When I was a kid, I used to love the movie ‘The NeverEnding Story.’ Last week, I happened to come across it at the library, and I realized that I had been going around citing it as one of my favorite movies when I hadn’t seen it in years and hardly even remembered why I liked it so much to begin with. So I checked it out and watched it. And I have thoughts. Here they are.
I’m great at segues.
Okay, so the film opens with a montage of rolling clouds set to pop music (this movie is so 80’s already. I love it). And OH MY DEAR SWEET BABY SQUIDS THE TITLE OF THE MOVIE IS IN THE SONG. WOW I WONDER IF THEY DID THAT ON PURPOSE.
I’ll just leave this here…
So, this kid named Bastian Balthazar Bux (because THAT’S a totally normal name) is getting ready for school, and his father is being totally insensitive. Bastian tells his dad that he had a dream about his dead mother the night before. His prince of a dad sees this as a great opportunity to bring up the fact that Bastian isn’t doing well in school and to tell him that his mother being dead isn’t an excuse for slacking off, to which I vehemently say WHO FREAKING CARES ABOUT SCHOOL SOMEONE IS DEAD AND YOUR KID IS SUFFERING GET WITH THE PRIORITY STRAIGHTENING.
The Princely Dad also tells Bastian that he got a call from one of his teachers about how Bastian was drawing horses in his math book. Bastian mutters:
“Unicorns. They were unicorns.”
Yeah, Dad. Unicorns. Hey Bastian’s Math Teacher, you know how I can generally tell the difference between a horse and a unicorn? One of them has a big obvious horn sticking out of its forehead. (There’s a reason you teach math, isn’t there?)
The Princely Dad then tells his son to keep his feet on the ground, and try not to be late to school again. Then he leaves for work and Bastian walks to school. By himself. In a big, dangerous looking city. Gee, Dad, maybe your son wouldn’t be late to school if you oh, I don’t know, DROVE HIM THERE. Also, his chances of being hit by a car or kidnapped would go way down. Just saying.
On his way to school, Bastian is accosted by some bullies who demand that he give them all his money (there’s another thing you could have prevented by driving your son to school, Princely Dad). Bastian doesn’t have any money, so the bullies hoist him into a dumpster. Bastian climbs out, the boys chase him, so he hides in a dusty old bookstore.
And here we meet the film’s token mysterious old man, who’s name IMDb tells me is ‘Carl Conrad Coreander,’ because we must use as much triple alliteration in our characters’ names as possible.
Coreander is dismissive of Bastian until he finds out that Bastian is into books and not arcade games like other kids. He then proceeds to tell Bastian that the book he was reading when Bastian came in, titled ‘The NeverEnding Story,’ is different from any other book, and that Bastian absolutely cannot read it under any circumstances.
So of course, when Coreander goes to answer his phone, leaving the book conveniently on his desk, Bastian takes it and runs. Coreander watches him leave as the camera pans down to the note that Bastian left behind promising to return the book.
Bastian gets to school late and discovers that there’s a test going on in one of his classes. So he sneaks off to the attic and starts reading the book instead.
Now, I was home-schooled until college, and having never set foot in a public elementary school before, will someone please enlighten me: do they generally have filthy, cobweb-infested attics? Seriously. I have no clue. Public schools are a source of NeverEnding mystery to me.
So Bastian starts reading the book and we are immediately transported into the world of Fantasia.
We see two eccentric-looking characters called Night Hob and Teeny Weeny, and neither one of them is being played by Mickey Mouse, so instantly I am suspicious. Night Hob looks a lot like a house elf who has really let himself go and started smoking pot, while Teeny Weeny reminds me of the Mad Hatter, if the Mad Hatter acknowledged that he had a mental problem and went through years of therapy. So, basically Sane Hatter.
Both of them appear to be camped out in the middle of a journey of some kind when this giant guy made entirely out of rocks comes rumbling up and unloads his personal problems all over their campsite. We learn that he’s a Rock Biter (I bet his dentist makes a bundle), and that he’s on his way to the Ivory Tower to see the Childlike Empress because there’s a big “Nothing” that’s basically turned Fantasia into its own personal buffet and is making things disappear without a trace.
Teeny Weeny and Night Hob reveal that they’re going to see the Empress for the same reason, and they all set off together on their various modes of transportation (namely a giant bat, a ‘racing snail’, and the Rock Biter’s weird rock-bulldozer-thingy).
When they get to the Ivory Tower, Night Hob, who’s riding the bat, flies up to the window of the tower and looks in to find that there is a crowd of Fantasians gathered there already, apparently all there for the same reason. And then we see…
A TIME LORD!
