Saturday, January 18, 2014

Growing up at the Movies: The Last Unicorn

The Last Unicorn

   I love unicorns! This may surprise those who know me. My sister loves all things equine, so naturally it’s expected that she should be the one to recommend this movie. Indeed, she does, and probably knows it much better than I. And for good reason- you see, I love this movie, but I couldn’t watch it for almost ten years.

   In the good old days before my little sis even existed, my family didn’t own a television. Every now and then I was allowed to rent one VHS from Blockbuster which we would watch on a small set at our church. More often than not, I would choose The Last Unicorn, and wow, was it awesome! For a while, all I understood about it was that it had adventure, unicorns, and that the Red Bull was the main villain.

   Then when I was about fourteen, I re-watched it with my horse obsessed sister. 

   I’m going to be very blunt here. Being a teenager was the worst thing that ever happened to me.

    Maybe someone out there thought that growing up was fun- but I didn’t. I swore I wouldn’t, but I couldn’t stop the clock from ticking, and try as hard as I might, I couldn’t stop my body from growing and changing.

   During this vulnerable and confusing time, I was exposed to a new aspect of my favorite unicorn movie.

   Halfway through the movie, the unicorn is turned into a human. What? I didn’t remember that part!

   The change upsets her. She cries because she is an immortal being placed in a mortal body. She can feel the body dying around her- and she’s afraid.

   That struck a little too close to home for me. Like her, I felt trapped in a form that I didn’t feel was me anymore. 

    Suddenly I started identifying with this character- and not in a “Hey, I have brown hair like Belle” kind of way. 

   For whatever reason, part of “not growing-up” in my mind meant that anything romantic was stupid and should be shunned.

   Well, guess what. The unicorn- in human form- falls in love with a human prince. The worst part is that this guy isn’t even that interesting. I hate him only slightly less than Marius (and anyone who’s read my reviews on Les Mis knows this is about as much as I can despise a character). 

   So here I am, barely a teen, already disillusioned with the whole thing, and now my magical fantasy escape is challenging me with ideas and concepts that make me feel uncomfortable.

   I couldn’t watch The Last Unicorn again until I was twenty-three.

   On the other hand, my sister- being about eight- got really excited, because hey, unicorns!

   She would watch it over and over- like I used to- and every time she forgot to put the VHS away, I would stare at the box disdainfully. I hated that the unicorn had to become a human, I hated that she fell in love with a stupid human, and worst of all I felt betrayed by the story I used to love so much.

   Well, time wears away at things, and having gone through some difficult growing-up, I finally decided to watch The Last Unicorn again.

  It was just as I’d remembered, but even though the story hadn’t changed- I had, and I saw it with new eyes.

   In a sense, the Last Unicorn is a story about growing up. If you really think about it, each of us is an odd blend of eternal soul and frail flesh. That’s what being human is all about, and sometimes it’s awful. Growing up is about having to do hard things and face old fears. The characters in the Last Unicorn have some very interesting discussions about fairy tales and happy endings. Schmendrick, the magician muses that “There are no happy endings, because nothing ever ends.”

   That’s some heavy stuff for a kid’s movie! Molly Grue is an older woman, and when she first meets the unicorn, she is angry because the unicorn didn’t come to her when she was young and beautiful.

    I’m only twenty-five, but I understand that anger. Rarely do things happen according to my time table. Sometimes I rant and rage because life is nothing like I expected it to be. I was supposed to be a world famous director by now. Where is my oscar? And forget Molly Grue... I still need to meet a unicorn! Where is my unicorn?

  This next piece is really hard to admit, but it has to be said....I am no longer “anti-romance”. There. I said it. I still don’t like Prince Lear, but at the end of the movie, during the final battle, I realized something important.

   The unicorn can’t defeat the Red Bull by herself. Even the goal of saving her fellow unicorns isn’t enough to give her the strength to take him down. It’s only when the Red Bull turns on the prince is she able to fight back and win.

    It’s interesting to think about. Had she not been turned into a human- which wasn’t part of the plan- she wouldn’t have been able to accomplish her goal. That sheds some new light on the times I took the wandering path that “wasn’t part of the plan”. Sometimes those side-roads have seemed rather painful and pointless.

   Maybe even the pointless pain will prove worth while in the long run. It’s something to hope for. 

   Some people might smile that I get so much deep stuff from an adventure about a magical horned beast, but I think part of the power comes from its simplicity.

   Unicorns have always represented purity, and magic. I always feared growing up because I was afraid that I would somehow lose my innocence and my ability to see wonder in the world around me. The hard truth is that in some ways I am definitely not the cute little girl who first fell in love with The Last Unicorn. I know things about this world that I wish I didn’t know. Sometimes The Last Unicorn can seem like a harsh reminder that things aren’t always perfect and beautiful.

   In the end, the unicorn isn’t immortal anymore. She knows she will grow old and die because of what happened to her. There is also the heartache that she will never be able to be with the one she loves. It’s kind of sad- but it’s magical too. With her sacrifice, she freed the other unicorns and brought magic back to the world.

   I’m not a magician, and I can’t fix a lot of the bad things in the world around me. However, growing-up didn’t destroy my sense of wonder. I appreciate beauty even more now, because I know what the darkness looks like. 

   As I watched The Last Unicorn for the first time in years, I noticed just how pretty it is. The animation is striking, and the music is beautiful. It is truly magical. Best of all, I am so happy to finally be able to watch it and not feel upset. It’s like being reunited with an old friend, and that is one of the most magical things I can think of. 

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