Bastian is having a hard time recovering from his mother's death when he stumbles into a bookstore and learns of a book that's "not safe". Unable to resist such a temptation, he borrows the book and begins to read about the land of Fantasia, the land of human fantasy. The land is being consumed by the Nothingness, and the Empress is dying. A warrior named Atreyu is chosen to save Fantasia from the Nothingness. As Bastian reads the adventures, he is drawn into the story, identifying with Atreyu. Soon, however, he learns what the storekeeper meant about the book when he finds that the characters in the book seem to be aware of him, as well. All seems hopeless as the Nothingness is consuming Fantasia. Can Atreyu save them? Can Bastian?
Directed by: Wolfgang Petersen
. Starring: Barret Oliver
, Gerald McRaney
, Chris Eastman
, Darryl Cooksey
, Nicholas Gilbert
, Thomas Hill
, Deep Roy
, Tilo Prückner
, Moses Gunn
, Noah Hathaway
, Alan Oppenheimer
, Sydney Bromley
, Patricia Hayes
. Music by: Klaus Doldinger
This film manages to be a minor classic despite significant flaws. I loved it when I was a kid, but even then I realized the book was superior. It's sort of a miracle that the movie turned out as well as it did, considering the problems with its tone, and its abrupt and unsatisfying ending.
Make no mistake about it: this is a good, solid film. No fantasy film I've ever seen has tapped more successfully into the kinds of philosophical thoughts that many kids have. Think of Rockbiter's speech describing the Nothing: "A hole would be something. Nah, this was nothing. And it got bigger, and bigger, and bigger...." This is the type of film that greatly appeals to introspective kids who think about things like infinity and the end of the universe. Do children really think about such things? I did. People who find that surprising have forgotten how profound children can sometimes be.
The whole of Fantasia, indeed, seems to be built out of children's dreams and fears. Some of it is about exhilaration, as when Atreyu rides Falkor. Others reflect anxiety, as in Atreyu's trek through the Swamps of Sadness. What appealed to me most as a kid was how an imaginative but passive child, sort of a young Walter Mitty, opens up a book in which an older, braver version of himself goes on adventures. But "Neverending Story" isn't so much escapism as it is about escapism. It's essentially a fable about the destruction of a child's fantasy world as he grows older and adapts to the modern world.
The special effects are good for their day. Although they look phony at certain points, the film's distinct visual look, from the shimmering Ivory Tower to the assortment of weird creatures, holds up well today. What makes the film work especially well is that the two child stars--Barret Oliver and Noah Hathaway--prove themselves capable actors. I use the word "capable" because almost everyone in the film overacts in an annoying way, which I blame primarily on the director. But there's a wonderful cameo by Gerald McRaney as Bastian's father. He has the perfect tone for the scene, appearing loving but distant, unable to fathom Bastian's mind. I wish the film had followed through by returning to their relationship at the end and exploring how Bastian changes as a result of his experiences in Fantasia.
The reason the ending doesn't work is obvious to anyone who's read the book. Simply put, the movie shows only the first half of the book! While this isn't the movie's fault entirely--there was no way the entire story could have fit into one movie--it could have been handled better. "The Wizard of Oz" faced the same problem yet managed not only to become one of the greatest fantasy movies of all time but to surpass its source material in some ways. "The Neverending Story" doesn't accomplish that feat. The story feels unresolved at the end while at the same time failing to clearly set up for a sequel. It attempts to wrap everything up with a sequence in which Bastian takes revenge on his old bullies. I enjoyed this scene when I was a kid, but in retrospect it creates a clash between the real world and the fantasy world. Bastian never grows as a character, he never learns to put his feet on the ground, something the early scenes suggest will happen.
There's one other problem, and that's that Wolfgang Petersen never really figured out the proper tone for a children's movie. He must not have had a clear idea what age he was shooting for. Some of the scenes are quite scary and violent, making this film inappropriate for younger children. Yet the muppet-like characters are presented in an annoyingly condescending way that I doubt older kids (not to mention teens and adults) would appreciate. For example, the first scene in Fantasia plays like a revival of Sesame Street, with Rockbiter filling the Cookie Monster role. And I never could understand Night Hob's behavior in that scene: what makes him suddenly believe Rockbiter's story after first pooh-poohing it? His mannerisms are so phony and exaggerated that I'm taken right out of the film every time I watch that scene. Petersen didn't have to direct the film this way. Had he shot for a wider age group, the result would have been fresher and more authentic for everyone.
Review by Unknown from the Internet Movie Database.