The Last Unicorn Was Originally Intended For Adults

There are certain films I saw growing up that left me forever scarred: "The Neverending Story," "Watership Down," and "The Last Unicorn," to name the most memorable. However, I loved "The Last Unicorn" so much that it didn't matter that I felt inexplicably saddened by watching it. Much like "Watership Down" — also not meant for children — the 1982 film was watched by a generation of kids because it was animated. Naturally, that meant it was safe for children, right? Interestingly, the film, which just turned 40, wasn't originally intended for kids at all.

For one thing, the movie is scary. Not just obvious terrors like the monstrous Red Bull, but something even more frightening to children: being smothered by the ample bosom of a living tree — if you know, you know. The film was gorgeously animated by Rankin/Bass, the team that brought us the 1977 version of "The Hobbit." The screenplay was penned by Peter S. Beagle, who also wrote the novel the film is based on. Some of the stranger moments of "The Last Unicorn" make far more sense when considering the initial intent behind it.

That cast!

Early press sold "The Last Unicorn" as an "adult musical fantasy-adventure," also mentioning that Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass (of Rankin/Bass Animated Entertainment) cast the film with the hope of appealing to an adult audience. If you look at the movie, it's easy to see it was made with adults in mind. The film stars Mia Farrow as the titular mythical creature, Alan Arkin as Schmendrick the Magician, and Jeff Bridges and Christopher Lee as Prince and King Lir, respectively. Other actors included Tammy Grimes, Angela Lansbury, and Rene Auberjonois, who loved the novel so much, he asked to be in the film. This cast was obviously meant to attract older viewers.

Plus, several of the songs were performed by then-contemporary rock band America, responsible for such hits as "Ventura Highway," "Horse With No Name," "Lonely People," and my personal favorite, "Sister Golden Hair." Point being, this was not a soundtrack created for kids. I mean, the film's songs are forever etched into my heart, but it certainly wasn't made for me.

Not a typical fairy tale

On its face, it may seem like "The Last Unicorn" was made for children. After all, it is a cartoon about a unicorn. However, like the novel it's based on, the movie's themes of loss and regret speak far more to adults. Thankfully, most kids haven't experienced that type of bone-deep sorrow. Not that it's all sadness. The movie is filled with joy as well, but those complex and conflicting emotions are part of the reason why the film was understandably aimed at adults. At least at first.

The movie did make me sad as a kid, and yet that never stopped me from obsessively watching it. I was utterly captivated by the unicorn and her journey to find others like her. While I'm sure much of the deeper meaning of "The Last Unicorn" went over my head back then, as an adult the film continues to resonate with me in a way that I can't always properly explain. Sadly, this animated classic has been largely forgotten, but I hope newer generations discover it and that parents share the film with their kids. The movie may have been made for adults, but time has already proven this bittersweet tale can be enjoyed by people of any age.