As a kid, I can remember adoring The NeverEnding Story, the 1984 fantasy spectacular filled with luckdragons and childlike empresses and rock eaters and sneezing giant turtles. I likely watched it a few times on home video when I was in grade school, and as I got older, I would think back on the movie with warm and deep feelings of affection and nostalgia.
And that is where I should have left it. Unfortunately, I did re-watch this movie as an adult, and it was a heartbreaking, illusion-shattering experience. Some movies are best left in childhood, only to be revisited in the flattering haze of memory. The NeverEnding Story is definitely one of those movies. As a kid, we are willing to forgive all manner of cinematic sins, if we notice they exist at all. Alas, as adults, that is just much harder to do. Here are all the reasons why grown-ups should never, ever try to watch this movie again:
1. It is so slow. So incredibly slow.
The movie is only 90 minutes long, and yet it really does feel like it lives up to its title. As a kid, I guess I was taken in by the fantastical surroundings, and didn’t mind watching Bastian (Barret Oliver) and Atreyu (Noah Hathaway) stare into the middle distance or travel across large vistas for what seemed like an eternity. But as a grumpy grown-up, it is distressing to realize I don’t have the patience for it now — the characters just aren’t interesting enough on screen to hold my attention by themselves.
2. Many characters’ voices do not match their lips, and it is really distracting.
Once Bastian cracks open the eponymous book, we’re greeted with three characters en route to meet with the Empress about the encroaching threat of The Nothing: Rockbiter (i.e., the giant rock man), Night Hob (i.e., the squirrelly imp who flies on a giant bat), and Teeny Weeny (i.e., the well-dressed Indian gentleman who rides a racing snail). I can almost forgive the fact that Rockbiter’s mouth barely matches his words — it was 1984 puppet technology. But both characters played by actual humans also suffer from terrible over-dub jobs. Teeny Weeny’s voice sounds like a twentysomething American who normally does bad English re-dubs of anime movies. As an adult, it takes me right out of the movie. So upsetting!
3. Atreyu screams most of his lines.
STOP YELLING SO MUCH, ATREYU! WE CAN HEAR YOU JUST FINE, AND EMOTIONALLY IMPACTFUL SCENES DON’T ALWAYS NEED TO BE CONVEYED BY SHOUTING THEM AT THE SAME VOLUME ALWAYS!
See? Isn’t this so much better? And doesn’t this rant make me seem like the oldest old man ever?
4. Falkor the Luckdragon is shockingly creepy.
I could ignore the fact that Falkor suffers from the same random mouth-movement issue that plagues so many other characters in the movie. I could forgive how the animatronics used to bring Falkor to life do not hold up to a modern eye the same way, say, Jabba the Hutt does in 1983’s Return of the Jedi. But my sadly ruined adult brain could not help but cringe at the scene where, after Atreyu wakes up in Falkor’s arms, the luckdragon says to the young boy, “I like children!” He then tells Atreyu, “You talked in your sleep,” winks at him, asks him to scratch behind his ear, and then moans, “Thaaaaaat’s soooo goooood.”
I don’t want to cringe here, but I do. (I’m not alone, either.)
5. It is unrelentingly depressing.
It is clear from the very first scene in the movie that this is all just an enormous metaphor for Bastian’s grief over the death of his mother, after Bastian’s father (Major Dad himself, Gerald McRaney) dishes out this ice-cold comfort to his son: “Bastian, we each have responsibilities, and we can’t let Mom’s death be an excuse for not getting the old job done, right?”
But good gravy, this movie has such a fetish for misery. There are the Deadly Swamps of Sadness, where Atreyu’s horse Artax just gives up and sinks to the bottom. There’s the ancient turtle Morla, so old it doesn’t care that it doesn’t care — about anything. There’s the scene where Rockbiter, bereft he couldn’t save his friends from The Nothing, tells Atreyu, “The Nothing will be here any minute. I will just sit here and let it take me away too.” And there’s The Nothing itself, as potent a metaphor for clinical depression as you’re likely to find in a children’s movie.
7. The final confrontation between Atreyu and G’mork is super lame.
Throughout the movie, Atreyu is unknowingly pursued by an evil wolf with glowing eyes called G’mork, because my childhood nightmares were apparently not terrifying enough. Of course, had I possessed a more sophisticated understanding of storytelling and the dangers of third-act exposition, I may have been able to laugh off the G’mork after it finally confronts Atreyu — with a massive exposition dump.
On Fantasia: “It’s the world of human fantasy. Every part, every creature of it, is a piece of the dreams and hopes of mankind. Therefore, it has no boundaries.”
On The Nothing: “It’s the emptiness that’s left. It’s like a despair, destroying this world. And I have been trying to help it.”
On why he’s helping The Nothing: “Because people who have no hope are easy to control. And whoever has the control has the power!”
This last statement really makes no sense whatsoever — if Fantasia has no boundaries, then how can someone control humanity from it? But no matter, because Atreyu reveals himself to G’mork, grabbing a stone dagger, and G’mork manages to leap right on top of it, impaling himself and dying more or less instantly.
Wah wah wah.
8. The climactic revelation is even lamer.
Finally — finally! — Atreyu learns from the Childlike Empress herself that the only way to stop The Nothing is for Bastian to give her a new name — something she’s known all along. Which, you know, OK, that’s a decent head-squeezer, and a good metaphor for how we create our own stories and such. But when Bastian finally does give her a new name, he screams something incomprehensible into a thunderstorm. If her name is so important, why wouldn’t we be able to understand it? We are given to think he yelled out his late mother’s name, so why wouldn’t we hear it? In the novel by Michael Ende that inspired the movie, Bastian yells “Moonchild,” but how many suburban mothers in 1984 were named “Moonchild”?
And why didn’t any of this bother me when I was 7?
9. The title song will be stuck in your head for days and days and days.
“The Neverending Storrrrr-yyyyyyy! Ahh-aa-ahh! Ahh-aa-ahh! Ahh-aa-ahhhhhh!”
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