The Last Unicorn Read-Along, Movie Edition

Rounding out The Last Unicorn discussion, today I’m looking at the movie version.  Barring the possibility that I saw it as a kid and remember nothing (unlikely) this was my first experience with the movie, and either way, it was all new!  It was interesting to watch so soon after reading the book, and I really enjoyed the movie overall.  It was fun to compare, and it’s a good movie in its own right…though rather like the book, it’s much more deep and complex than I might have expected (if I hadn’t read the book, that is).

I’m not going to use all of Lynn’s questions this time, because she gets into some details I must admit I didn’t notice.  There are some stories I can discuss that kind of minute detail about (try me on the choreography in Webber’s Phantom) but I don’t know this one well enough!  Here goes some thoughts, though…

The movie is very faithful to the book in a lot of ways, but one of the most noticeable changes to me has always been that it moves the unicorn’s encounter with the butterfly forward. What do you think this does for the narrative? Does it work better or worse for you?

Mixed thoughts here.  I do like that the butterfly gives the unicorn added impetus to leave her forest, and that certainly focuses the plot more by bringing the Red Bull in as an element earlier on.  On the other hand, somehow I like it in the book that she meets the butterfly already out in the world.  Since he’s representative of outside knowledge, I’m not sure I like it that he turns up in the unicorn’s forest in the movie.

On another point, I can’t decide if I like the butterfly’s changing hats.  It’s clever, and it’s a visual for his frantically spinning dialogue, but it also has a kind of Genie-from-Aladdin feel, and seems almost a little too silly for this movie, especially early on when the tone was still being set.

One of the biggest differences between the novel and the movie is that the movie cuts out the storyline of Hagsgate almost entirely. What do you think it does for the plot? Do you think it’s something that the adaptation should have kept or does it work without Hagsgate’s tale?

I quite missed Hagsgate, actually.  That was easily the biggest thing that felt missing to me.  I think the prophecy, especially around Lir, added a really big additional layer of legend, and tied this so much more into traditional tales.  I feel like losing the prophecy means losing two or three layers of meaning!  Additionally, Haggard’s throw-away movie line about picking up Lir as an orphan feels like a total “say what now?” thing with no further context, while the context of the book means it’s just one part of something hugely layered and important.

I also like Hagsgate just to know that there are people in this country.  Of course there are the outlaws and the traveling circus, but those are wanderers on the fringes of society.  Hagsgate (however twisted it may be) is the only actual representative of society, which the others are on the fringes of.  I get stuck on this in Lord of the Rings and Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere too, trying to figure out where normal people in the magical world live their normal lives…because not everyone can be engaged on magical quests.

The movie has a tendency to condense the passing of time into a song sequence. Do you feel that the songs enhance the storyline or that they don’t fit the narrative?

I didn’t notice the time-condensing aspect of the songs all that much (maybe because songs for travel periods feels normal in movies) but I did really like the songs.  In a way they’re a good example of what makes this story different than might be expected.  I feel like if someone told me there was a movie about a unicorn, with songs, I would have a very clear picture of what those songs would be like–but rather like Schmendrick the “bumbling magician,” the songs aren’t at all what I would have been imagining.  They’re much more reflective, and really fit the style of the story.

The opening song especially was so beautiful, and so effective at showing the unicorn’s earlier life–and it was familiar.  I’m reasonably sure I never saw this movie before (see first paragraph) but I knew the song and I have no idea why or where I might have heard it.  Memory is funny, isn’t it?

What were your favourite moments of the movie? Did the movie leave out any of your favourite bits of the story?

Strangely enough, I most liked and least liked the visual of the movie.  Let me try to unpack that…  The book is in many ways very cerebral.  There’s so much going on and much of it is on (here’s that word again) layers that are below the surface of what we’re actually seeing.  Some things can be conveyed through the visual of the movie, or through character dialogue, but some subtleties and nuances have to be in thoughts, or even in the style of the writing–there’s no way to completely carry that over.  However, at the same time, all those layers in the book sometimes makes it hard to actually see the visual level, because the description (while beautiful) is also hard to pick apart from the abstract.

