Dotty Winters’ little boy likes a hero with long hair. He was bound to love Artreyu, then.
I’ve been hoping to introduce my (not so) little one to The NeverEnding Story for a while. Now that he’s eight I’ve learned the hard way that if I suggest a film he’ll hate it, so instead I’ve been leaving the DVD lying around and repeatedly saying he isn’t allowed to watch it. This weekend he offered to put all the washing away if I ‘let’ him watch it, so I magnanimously relented.
I was fairly sure he would enjoy the film, as it fitted into his existing preconceptions that all the best heroes have long hair (Frodo Baggins, Luke Skywalker, Brian May).
He got drawn into the story pretty quickly, and the slightly clunky effects didn’t seem to jar with him (although he is a big fan of the original Star Wars films, so perhaps he is immune to dated visual wizardry).
One scene in this film surprised him, and me. Our hero is voyaging to save the world and needs to cross a swamp. The swamp has very specific rules: you can keep travelling but if you give up hope and let the gloom in you’ll die.
Unfortunately, Artreyu is travelling with his best friend, Artax the horse. Horses are famously melancholic (seriously, why the long face, Artax?), and in one of the longest and most traumatic pieces of horse-acting known to cinema, Artax dies.
Yip, in a children’s film, one of the key characters dies a horrific and prolonged death in a swamp, just because he wasn’t chipper enough. I am not surprised that I blanked this from my memory; at least Bambi’s mum was just a cartoon and there were cute bunnies to distract us from considering the bleak meaninglessness of existence.
Last trauma aside, the film was a big hit with my co-reviewer, right through to the mind-blowing revelation at the end (the story was inside us all, all along, team).
I chose this film because I was interested to see how my son responded to it. I hadn’t really factored in how differently I’d feel about it as an adult. Many of the themes had passed me by on earlier viewings. I was worried that the look and feel, effects and music would seem dated; I hadn’t stopped to consider whether the core messages of this film would still matter.
“The power of fantasy, to children and adults alike, is its ability to transport us so far away from our world and experience that we suddenly see reality more clearly.”
For all of its wonder and drama, The NeverEnding Story is pretty political at heart. The central theme of the movie more than stands the test of time. Take this quote (from the book, but the theme echoes in the film), as an example:
“When it comes to controlling human beings, there is no better instrument than lies. Because, you see, humans live by beliefs. And beliefs can be manipulated. The power to manipulate beliefs is the only thing that counts.”
There are a number of sequels to this film, suggesting that the studios haven’t really bought into the idea of a never-ending story. Presumably they are currently working on flogging us refills for bottomless pits and immortality coffins.
Like many people, I go about my life thinking I am not the sort of person who likes fantasy books or films, and that thought persists right up until I watch one of the many good ones. The power of fantasy, to children and adults alike, is its ability to transport us so far away from our world and experience that we suddenly see reality more clearly.
I may have introduced him to this film, but over time my son is slowly inducting me into the power of the fantasy genre. For anyone who doubts the ability of a magical children’s film to be timeless and important I’d ask them to watch the news, and then read this quote from the film:
Atreyu: But why is Fantasia dying, then?
Gmork: Because people have begun to lose their hopes and forget their dreams. So the Nothing grows stronger.
Atreyu: What is the Nothing?
Gmork: It’s the emptiness that’s left. It’s like a despair, destroying this world. And I have been trying to help it.
Atreyu: But why?
Gmork: Because people who have no hopes are easy to control; and whoever has the control… has the power!
If you want to start a conversation with your child about politics, and optimism and small things that make a difference, there are few better places to start than an adventure with a good book, an extended marsh-metaphor about apathy and a luck dragon. I think we’ll all hold our pensive horse best friends a little closer tonight.
Find out how our other writers fared exposing their kids to some pop-culture classics here.
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Nascent stand-up, fan of fancy words, purveyor of occasional wrongness, haphazard but enthusiastic parent, science-fan, apprentice-feminist.