The NeverEnding Story
Posted by martinteller on August 11, 2014
[WARNING: this review contains big plot spoilers]
If this is a beloved film from your youth, please do forgive me while I shit on one of your childhood favorites. It is a movie that will probably delight some children, full of magical creatures and doodads. For instance, there’s Falcor, who is a potentially lovable mix of dragon and sheepdog… with some dialogue that, taken out of context, sounds vaguely pedophilic. The winking doesn’t help in that regard. But the problem with fantasy — especially this particular fantasy — is that it can feel very lazy. “Imaginative” is nice, and it can be wonderful, but sometimes it just comes off as random. The world of Fantasia feels very arbitrary, plugging in meaningless aides and obstacles along Atreyu’s journey.
There is a running theme of despair throughout the film, which is unusual in a children’s movie. I would even say unusual in a good way, and it takes a lot of balls to (here come the spoilers, you’ve been warned) kill off a horse by having it literally succumb to sadness. I honestly didn’t know how to process that, and it was unexpected to be challenged like that. This wasn’t a movie where everything is going to turn out okay. Except it is, because of course it is. Fair enough, it’s a family film. But it makes watching as an adult a rather uninvolving experience.
It would fare better if the metaphors had more weight or were done more skillfully… if the despair felt like it had a more relevant connection to the reader, Bastian. It would have invested some stakes in the boy’s emotional health. And while I believe that was the intention, it wasn’t pulled off well. Largely because the young actor, Barret Oliver, is really obnoxious. Remember the movie D.A.R.Y.L.? If you do, you have my sympathy. It’s a noble thing to use a movie to try to foster an enthusiasm for books, but this kid is way overboard about it. The Princess Bride does the same thing much better (it does a lot of things much better, like the old bickering couple, and this is coming from a guy who is no Billy Crystal fan).
So the film, imaginative as it may be, is a series of largely arbitrary events and meaningless challenges loosely connected to the emotional state of a kid I didn’t like. Some of the special effects hold up pretty well, though. All things considered I’d rather see bad animatronics than bad CGI, even if it sometimes feels like “Atreyu in the Magical Land of Chuck E. Cheese”. The score isn’t bad, and I’ll always have a nostalgic soft spot for the Limahl theme song. But overall, it’s just not much fun, not that wondrous, not that touching. Rating: Poor (53)