new widescreen 2K digital master, and includes the original uncensored audio as well as a commentary track with Peter S. Beagle, associate producer Michael Chase Walker, tour producer Connor Freff Cochran, and Conlan Press team members; highlights from the Worldwide Screening Tour; a new True Magic: The Story of the Last Unicorn featurette; animated storyboards; and the original theatrical trailer.[23][24]

In the United Kingdom, ITV Studios Global Entertainment hold complete ownership of the film via their acquisition of ITC's entire feature film library, not including those released by Embassy Pictures, which are held by StudioCanal. Since 2009, ITV have been responsible for all home media releases of The Last Unicorn.

The film was available on The Criterion Channel.[25]

Reception and legacy

As of December 2022, the film has a 77% rating on Rotten Tomatoes from 26 reviews. The site's critical consensus reads: "The Last Unicorn lacks the fluid animation to truly sparkle as an animated epic, but offbeat characters and an affecting storytelling make it one of a kind for the true believers."[26]

In a New York Times review, Janet Maslin called The Last Unicorn "an unusual children's film in many respects, the chief one being that it is unusually good [... and] features a cast that would do any live-action film proud, a visual style noticeably different from that of other children's fare, and a story filled with genuine sweetness and mystery." Regarding the ending she said, "no one of any age will be immune to the sentiment of the film's final moments, which really are unexpectedly touching and memorable".[27]

Todd McCarthy in Variety praised the script and voice acting but was unimpressed by the film's animation.[18] "However vapid the unicorn may appear to the eye, Mia Farrow's voice brings an almost moving plaintive quality to the character. For an actress to register so strongly on voice alone is a rare accomplishment."[18] The review also praised the vocal talents of Arkin, Lee, and Frees.[18]

Colin Greenland reviewed The Last Unicorn for Imagine magazine, and stated that "Beagle has kept all the good bits, including the jokes, the smart, wry dialogue, and many bursts of brilliant imagination, here captured in stylish special effects: the attack of the Red Bull, all made of fire; the binding of all the lost unicorns into the foam of the sea."[28]

Beagle himself called the film "magnificent" in comparison to J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, for which he also wrote the screenplay.[29]

The film has since maintained a cult following.[30][31] In 2003, the Online Film Critics Society ranked the film as the 96th greatest animated film of all time.[32]


  1. ^ "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer's Studio Made an INTENSE The Last Unicorn Adaptation". Comic Book Resources. 5 December 2020.
  2. ^ "THE LAST UNICORN (U)". British Board of Film Classification. BBCFC. 1982-05-05. p. 1. Archived from the original on 10 March 2016. Retrieved 13 April 2017.((cite web)): CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  3. ^ "The Last Unicorn (1982)". Archived from the original on October 20, 2017. Retrieved 21 December 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d e "The Last Unicorn". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2009-05-15.
  5. ^ Donahue, Suzanne Mary (1987). American film distribution : the changing marketplace. UMI Research Press. p. 294. ISBN 9780835717762. Please note figures are for rentals in US and Canada
  6. ^ Lenburg, Jeff (1999). The Encyclopedia of Animated Cartoons. Checkmark Books. p. 188. ISBN 0-8160-3831-7. Retrieved 6 June 2020.
  7. ^ a b c d "The Last Unicorn". Discogs. 1983. Retrieved October 28, 2012.
  8. ^ Harper, Douglas. "". Online Etymology Dictionary. Harper Collins Publishers. p. 1. Archived from the original on April 17, 2017. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  9. ^ a b c d e Liu, Ed (2007-02-05). "Peter S. Beagle on The Last Unicorn 25th Anniversary". Toon Zone. Archived from the original on 2007-02-13. Retrieved 2009-05-15.
  10. ^ a b Beagle, Peter S. (2007). The Last Unicorn. USA: ROC. pp. 247–280. ISBN 978-0-7607-8374-0.
  11. ^ Simpson, Paul (2004). The Rough guide to Kid's Movies. Rough Guides. p. 182. ISBN 1-84353-346-4.
  12. ^ Robert W. Pohle Jr.; Douglas C. Hart; Rita Pohle Baldwin (9 May 2017). The Christopher Lee Film Encyclopedia. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 150. ISBN 978-0-8108-9270-5.
  13. ^ Kallevang, Britta. "The Last Uni". AFI. Retrieved 6 August 2023.
  14. ^ Maslin, Janet (November 8, 1982). "'LAST UNICORN,' AN ANIMATED FABLE". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 6 August 2023.
  15. ^ Hairston, Marc (November 2001). "The Last Unicorn". Archived from the original on 2007-08-27. Retrieved 2007-09-09.
  16. ^ Monger, James Christopher. "The Last Unicorn". AllMusic. Retrieved October 28, 2012.
  17. ^ The Last Unicorn on America's official YouTube channel
  18. ^ a b c d McCarthy, Todd (1982-11-17). "The Last Unicorn". Variety. Retrieved 2019-10-04.
  19. ^ The Last Unicorn at the American Film Institute Catalog
  20. ^ "Fans help world-famous author Peter S. Beagle when they get the new 25th Anniversary DVD Edition of The Last Unicorn through Conlan Press" (PDF) (Press release). Retrieved 2007-09-04.
  21. ^ Carter, R.J. (February 6, 2007). "DVD Review: The Last Unicorn - 25th Anniversary Edition". Archived from the original on October 8, 2007. Retrieved 2008-12-12.
  22. ^ The Last Unicorn Blu-ray Release Date February 22, 2011, retrieved 2021-05-26
  23. ^ "THE LAST UNICORN enchanted edition dvd - Conlan Press". 2017. Archived from the original on 2017-06-28. Retrieved 2017-06-30.
  24. ^ "THE LAST UNICORN enchanted edition blu-ray/dvd combo - Conlan Press". 2017. Archived from the original on 2017-10-08. Retrieved 2017-06-30.
  25. ^ The Criterion Channel’s February 2021 Lineup|Current|The Criterion Collection
  26. ^ "The Last Unicorn (1982)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved 5 October 2021. Edit this at Wikidata
  27. ^ Maslin, Janet (1982-12-19). "Last Unicorn, An Animated Fable". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-11-08.
  28. ^ Greenland, Colin (September 1984). "Fantasy Media". Imagine (review) (18). TSR Hobbies (UK), Ltd.: 47.
  29. ^ Hennessey-DeRose, Christopher. "Interview: Peter S. Beagle goes back to his fine and private place to continue the saga of The Last Unicorn". Science Fiction Weekly. Archived from the original on 2008-07-22. Retrieved 2008-11-08.
  30. ^ 18 Popular Cult Classic Movies That Are Perfect For Movie Night - CINEMABLEND
  31. ^ 22 Animated Cult Classics Worth Checking Out - MovieWeb
  32. ^ "Top 100 Animated Features of All Time". Online Film Critics Society. March 4, 2003. Retrieved January 16, 2023.

Further reading