So I really liked some of the visual of the movie–the best was the image of the unicorns among the waves, because I could never quite see that in the book.  I also liked the movie’s twist of showing things differently to demonstrate what different people were seeing.  Most of the uses of that trick in the carnival were really effective–except for the unicorn’s double horn, which just bothered me somehow.  But I liked the depiction of the Red Bull, and Haggard’s castle.

On the other hand, visually seeing the unicorn, a goofy-looking magician and a handsome prince made that surface-level story feel stronger in the movie.  Which is good and bad, because I had trouble relating to the surface-story in the book, but on the other hand, relating to it in the movie may be at the expense of deeper layers.

So…yes.  The visuals were my favorite part, and least favorite part.  And I feel like that’s an appropriate comment to make about a story that discusses truths, contradictions and, of course, many different layers…

About cherylmahoney

I'm a book review blogger and Fantasy writer. I have published three novels, The Wanderers; The Storyteller and Her Sisters; and The People the Fairies Forget. All can be found on Amazon as an ebook and paperback. In my day job, I'm the Marketing Specialist for Yolo Hospice. Find me on Twitter (@MarvelousTales) and GoodReads (MarvelousTales).
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3 Responses to The Last Unicorn Read-Along, Movie Edition

  1. I finally get a chance to respond to this! YAY! I’m glad to hear you enjoyed the movie (and the book). ❤

    Mmmm, yes… I was very heavy on the detailed questions, wasn't I? I think it comes from having seen it so often already. You stop noticing the bigger things so much because you already know them.

    Since he’s representative of outside knowledge, I’m not sure I like it that he turns up in the unicorn’s forest in the movie.

    That’s an intriguing point. It does bring outside knowledge in her forest. More, it brings mortality into her forest in a way that the hunters didn’t. They were uncomfortable and ill at ease. They didn’t, well, fit, the way that time and mortality and “outside” don’t quite fit. Remember when Schmendrick turns her human in the book: she’s been drawn inside the story with them now, instead of walking outside of it, so there’s a disconnect that extends from the unicorn to her forest because she influences it. The hunters intrude, but they leave no mark, at least not any that will remain. The butterfly, though… He does. So that might be another reason to dislike the change too? It alters the relationship the unicorn has with the world, whereas if she meets him when she’s already out in the world the fact that the knowledge would affect her is a stronger effect? Does that make sense?

    I feel like losing the prophecy means losing two or three layers of meaning!

    Definitely!

    Additionally, Haggard’s throw-away movie line about picking up Lir as an orphan feels like a total “say what now?” thing with no further context, while the context of the book means it’s just one part of something hugely layered and important.

    I never really was that bothered about the time. To me, it always explained why there was someone else living with Haggard (and apparently caring for him) at all. Though you’re very right that the context in the book is far more layered and important. Part of that is because the top layer of the story has been shorn off and we’ve lost the prophecy and Hagsgate that provided it.

    Most of the uses of that trick in the carnival were really effective–except for the unicorn’s double horn, which just bothered me somehow.

    Perhaps it’s meant to bother us as viewers? It always bothers me too.

    • You know, Haggard’s movie line about adopting Lir probably wouldn’t bother me–if I didn’t know that it had so much more context in the book! In a way, that makes it feel even more random in the movie…

      I like your point that the double-horn might be intended to bother the viewer. After all, it represents a troubling situation of illusion and deception. I’m not sure it bothers me in the right way, though. The aesthetics just make me wince. But maybe that’s intentional…

      • *nods* That makes a lot of sense. It does have a lot of context that’s just missing from the movie. I wonder if it’d bothered you so much if you’d seen it when the book’s plot had receded in your mind a little?

        I think the aesthetics are definitely intentional. I’m… really bad at visual comments and symbolism, unfortunately, but I do think that’s what’s going on here. Where the unicorn’s horn is straight, Mommy Fortuna’s is curved. Where the unicorn’s horn is foam-white, Mommy Fortuna’s is… whatever colour that is. Where the unicorn’s horn has a subtle star/flower at its base, Mommy Fortuna’s has a rather in-your-face bit of dirty hair. It’s a distorted mirror of what’s real. And, for me at least, that aesthetic difference feeds into the (fairytale) trope of “Pretty = good, Ugly = Bad” and just makes it bother me more.

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