The Last Unicorn hit theaters in the early 80’s, but thanks to a dedicated fanbase (and the occasional TV airing), has managed to remain a staple among animated features. As the author of the book and screenplay, Peter S. Beagle, embarked on a screening tour, the crowds that filled the theaters stood as testament to its timelessness.
The tour started in September, and will continue to run into 2016, hitting states all over the US and countries all over the world. So far, each stop has been filled with fans eager to meet the man behind the unicorn and enjoy the experience of seeing the movie on the big screen. As the tour took Peter to San Francisco, I took some time to catch the show, and to speak with him about the movie and his experience with the tour so far.
In spite of leaps in animation over the last few decades, The Last Unicorn still holds up nicely, thanks in part to its unique style. The artwork often seems like something right out of a story book, accompanied by memorable characters and relatable themes. When I asked Peter what he felt contributed to the film’s longevity, he stated he wasn’t too sure himself, but I can wager a guess.
Although the characters tend to be beings of fantasy – a unicorn and a wizard being the most prominent – their goals and experiences are, at their very core, things everyone can understand. To want to find one’s place in the world, to prove one’s self or improve one’s self, to struggle with identity and belonging, those are universal experiences that everyone can understand, whether they’re unicorns, knights, or just an average moviegoer.
Given the emotional impact the movie has, those themes seem to resonate with viewers. Most poignantly, Peter mentioned a time when a woman who saw it couldn’t stop crying after the butterfly (voiced by Robert Klein) said: “You can find the others if you are brave.” The woman, who was Korean-American but adopted by a loving Irish-American family, was reminded by that line of her own experiences trying to connect with her culture. Peter explained that the line itself came from a Margaret Widdemer poem, as the butterfly only speaks in songs and poems, so every line it uses came from somewhere else.
“The book was a fairy tale and a spoof of fairy tales at the same time,” he explained. “The movie, undoubtedly, is a children’s movie… but even then, something other than the usual machine-made, by-the-numbers fairy story. This means something to people, it actually touches people in ways they don’t expect to be touched.”
Peter S. Beagle was soft-spoken and eloquent, while not without a pleasant sense of humor. He recounted to the audience his experience writing the book, which he described as a nightmare (it was the end result of forcing himself to write something to keep up with an artist friend, who was in turn forcing himself to keep up with Peter’s writing), and the process of making the film.
During the audience Q&A, attendees learned that Peter had regained the rights to the film, as well as all the money he was owed from royalties, screenings, and sales. In fact, ITC started a new division with him at the helm to manage all things related to The Last Unicorn, including a live musical production some time in the future. Although there is little on it yet, the plan is to make it a immersive experience for the audience, so fans should keep an ear to the ground for more information as it comes.
Following the Q&A and raffle, attendees could purchase DVDs, posters, and other goods related to the film or Peter’s other works. He took the time to speak to everyone who approached him, thanking them for their support and signing whatever they bought.
For longtime fans of The Last Unicorn, the tour provides a great way to meet the creator, learn more about the movie, and meet fellow fans. For those who haven’t seen it before, it was a good introduction to the movie. (Just keep an eye on your parking meter, time can fly during the event.) The screening tour is still underway, so anyone interested can find events near them at http://lastunicorntour.com/