Gender Roles – Women
Gender Roles – Men
Room for Improvement:
Self-Esteem and Body Image
Gender Roles - Women: 5 Stars
Fairy tales and other films made for young girls frequently have female protagonists, but the goals and ambitions of these female protagonists are generally quite limited - and are often involve falling in love. The heroic protagonist of The Last Unicorn, by comparison, takes on a tremendous task - rescuing the world’s unicorns from a dangerous king and a terrifying Red Bull. While our unicorn also finds herself in the throes of romance and nearly abandons her quest when she falls under love’s spell, she is still the one who must find a way to free the unicorns. When a magician’s spells and a hero’s strength have failed, it is up to her to defeat the Red Bull and release his shimmering prisoners.
Gender Roles - Men: 4 Stars (Spoilers)
Prince Lir is a traditional fairy tale hero who slays dragons and performs a number of terrible tasks to impress a strange and beautiful young woman. But he is also a sensitive and lonely man who isn’t afraid of unburdening his heart to either Molly, or the Lady Amalthea herself. In the end, it is his heartfelt appeals that win her over, rather than any great feats of strengths or ambition. The Last Unicorn turns Lir into a bold and unassailable hero, but then sets him aside and allows the more unconventional players to defeat King Haggard and the Red Bull.
Plot: 4 Stars (Spoilers)
Unlike the more familiar story of a young mermaid who willingly surrenders her voice to become a human, the last unicorn is terrified at the prospect of giving up her body and her immortality to be trapped inside the body of a young woman. She protests the transformation, even though it saved her life, and claims she can already feel herself dying in her new mortal shell. Despite the risks, however, she agrees to remain in her new human form for the sake of rescuing the other unicorns. She accepts this new challenge despite her misgivings, sacrificing above and beyond what she’d expected to face when she set out on her journey.
As Lady Amalthea, the unicorn is confronted with yet another unexpected obstacle when she falls in love with King Haggard’s son Lir. She is suddenly faced with the impossible choice of living out the rest of her days in happiness with the prince, or fulfilling her quest to free the unicorns. Although it is painful to watch Amalthea beg Schmendrick to let her remain human, she does eventually remember herself and quest, and finally finds the courage to defeat the Red Bull.
Character Development: 5 Stars
The unicorn at the center of this story is a mythical beast rather than a woman, which may be part of the reason she is imbued with such courage and confidence. She is ageless and immortal and unburdened by difficult human emotions like regret or love. But she is also loyal to her fellow unicorns and bravely leaves the safety of her forest to find them. She is terrified at the prospect of becoming human and seems to lose some of the pride and drive that defines her the longer she masquerades as Lady Amalthea. She is more uncertain and passive as a woman than she ever was as a unicorn. Her defenses begin to wear away and human emotions like loneliness and love begin to confuse her. But despite these engaging twists and turns, she is ultimately her own hero, and the hero of her entire race of legendary creatures.
Supporting Characters: 5 Stars
Molly is the unhappy wife of a local outlaw who has been longing to see a unicorn since she was an innocent young girl. She recognizes the unicorn immediately and abandons her life among the outlaws to accompany her and Schmendrick to King Haggard’s country. Molly is a strong and vital woman in her own right, as endearing as she is stern and sharp. She encourages Schmendrick to become the magician he’s always wanted to be, even when his own belief in his magic has failed. She argues her way into King Haggard’s castle, allowing them to hunt for the Red Bull and the missing unicorns in secret. Molly also offers her comfort and counsel to both Lady Amalthea and Prince Lir, all while keeping house and working to solve the riddle that leads to the Red Bull’s lair. Molly’s presence is both refreshing and bold, adding a second heroic woman to the cast of characters in the Last Unicorn.
Schmendrick is initially a friendly and clownish character, but by the end of the film, he proves himself to be a great magician, friend, and even hero. The Last Unicorn proves to us that not all heroes are strong and aggressive. That everyone has their own unique gifts to offer and that even grown men need a little help and encouragement. Over the course of their journey, Schmendrick and Molly are able to build a strong and enduring relationship built on mutual trust and respect. And it’s doubtful that she’ll ever look back and regret the day that she left her overbearing husband for a buffoonish, amateur magician.
Self-Esteem and Body Image: 3 Stars
The last unicorn has an undeniable sense of pride in who she is. She is a mysterious and legendary creature, and deeply offended at being mistaken for a common horse. Unfortunately, some of this strength and bravado disappears when she is transformed into a woman. Perhaps the unicorn immediately suspects that she is powerless and vulnerable inside a woman’s body. But as the film indicates, it is also this false perception of powerlessness that allows her to approach her enemies undetected. In short, the unicorn must learn to make use of her new strengths and adapt to her new limitations if she is to succeed in her quest.
Love: 3 Stars (Spoilers)
Perhaps the largest disappointment of this film is that the last unicorn, while disguised as Lady Amalthea, begins to abandon her quest once she falls in love with Prince Lir. Some of this is simply because she is forgetting who she is and why she has come to King Haggard’s country in the first place. But there is also a suggestion that her love for the prince is powerful enough to make her forget about the missing unicorns. We can draw all kinds of conclusions about the fact that this brave, daring creature becomes meeker and tamer once she takes the form of a woman. But whatever the reason, the change is disheartening.
Like most fairy tales, there is also a lack of substance in the love that develops between Prince Lir and Lady Amalthea. Prince Lir may be attracted to Amalthea's beauty and grace, but she certainly doesn’t offer him much warmth or compassion. Perhaps Prince Lir is simply lonely from living alone with his miserable father all this time. Perhaps he recognizes another lost soul and hopes that they can provide some comfort to one another. Their romance isn’t quite as hollow as some, but there’s very little to truly explain what it is that brings them together.