The Neverending Story: Bullies, Drowned Horses and Luck Dragons
There are some things you should never do if you’re a parent, and one of them is take an overly sensitive child to a movie in which an animal character dies in a tragic way. You will set the stage for future therapy bills and maybe a prescription for Prozac. The problem was that in 1984, when “The Neverending Story” was released in theaters, there was no Internet, at least not in the form it’s in now, and so my family went in unprepared for the fact that, early on, the horse drowns. And this is not just any horse, but the hero’s horse, his only companion. And then the hero (Noah Hathaway) himself almost drowns in the swamp because he’s mourning the horse. (You see, the more depressed you get, the more likely you are to die.) He only manages to struggle free with great effort.
It was safe to say that after that, I was ready to call it a night and go home. To be fair, the movie improved, and the horse is wished back to life at the very end. Still by then, I’d already mourned the horse, so it was a little disconcerting to see him galloping around again. Too little, too late, if you ask me.
Today’s kids are fortunate that if their parents are willing to do a little Googling, they can avoid exposing their offspring to such potential trauma. But it’s also true that kids are often more resilient than they get credit for (my sister wasn’t upset about the horse at all).
But sometimes not. Sometimes they need a magical journey to put their life back together.
“The Neverending Story,” begins with the preteen Bastian Balthazar Bux (Barret Oliver) having a dream that involves rainbows and clouds and a pop song by Limahl, only to wake up and have to go eat breakfast with his dad, who (in a stunning display of parental insensitivity) tells his son that he should really, already, get over the death of his mother and move on. He then sets off to school, where he’s beset upon by bullies, and takes refuge in a dusty bookshop, where he finds a book titled “The Neverending Story.” The owner of the shop refuses to sell it to him, so he steals it instead, and after discovering that there’s a math test, hides out in the school’s attic so he can read the book in peace. Since everyone, except Barret, in the movie is so unlikeable, it’s a relief for the viewer to also be whisked away to Fantasia. (Oh, and lest we think less of him for being a thief, he leaves a note saying he’ll bring the book back.)
Now we’re watching the adventures of Atreyu, (Noah Hathaway) in Fantasia,the magical kingdom of the Moon Child. Atreyu is the only one who can save the land from oblivion, and so off he goes on his shortly-to be-killed steed Artax. Fantasia is dying because so many of its inhabitants have stopped dreaming, or wishing or whatever. No one even thinks that Atreyu can save the kingdom, probably because he appears to be about eleven, and they are expecting a battle-hardened warrior to show up instead. But off he goes, and besides losing his horse, has a series of adventures that involve Rock Biters, a racing snail, a mirror in which he comes face to face with his true self, and a giant white luck dragon named Falcor. But he fails, and must return to the Moon Child who holds out a grain of dust and informs him that “this is all that is left of Fantasia.”
(And they wonder why many Generation Xer’s are so cynical. Not that exposure to movies like this in their youth had any impact, I’m sure.)
Luckily, Bastian by giving the Moon Child a new name is instantly transported into Fantasia. He then makes a lot of wishes, including for Atreyu to have his horse back, and that’s how the movie ends. Two sequels, both subpar in my opinion, (one with Jack Black, btw) follow.
Allegedly, the author, Michael Ende, of the book was unhappy with the adaption. The book itself is different from the movie but worth reading. My copy has red and green ink to differentiate the two sections (Bastian’s/Atreyu’s) which makes it a bit hard to read, but is still very pretty.