On a recent plane flight home (and actually, on TV recently as well) I watched ‘The Never Ending Story’ for the first time since I was a kid. This was significant because, when I was a kid, ‘The Never Ending Story’ scared the bejesus out of me. I can’t precisely remember where or how I saw it (I think it was at a school friend’s house), but wherever it was I was only half-watching it, so that my lasting impression of it was of it being a series of disturbing, nightmarish images. Watching it again as an adult, the movie was of course not anywhere nearly as scary. Still, it reminded me of what gave me the willies as a child – consider these scenes:
a) The giant Rock Biter appears: As a kid I didn’t like giants, and I especially didn’t like giants reaching out and eating things – it made me feel helpless. So the introduction of a giant that was grabbing and munching up the landscape didn’t exactly make me feel comfortable.
b) The horse drowning: I didn’t actually remember this scene until I watched the movie again, and it’s possible I didn’t see it the first time. But if I did, I think a sad horse sinking into the swamp would likely have left me feeling depressed for the entire weekend.
c) The gate to the Southern Oracle: In this scene, a knight tries to pass two giant fearsome-looking sphinxes, which proceed to shoot beams out of their eyes and obliterate him. Freaking terrifying. The Southern Oracle crumbling to bits after speaking creepily to Atreyu just made it worse.
d) Atreyu meets Gmork in Spook City: If there is a more disturbing scene in a so-called children’s film than Atreyu looking at spooky pictures of scenes from the movie to date, and then seeing the picture of the wolf-like Gmork in the shadows … and then one second later, actually seeing Gmork in the shadows! … I can’t immediately think of it.* Though I admit that, watching it again, it wasn’t nearly as dark as it had been in my memory for twenty years.
e) Fantasia is destroyed: The image of Fantasia reduced to nothing more than a few shards of rock floating in space is the final dark, depressing, devastating exclamation mark on an already dark and depressing film. It’s quite possible I stopped watching the movie altogether at this point – indeed, since I didn’t remember the ending at all, it’s quite probable.Frankly, the only characters that didn’t freak me out were Falcor, the two boys, and maybe the Empress (though I can’t be sure of that last one). But I loved the theme song! (Though even here, my memories were faulty – I thought there was this incredibly romantic line ‘Don’t close your eyes or she may fade away’ when in fact it’s ‘Show no fear for she may fade away’.) And I’m glad I watched it again (and again), otherwise I may have had the embarrassing situation where I was still cowering away from this movie in my 50s.
*I did think of it later – the room of heads in ‘Return To Oz’. I definitely stopped watching that movie at that point.