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'The Last Unicorn' Is A Beloved Cartoon More Disturbing And Sad Than We Remember

Updated June 15, 2021 149.2k views14 items

At a glance, you'd assume The Last Unicorn is a whimsical and wholesome animated film for kids. After all, movies with "unicorn" in the title usually signal magical journeys full of fun. However, anyone who has watched the 1982 film knows the colorful designs and soft-rock music accompany the melancholy tale of the last remaining unicorn's search for the rest of her kind.

Based on Peter S. Beagle's 1968 novel of the same name, the story made its way into the hands of the production company Rankin/Bass, best known for stop-motion holiday specials such as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Gathering quite the cast of celebrity voices for the adventure - including Mia Farrow, Jeff Bridges, Alan Arkin, Robert Klein, Angela Lansbury, and Christopher Lee - The Last Unicorn takes a more adult direction than their previous work.

More than once, the characters found themselves in sticky, often risqué situations with magical anomalies. From giant flying harpies with multiple human breasts and amorous trees to immortal beings coming to terms with the concept of mortality, The Last Unicorn is a surprisingly mature take on fairy tale tropes.

  • The Unicorn Teams Up With Schmendrick The Magician, A Tragicomic Figure

    The unicorn and the magician Schmendrik escape from Mommy Fortuna's twisted circus and set out to find the Red Bull and the rest of the unicorn. On their way to King Haggard's castle, a group of outlaws finds Schmendrik and takes him hostage. 

    While in their custody, Schmendrik casts a spell that creates an apparition of Robin Hood and all of his merry men. The apparitions march around, and the outlaws follow him through the woods. Captain Cully is infuriated by this, and he decides to sell Schmendrik on the market.

  • Molly Grue Blames The Unicorn For Arriving After Her Beauty Is Gone

    When she sets eyes on the unicorn, Molly Grue, the vagrant outlaw, can see the so-called "white mare" for exactly what she is. Instead of celebrating the arrival of such a rare creature, Molly is heartbroken to the point of tears. The shrill cries of Molly haunt the viewer as she scolds the unicorn for arriving "too late":

    Where have you been? Where have you been?... And where were you 20 years ago? 10 years ago? Where were you when I was new? When I was one of those innocent young maidens you always come to? How dare you! How dare you come to me now, when I am this!... It would be the last unicorn that came to Molly Grue.

  • Schmendrick Tries To Use His Magic But Accidentally Gives Life And A Libido To A Tree

    After Schmendrik infuriates the outlaws, they decide to sell him on the market. Sure to make plenty of gold off of the magician, they stap him to the trunk of a large tree so he is unable to escape. 

    With his arms wrapped around the tree in a giant hug, Schmendrik tries to free himself by casting an incantation. The incantation twists the tree into a large-chested, anthropomorphic figure that nestles him in her bosom. The tree is convinced that the two of them are bound to be together forever, which is certainly the case in his position.

  • After Their First Encounter With The Red Bull, Schmendrick Turns The Unicorn Into A Mortal Woman

    When the sun sets, the Red Bull goes out on his nightly unicorn hunt. It charges directly for the unicorn, relentlessly chasing her on a path to the sea. In a panic, Schmendrik tries to save her from the Red Bull's stampede by casting his magic on her.

    Although it does a good job at diverting the Red Bull away from her, the magic transforms the unicorn into a mortal human. This devastates her, and she cries out, "I can feel this body [ending] all around me!"