Nope, it’s just a guy named Cairon. He addresses the people of Fantasia and tells them that the Childlike Empress cannot help them because she is gravely ill, which is most likely directly tied to the Nothing. But a brave warrior named Atreyu, who is believed to be the only one who can stop the Nothing, has been summoned.
When Atreyu steps forward, however, Cairon and the rest of the Fantasians see that he is only a little boy. Cairon tells him they wanted Atreyu the Warrior, not Atreyu the Child, but Atreyu retorts that he is in fact the Warrior whom they sent for, and if they don’t want his help, well, he’s outta there. Because Atreyu’s got SASS.
Cairon begs him to stay, and tells him that he must go on a quest to figure out how to stop the Nothing and find a cure for the Empress. Oh, and he can’t take any weapons with him. And here’s where I interject. Um, why not?
Believe me, I get the concept that the Nothing isn’t something you can defeat with weapons. I swear I get it. But Atreyu’s just going to be riding around in this insane country populated by Lord-knows-what, literally looking for trouble. And he can’t have any weapons? Geez.
Well, Atreyu agrees, and Cairon gives him the Auryn, which is a fancy necklace that looks like a couple of intertwining snake buddies. The Auryn is supposed to guide and protect Atreyu on his journey.
A wild parallel appears!
Atreyu sets out on his horse Artax while, unbeknownst to him, a black wolf has emerged from its lair and has started tracking him (see? Shoulda brought some weapons). When wandering around aimlessly doesn’t magically lead to them stumbling across what they’re looking for, Atreyu decides to visit Morla the Ancient One, who lives in the Swamps of Sadness.
So, in order to get through the Swamps of Sadness, you can’t give in to the feelings of despair that permeate it, otherwise the swamp will swallow you whole. Atreyu is actually doing pretty okay, until he looks back to discover that Artax has stopped in his tracks.
Oh please, no. Not the horse. No. NO. I TOTALLY FORGOT ABOUT THIS PART.
NO, HORSEY, NO.
DON’T LET THE SADNESS GET YOU
I BELIEVE IN YOU
OH CRAP HE’S SINKING
OH, THE FEELS
Atreyu cries while staring at the place where Artax had been. Bastian cries while reading the book. I CRY INTO MY BOWL OF SPAGHETTI.
So now that everyone’s souls have been sufficiently crushed, Atreyu can continue on his journey. He comes upon a large mound, seemingly part of the land. But as Atreyu approaches, the mound slowly rises up, revealing…
DARTH VADER’S HEAD!
The appearance of Morla the Ancient Mutant Ninja Turtle is apparently so shocking that Bastian actually yells out in surprise. Atreyu and Morla hear him, and look puzzled. Bastian, of course, freaks out because WHAT THE CHAP-STICK THEY’RE IN THE BOOK BUT THEY CAN HEAR HIM. HOLY BUNNY TEARS, GUYS.
Morla starts yammering in the third person because “We haven’t spoken to anyone else for thousands of years, so we started talking to ourselves.” (Sidebar, I looked this up, and apparently Morla is a girl turtle. Which was pretty surprising to me, since she sounds just like Al Pacino.)
Anywho, Morla keeps sneezing all over Atreyu because “we’re allergic to youth,” and she doesn’t seem to be very forthcoming when Atreyu asks her how to cure the Empress. After being pressed for answers though, Morla finally says that no, she doesn’t know anything, but that Atreyu might try the Southern Oracle. Which, by the way, is 10,000 miles away.
Atreyu walks back through the Swamps of Sadness, despondent because the Southern Oracle was his only chance at anything, but it’s too far away for him to get to it. He begins to sink into the swamp, and we see flashes of the black wolf who’s been following him, closing in on him at last. Then, a bright light shines from the sky, and a figure flies down and picks Atreyu up, just as the black wolf is about to pounce. Atreyu passes out, and then wakes up next to Falkor, a white luck-dragon.
Falkor is great, but I’d like to take a moment to appreciate how incredibly CREEPY he is. First, this happens:
And then this happens:
Atreyu: My name is–
Falkor: Atreyu! And you’re on a quest.
Atreyu: How’d you know that?
Falkor: You were unconsious. And you talked in your sleep.
AND THEN HE DOES THIS:
Then, there’s some super disturbing “Oooooh, that’s soo goooood”-ing while Atreyu scratches behind his ear, as well as some really creeptastic smiling.
You know what, just watch the whole scene. I’ll wait.
Okay, moving on.
