The Neverending Story remains a favorite among both those who grew up during the '80s and anyone lucky enough to have discovered it years after its release 35 years ago. It's an instantly recognizable relic of the time, a veritable classic that's typically listed alongside imaginative crowd-pleasers like Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal as some of the best fantasy epics to come out of the decade.
So it should come as no surprise that it received a very special tribute in the final episode of Stranger Things Season 3, a show whose creators go to great lengths to ensure its '80s authenticity.
For younger viewers, it's entirely possible that the novelty of Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo) and girlfriend Suzie (Gabriella Pizzolo) singing a duet of The Neverending Story's iconic theme song of the same name was completely lost. It's not a film often invoked in modern popular culture, but for those who have experienced its magic, it was likely a warm, welcome Easter egg — and potentially a reference that launched a million Google searches. What is The Neverending Story about, anyway, and is it worth watching? Is the rest of the movie as awesome and memorable as that endlessly catchy theme song? We've got all the details you need to know about this masterful '80s fantasy flick, as well three reasons you should dive into it following that gorgeous Stranger Things singalong.
What is The Neverending Story?Giphy
The Neverending Story is based on German author Michael Ende's 1979 book of the same name, which follows a boy named Bastian Balthazar Bux. He's having some issues dealing with his mother's passing and finds solace in a mysterious bookstore owned by one Carl Conrad Coreander, whose old shop houses a book called The Neverending Story. Bastian steals the book and hides in his school's attic, where he finds himself getting lost in a strange tale about the magical land of Fantasia (called Fantastica in the book).
Fantasia is ruled by the sweet Childlike Empress, appearing as a young girl, who's fielding requests by her constituents to create some sort of defense against a terrifying entity known as "The Nothing." The Empress is dying, however, and has enlisted a hero in the form of a boy named Atreyu to help save her life and cast away the terrible nothingness.
Atreyu is charged with saving Fantasia from The Nothing, and he's given a powerful medallion named Auryn to keep him from harm while working to do just that. On his way to seek out a cure for the Childlike Empress's ailment, Atreyu comes upon an enormous furry serpent called a luckdragon named Falkor who becomes his companion and friend throughout the remainder of the film. The pair are forced to face off against dangerous enemies and situations in a bid to seal away the Nothing and help the Childlike Empress.
As Bastian reads further in the book and the trials and tribulations of Fantasia unfold, he unearths a strange secret about the book: It repeats itself over and over again until certain conditions are met... meaning he'll have to be an active participant in some of the story's most harrowing situations if he wants to reach true resolution. What does this mean? Well, you'll have to watch and see.
It's a masterclass in fantasy storytelling.Giphy
Not only is The Neverending Story a nostalgic affair for many viewers, but it's a classic example of how thought-provoking and entertaining fantasy stories can actually be. It's got everything a typical story from the trope needs: a mysterious artifact, a mythical journey, fantastical creatures, and a hero you can't help but root for. Bastian is kind of an outcast who gets bullied at school and gets to live vicariously through the hero Atreyu, which is the ultimate fantasy. Viewers come along for the ride, hopping aboard a mythical dragon and saving an entire civilization from certain destruction. Who wouldn't want to be a part of all that?
But it's more than that, too. For the length of its runtime, it completely transports you to a believable storyland where, just for an hour and some change, you can completely lose yourself. This is a concept some modern films are still having difficulty with, and with limited practical effects and '80s filmmaking standards, it's still a believable trip to a faraway land that you'll truly become invested in, even if you're momentarily put off by its dated effects. It'll be hard to put Atreyu, Falkor, and the rest of the citizens of Fantasia out of your mind.
It's more emotional than most Hollywood blockbusters.Giphy
Hear me now, readers. If you watch The Neverending Story, you will cry. That is fact. From the terrifying, heartbreaking fate of Atreyu's faithful equine companion Artax to the gloomy Swamp of Sadness to realizing the horror of "The Nothing" is really just the threat of being swept away into literal non-existence, this fantasy tale is happy to force you into unsettling predicaments where you're unsure what's going to happen next or even who you should root for. Why do so many bad things continue happening to Fantasia? So you can feel something, obviously.
There's something innately organic about the way The Neverending Story treats tragedy and its audience. Though it's obviously a story for children in every sense of the word, it never assumes viewers are too young to handle its more mature concepts. Yes, people still die in this fantasy world. Bullying — and even a bit of verbal abuse at parental hands — is very real. Rather than skirting around these real-world problems, The Neverending Story faces them head on, and challenges its viewers to do the same.
It's got the most joyful song you've ever heard.
Let's face it. We know why you're really here. You heard the dulcet tones of Dustin and Suzie crooning together over a HAM radio and had to know more. Yeah, the movie's cool and all, but what about that song? If the first time you ever let it wash over you was when you heard it on Stranger Things, you're overdue for another listen.
You may (or may not) know Limahl, who sings "The Neverending Story," from the '80s pop outfit Kajagoogoo. After breaking off for a somewhat successful solo career, he reached peak success with the debut of the movie's gleeful theme song. And it's pop perfection with a soaring chorus, overwhelming positivity, and lyrics that instantly put a smile on your face. If there's one huge reason why the movie became part of our cultural lexicon, this is it — and one of the reasons you'll fall in love with it too. Its message of hopefulness can break through even your darkest clouds.
Or you'll just keep humming it, constantly. Either way, it's a beautiful piece of music and just as integral to the film as the furry Falkor or the tale itself.