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The Last Unicorn Turns 41: Here's 5 Fantastical Things to Discover About the Animated Classic

Let's revisit the magic of Rankin/Bass' classic animated adaptation of Peter S. Beagle's beloved book.

By Tara Bennett
A scared unicorn appears in a cage in The Last Unicorn (1982)

Way back in 1982, the long-gestating, animated adaptation of author Peter S. Beagle's 1968 novel, The Last Unicorn, arrived in movie theaters... and quickly disappeared. With its anime aesthetic and dark themes, adults and kids didn't really know what to make of the film, and let it pass them by. But much like other animated films of that era like Don Bluth's The Secret of NIMH and Disney's The Fox and the Hound, The Last Unicorn wasn't afraid to scare kids a bit, or at the very least, incite a riot of emotions from young viewers over real life stuff. 

Turning 41 this year, The Last Unicorn (now streaming on Peacock) has since become a cult classic. Not only did it get the approval of author Beagle, but it also inspired a generation of animators working today, who first became enamored with its visual style and bittersweet tone. The Last Unicorn remains one of the best productions amongst Rankin/Bass' deep bench of animated projects, and the talent behind the movie helped create one of the best animation studios that's ever existed.

5 Fun Facts about Rankin/Bass' The Last Unicorn 

The Last Unicorn turned 40 with a major gallery exhibit in Los Angeles

The Last Unicorn 40th Anniversary group show

In December 2023, the ongoing appreciation for The Last Unicorn inspired the Corey Helford Gallery to host the month-long The Last Unicorn 40th Anniversary group show featuring original art work inspired by the film and the biggest collection of never-before-seen original film production art in one place since the film was completed. 

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The animation studio Topcraft went on to help form Studio Ghibli 

The Last Unicorn 40th Anniversary group show

While Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass are credited as the producers and the directors of The Last Unicorn, the actual cel animation was contracted to be completed by an outside studio. In this case it was Topcraft In Tokyo, Japan under the guidance of Toei Animation alumni Toru Hara. Following this project, animation legend Hayao Miyazaki hired Topcraft to work on his film, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Upon completion, Topcraft dissolved as a studio with many of the key animators joining Miyazaki to create Studio Ghibli which produced such all-time classics as  My Neighbor Totoro, Howl's Moving Castle, and Miyazaki's latest, The Boy and the Heron.  

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Hollywood's A-list showed up to be part of the film

A wizard with a long blonde beard casts a spell with red smoke around him in The Last Unicorn (1982).

While the film was released in 1982, Beagle's book it was based upon had already been out in the wild for 14 years. The author was adamant that the story would best be adapted as an animated project, which is how he came to write the screenplay. Because the story was known, there was plenty of interest from elite actors to voice key roles in the film. Christopher Lee was a particular fan of Beagle's book and worked closely with the author on King Haggard's final dialogue.

For the magic-turned Unicorn/Lady Amalthea, actress Mia Farrow did the speaking parts, and sang the song "Now That I'm a Woman" in the film, while Katie Irving sang the song for the soundtrack. Jeff Bridges voiced the romantic hero, Prince Lír. Angela Lansbury brought the terrifying Mommy Fortuna to life, while Alan Arkin voiced beleaguered magician, Schmendrick, and Tammy Grimes voiced Molly. 

The band America performed the songs on the official soundtrack

The soft rock band America hit mainstream success the same year that they performed the songs for The Last Unicorn soundtrack. Perhaps coincidentally, their song "You Can Do Magic" became a Top 10 Billboard hit that year, opening the door for their work on the film. The soundtrack was composed and arranged by Jimmy Webb, and he also wrote the America led songs "The Last Unicorn," "Man's Road," and "In the Sea."

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There is a book sequel to The Last Unicorn

The Last Unicorn 40th Anniversary group show

The Last Unicorn film wasn't a box office success, but in the ensuing decades, the film has become a hit on home video and streaming providers like Peacock. With that unexpected love, many asked Beagle if there would ever be a cinematic sequel. The author lost rights to his book until 2022 when a case returned them to him, and he's since spoken of being open to new adaptation ideas. 

And on the publishing side, in 2005 Beagle wrote a short story, "Two Hearts," that featured the characters from the book. He included several more in-world short stories in the 2008 collection, The Overneath. 

Watch The Last Unicorn streaming now on Peacock.