Falkor tells Atreyu that he’s already brought him 9,891 miles along his 10,000 mile trip to the Southern Oracle, which thrills Atreyu. Falkor then introduces Atreyu to
Miracle Max and Valerie Engywook and Urgl. Engywook and Urgl live in a nearby hovel. Engywook is a scientist and Urgl is, according to Engywook, a wench. But she’s not a wench, she’s his wife.
Engywook has been studying the Southern Oracle through a telescope for a long time, and he shows Atreyu the way through two gates which will lead him to it. The first gate is two sphinx statues facing each other, their eyes closed. They also happen to be quite chesty and lacking in shirts. Come on, guys. This is a kid’s movie. Anyway, only those who feel their own worth will be allowed to pass through this gate. If the sphinxes sense any lack of confidence, their eyes will open and the traveler will be shot down by their cool laser beam eyeballs.
Atreyu gives it the good old college try, but he falters when he sees the body of one who had tried before him, and the sphinxes’ eyes begin to open. Atreyu makes a break for it, and the super cool laser beams just barely miss him.
Back at Engywook’s telescope, Engywook & Co. celebrate that Atreyu made it through the first gate unscathed. But the next gate will be even more difficult, Engywook warns. The Magic Mirrorgate, as it’s called, shows you who you really are inside. Falkor thinks this will be easy for Atreyu, but Engywook says that’s what everyone thinks, and that:
“Confronted by their true selves, most men run away screaming!”
Atreyu approaches the smooth, reflective surface of the Mirrorgate, where he sees his reflection fade away to reveal Bastian, sitting in the school attic, reading.
ATREYU, YOU’RE BASTIAN….I think.
This was the part of the movie that actually really confused me as a child, and kind of confused me this time around, too. I think we’re supposed to take it to mean that since Bastian is reading the book and experiencing the story through Atreyu, Atreyu is sort of Bastian’s avatar. So that’s why Atreyu sees his inner self as Bastian….I guess. Which is kind of a neat idea, but it lacks the punch I would have liked to see in this scene. For all the fuss Engywook made about men running away from their true selves in fear, I kind of expected more to come of this, like a big character revelation or something. The whole Atreyu-is-the-reader’s-avatar thing just sounds a little too Bella Swan for me.
Anyways, Bastian predictably loses his mind over the fact that he’s in the story, and throws the book across the room. By this point, it’s dark out, and there’s a thunderstorm going on.
And here I interject again: WHY HAS NO ONE COME LOOKING FOR HIM YET? You could argue that they are looking for him; they just haven’t found him yet, but come on. He’s in the school. And I don’t care if he’s in the attic, he’s been making enough noise up there for someone to have heard him. Seriously. Who yells out loud at the written description of a large turtle?
You know what I think? I think the Princely Dad hasn’t even noticed his son is missing. I bet he’s at home watching infomercials right now and wondering why Bastian hasn’t come downstairs for his half of the pizza yet.
Back to the story. After a contemplative moment, Bastian retrieves the book from where he threw it and continues reading. Atreyu goes through the Mirrorgate and finally reaches the Southern Oracle, which is basically the same two sphinxes from the first gate, only this time they’re covered in glitter. Way to save money, guys.
The Southern Oracle tells Atreyu that in order to save the Empress, she must be given a new name. Atreyu thinks he’s got it in the bag, but the Oracle then tells him that the name must be given by a human child, one of which can only be found outside the boundaries of Fantasia. Back in the school attic, Bastian says to himself that he could totally name the Empress, and adds that his mother had a lovely name. Atreyu leaves to find Falkor as the Oracle begins to crumble away into Nothing.
Then we are treated to a long, rather boring montage of Falkor flying across Fantasia with Atreyu on his back, which suddenly gets much more interesting when they encounter the swirling mass of dark clouds that is supposedly the Nothing (but it looks an awful lot like a Something to me) and Atreyu is knocked off Falkor’s back.
He comes to on a random shoreline and discovers that the Auryn is missing from its usual place around his neck. Not knowing what else to do, he wanders around aimlessly for a while until he comes upon the Rock Biter sitting by himself, looking at his own hands. He says:
“They look like big, good, strong hands. Don’t they? I always thought that’s what they were. My little friends. The little man with his racing snail, the Night Hob, even the stupid bat. I couldn’t hold on to them. The Nothing pulled them right out of my hands. I failed…Listen, the Nothing will be here any minute. I will just sit here and let it take me away too. They look like big, good, strong hands. Don’t they?”
Atreyu continues on his way and finds a cavern in which he is amazed to find cave paintings that tell the story of all his adventures up to this point. Near the end of the gallery though, there is a painting of a black wolf.
Suddenly, Atreyu hears a noise. He turns to come face to face with the black wolf itself, crouched in the shadows.
The wolf says its name is G’mork, and that Atreyu will be its last victim. Atreyu, once more displaying his mad sassing skills, says that he won’t be defeated by G’mork because he’s a warrior. However, he admits that he can’t find Fantasia’s boundaries, to which G’mork contemptuously replies that Fantasia has no boundaries; Fantasia is a world of human fantasy, and its existence is shaped by imagination.
Since humans are slowly forsaking their hopes and dreams, the Nothing has begun eating away at Fantasia. G’mork is a servant of the Nothing, because people with no hopes are the easiest to control, and G’mork wants control. As an agent of the Nothing, G’mork has been sent to kill Atreyu, the one person who can stop it.
Atreyu decides that if he’s going down, he’s going down fighting. So he tells G’mork that he is Atreyu.
And here I interject, yet again. G’mork is the possibly the dumbest assassin ever. Why doesn’t he know who Atreyu is? He was supposedly tracking him, by scent, I assume. Well here he is, buddy, in all his smellyness. Is your nose broken or something?
G’mork lunges at Atreyu, who has picked up a sharp object and holds it out in front of him in time for G’mork to land heavily on it mid-leap. Shades of Peter Pevensie and Fenris Ulf? (Or Maugrim…if you’ve read the American version of those books…which I reject because I’m a book snob.)
The Nothing begins to tear apart the land. Atreyu hangs onto a tree and calls out for Falkor as everything around him disintegrates. Falkor hears him and flies to his rescue. He’s apparently found the Auryn as well.
Fantasia has been shattered. Chunks of earth and debris float in dead space, as Falkor and Atreyu fly on through, hoping against hope that the Ivory Tower is still standing. Atreyu asks the Auryn to lead them to it, and they soon find it, perched on one of the hovering pieces of land.
Atreyu enters the tower to find the Childlike Empress. And then this happens:
And even though they’re both practically babies, SHIP SHIP SHIP SHIP SHIP SHIP SHIP SHIP SHIP SHIP SHIP SHIP I SHIP THIS SO MUCH.
Atreyu tells the Childlike Empress that he failed, but the Empress tells him that he has brought the human child with him. She then tells Atreyu details about this human child, such as his flight from the bullies, and how he hid in the bookstore and discovered The NeverEnding Story. Bastian has another mini meltdown because MOTHER OF SQUIDS SHE’S TALKING ABOUT HIM.
A violent tremor shakes the Ivory Tower, and Atreyu is wounded. The Empress begins to plead to Bastian to give her a new name, as this will save both her and Fantasia. Bastian wavers, recalling the Princely Dad’s words to him at the beginning of the film about ‘keeping his feet on the ground,’ but ultimately runs to the window, opens it, and shouts a name into the thunderstorm.
Speaking of which, can anyone actually understand the name Bastian is saying? I had to Google it. Apparently it’s ‘Moonchild.’ First of all, if your viewers have to Google the most climactic moment in your film because they couldn’t understand the key word when the character said it, then your climactic moment has failed. Secondly, ‘Moonchild?’ What is the significance of that? I was under the impression that he would have named her after his mother. And I seriously doubt that his mom’s name was Moonchild. Unless her parents were hippies.
The school attic goes black. Bastian finds himself face to face with the Empress, surrounded by darkness. Bastian asks why it’s so dark and the Empress says:
“In the beginning, it is always dark.”
Aaaand now I’m having all kinds of Genesis flashbacks.
The Empress holds out a grain of sand in her hand, and tells Bastian that it is the last bit of Fantasia. She gives it to him and tells him that Fantasia can live again through every wish he makes.
Bastian makes with the wishing, and finds himself on Falkor’s back, flying over Fantasia as everything is restored. AND HOORAY ARTAX IS ALIIIIVE! Falkor asks Bastian what his next wish is, and Bastian whispers it in his ear.
Back in the normal world, the school bullies are walking down the street, when they suddenly see Falkor with Bastian on his back gliding down towards them from the sky. They are chased into an alley, where the bullies all jump into the same dumpster they threw Bastian into earlier that day. Because JUSTICE.
An unnamed narrator then ends the film by telling us that Bastian made many more wishes, and had many more adventures, but that’s another story.
So, this movie is pretty much just as good as it was when I was a kid. Of course, there were a few flaws that I didn’t notice back then, but everything is flawed, right?
The NeverEnding Story II, however….yikes. And whoever decided that The NeverEnding Story III was a good idea should be institutionalized.