We reviewed this film originally for our special Peter S. Beagle edition in July 2006. It really was a fine job of adaptation, largely because Mr. Beagle wrote the screenplay, and all I can say here is that it is still a good film. But now it is even more satisfying to watch.
During the 25 years since this little film was produced, it has wandered a road as long and bleak as the road of the title's heroine. The original animation company has gone out of business; the film has changed hands three or four times; and Peter S. Beagle — who wrote the screenplay as well as the world-renowned novel on which the film is based — has struggled in vain to get any of the royalties owed to him by the present owners, Granada Media.
Now, in time for the film's 25th anniversary, some justice is available along with a very nice re-issue. Lionsgate Entertainment, the American distributor responsible for this new special edition, has graciously agreed to let Conlan Press, Mr. Beagle's representatives, market the DVD along with the usual media outlets. So if you want this film, order it from Conlan Press (www.conlanpress.com) — and over half your purchase price will go to the author, who has otherwise received nothing of this film's profits during its 25-year life.
Why should you pop for the re-issue? Aside from the karmic brownie points of personally assuring that some money gets to Mr. Beagle, this new DVD is a huge improvement over the original version. It has been digitally remastered, and thus is a fresh, bright copy; in addition, it is now in wide-screen format, which shows the lovely backgrounds to tremendous advantage. The soundtrack has also been remastered, and comes out clean and crisp in 5.1 format. Even the packaging is a pleasure — instead of the peculiarly plump, neotonic, Beanie Baby-style unicorn inexplicably pictured on the original cover, the new cover is made from actual screen shots. The unicorn is her proper exquisite self, just as she appears in the film. Rankin-Bass did a particularly lovely job with her, producing a unicorn that really is hauntingly beautiful rather than cute.
And there are extras! The best is a documentary interview with Mr. Beagle, giving background and history on the writing of the book. I found this especially moving, opening as it does with Mr. Beagle himself beautifully reciting the opening lines of the novel. There is also a fun, simple little game for children or story novices (this is technically a children's movie); the original theatrical trailer; a promo for Mr. Beagle and his books; and a nice gallery of stills from the movie. The gallery is enriched with art from a talented friend and fan of Mr. Beagle, Rebekah Naomi Cox, whose work Mr. Beagle himself describes as being precisely what he had pictured. I must say, seeing the examples on this DVD, that Ms. Cox did seem to capture the essence of what Mr. Beagle wrote: not only does it illustrate what was in his head, it is exactly what I imagined too, as a reader. That's an amazing thing to see.
The special anniversary edition is well-worth acquiring for the many, many fans of the book and film. It always was a charming little film, capturing much more of the beauty of the story than was usual for animated movies 25 years ago. It still has that charm, and now is better presented. It also finally makes a start at redressing the injustice done to its author for so long. While it is available from Lionsgate through all the usual outlets, please make the time and commitment to order it from Conlan Press — better yet, explore their site (www.conlanpress.com/youcanhelp) for the full story of Granada Films and Peter Beagle's long struggle with them.
illustration: portion of a screen shot from the digitally-remastered 25th Anniversary DVD
Some Notes From Behind The Curtain [courtesy peterbeagle.com ]: