“It’s not a dragon. It’s an overgrown pink poodle.”
The Scoop: 1994 G, directed by Peter MacDonald and starring Jason James Richter, Melody Kay, and Jack Black
Tagline: It’s a brand new beginning in the adventure that never ends
Summary Capsule: Bastian accidentally brings Fantasia creatures into our world and faces the wrath… of JACK BLACK!
Justin’s rating: I wish this movie had been over 50 minutes sooner. Wish denied.
Justin’s review: Listen, nobody’s going to make a serious case that The NeverEnding Story was a fantasy opus that deserves to be included in AFI Top 100 lists everywhere. At best, it was a cheesy guilty pleasure that kids in the ’80s remember fondly while carefully ignoring how dang silly the entire premise was. Also, it spawned an even cheesier guilty pleasure in a pop song sung by this guy:
So you understand that as the NeverEnding Story sequels started declining in quality, it wasn’t as if they started at the peak of exellence. The first film was barely holding on to the effort of getting the audience to take it seriously, the second movie let go into a free fall of despair, and The NeverEnding Story III landed at the bottom of a pit so black and so devoid of hope that the only way to describe it is “1994.”
If you’re the sole NeverEnding Story lore purist in the world, prepare to start sobbing in abject despair by minute 10 of this film. There are two obvious factors at play in this second sequel, and neither of them are good. The first is that the whole effort is clearly being retooled for… well, five-year-olds. Tops. The fact that it stars high schoolers doesn’t mean that it’s for that age demographic in the least. It’s the first movie rewritten as a cartoon parody without grounding in logic, guidance, or clever ideas.
The second factor is that the budget is so much less than the first movie ($17M versus $27M, and that’s not counting for inflation over the 10-year gap), and boy does it show. Creature effects and costumes look cheap, even being done by Jim Henson’s Workshop, and a vast majority of the movie takes place in a modern high school and mall because Fantasia doesn’t offer affordable location shooting.
So extremely kiddy in nature and cheap in everything that counts. Got it?
Surprisingly, there is some continuity through the series on display. At the start of the film, Bastian’s single father has gotten remarried, and Bastian is meeting — for the very first time — his new fashion-obsessed stepsister. You think they would’ve met at the wedding or at any point before actually moving into the same house together, but getting hung up on such details will make for an agonizingly long slog through this film. Really, the best path is to absorb the blows of stupidity and resist retaliating. It makes the final credits come that much sooner.
At his new school, Bastian quickly runs afoul of the local punk gang called the Nasties (because “1994,” I guess), gets them expelled, and then finds himself on the run from them for the remainder of the movie. To escape them, he dives into the nearest copy of the NeverEnding Story — conveniently located in his new school library — and reconnects with all of his old friends except for Atreyu, who knew better at this point to show up and invite comparisons to the first movie.
The Nasties’ leader name is Slip, and he is Jack Black with a unibrow. Again, aborb and resist retaliation. Slip finds the book, figures out what’s going on with the whole book-writes-reality-and-fantasy thing even though it couldn’t possibly make sense to anyone ever, and then he starts causing havoc in Fantasia. The only way to fight back is for Bastian to return with the magical-wish-amulet (the Orin or Aurin or whatever) and wish this bloody awful plot away.
Of course, it all gets screwed up because several Fantasia creatures go with Bastian to Earth, which for some reason means that Bastian can’t use the amulet to wish things back until he gets the book too. Really, I started to grey out around this point because nothing makes sense and the plot is just contorting itself all over the place to keep Bastian, Slip, Bastian’s stepsister, and all of the Fantasia creatures running around doing goofy crap without any resolution in sight.
Out of everything that’s wrong in this movie, perhaps the biggest crime is that there’s no clear journey going on. There’s no quest that’s laid out. It’s just the scriptwriters making up rules, breaking them, and writing their way out of corners again and again. Little gnomes end up in Earth? Stick them in a FedEx box so that we don’t have to show special effects any more! Jack Black can sometimes rewrite reality but he can’t bring Bastian and the amulet to him? Sure, whatever, just throw in some more slapstick and the kiddos won’t notice.
You’re also going to have to suffer through The NeverEnding Story III’s answer to Jar-Jar Binks, which is Junior Rockmonster. He’s the “baby” character that’s always talking in a super-creepy high-pitched voice and wearing a stone diaper because how does that work? He also keeps making Bastian kiss him over and over again. Absorb. Resist retaliating.
It’s bizarre to see Black in probably one of his only non-comedic turns as a villain. He’s not (intentionally) funny at all, but also not that interesting as a bad guy. He just knows how to be bad enough to frustrate Bastian but not bad enough to actually destroy Fantasia, get the amulet, or avoid getting kicked out of school in the first act.
See this only if you want to spit up blood after being pummeled by inanity for an hour and a half.
- So the Neverending Story is written by an old geezer in a mountain who is constantly talking to himself?
- The words flying onto the page as they are spoken was kind of cool
- “The Nasty” — this better be a dance or I am so out of this movie
- Who puts other creepy old guys in charge of hanging onto the book until a kid comes along to steal it?
- So the book is stalking Bastian and sketching his loved ones?
- Haha… Seal’s Kissed by a Rose. This is how you know you’re in the 90s.
- Yes, crystals ARE stupid
- So Bastian has never met his step-sister before his dad got remarried? And the first thing he does is babble on about the Aurin and Fantasia to her.
- 20-year-old school punk gangs. Best school ever, I must say.
- It’s the gnomish astronomers from the first movie!
- Jack Black has such a unibrow going on
- Mmm, snake patties
- Does this school not have any teachers?
- Falcor! Oh Falcor, what have they done to you?
- I don’t get it, Fantasia residents make references to Las Vegas and watch TV? And then they start singing “Born to be Wild” while riding a stone tricycle. This is just a fever dream isn’t it.
- Oh the travesty that lumberjacks have wrought!
- And now a gnome makes an Arnold Schwartzenegger reference.
- “Federal Express” — is this FedEx? I think it is! Huh, I never knew there was a longer name.
- Junior is one of the most annoying Muppets that Jim Henson Workshop ever made. He makes Bastian kiss him a lot.
- Who calls credit cards charge cards?
- Bastian is just about the worst liar in the whole entire world. Also Fantasia.
- And now a fashion show. This movie has everything!
- The only way that Jack Black can look menacing is with Batman angles
- Well this is an awkward divorce talk
- The only movie in the NeverEnding trilogy to get a G rating, not be shot in CinemaScope, and not to feature Atreyu
- Three NeverEnding films, three different actors playing Bastian
- Way to end on a freeze-frame high-five
Nicole: That is so un!
Slip: What’s up little homie?
Gnome: It’s not a dragon. It’s an overgrown pink poodle.
Urgl: Your body’s gone.
Engywook: Well, your body went years ago.
If you liked this movie, try these:
- The NeverEnding Story
- The NeverEnding Story II