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

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.

  • It Tells The Bittersweet Story Of A Unicorn Searching For Her Kind

    Within the first few minutes of the film, the star unicorn finds out that a terrifying creature, the Red Bull, has chased away all of the other unicorns in the world. Distraught that she is the last of her kind, and overwhelmed with a desperation to find the other unicorns, she sets out on a journey to uncover what the Red Bull has done with them.

    As she travels, the unicorn is gradually stripped of her power. Her lack of ability to do anything about her dire situation leaves the captivity of the other unicorns completely out of her control, and every step of the way becomes a dreary struggle for her and her companions.

  • The Terrifying, Flame-Covered Red Bull Preys On Innocent Unicorns

    Deep underneath King Haggard's castle lives the Red Bull, the malevolent force responsible for the unicorns' disappearance. This beastly creature is a massive, ethereal bull that charges after every unicorn in sight and drives them into the sea by whatever means necessary.

  • The Unicorn Is Captured By Mommy Fortuna, A Horrifying Witch Who Torments Animals In Her Circus

    Mommy Fortuna is the twisted ringleader of her circus of magical creatures. Some of the animals she keeps in cages are nothing but sickly creatures, such as lions and snakes, that have been masked to look like other beasts. She casts spells to trick onlookers into believing they're seeing manticores and satyrs rather than old lions and chimps.

    However, Mommy Fortuna has also managed to capture two real magical creatures, the unicorn and the harpy. While the unicorn tells her that she wishes to be free, Mommy Fortuna taunts and mocks her in her barred cage.

  • Mommy Fortuna Is Slain By A Harpy With Distressingly Human Anatomy

    Mommy Fortuna's prized possession ends up being the end of her. In her circus, she keeps an immortal harpy caged away for her patrons to ogle at. The harpy, Celaeno, is not a pretty sight. She's a furious, dripping, vulture-like creature with three human breasts swinging from her chest.

    When the unicorn releases the harpy from her cage, she circles her, gnashing at her with her gnarly beak and talons. The harpy sets her sights on Mommy Fortuna, who lets the harpy rip her to shreds, becoming "immortal" in the memory of the harpy.

  • 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.