Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Traumatizing kids' movies from the '80s: The Neverending Story

A few months back, my mom saw a DVD copy of "The Neverending Story" cheap, so she picked it up for me.  At the time, I wanted to wait to re-watch it until my son could enjoy it for me.  Well, the other night he was in a bit of a restless mood, so I popped in the movie for him to watch while we chilled out on the couch.

And you know what?  It's a wonder my generation is not more screwed up than we already are.  Kids' movies in the '80s were insane.  There is no way now that a movie like "The Neverending Story" could play in theaters nowadays without parents dragging their kids out in protest.  In case you haven't seen it in a while, let me remind you about the following scenes:

The Rockbiter commits suicide.  Remember the cute little citizens of Fangtasia we first encounter when Bastian first opens the book?  The kinda demony Nighthob and his faithful steed, a bat?  The little man in the tophat with his riding snail?  (BTW, he's the same guy who played all the oompa-loompas in the new Willy Wonka movie.)  And, of course, the Rockbiter, a gentle stone giant.  They all meet up on their way to warn the Childlike Empress about the Nothing.

Later on, Atreyu meets up with the Rockbiter on the shores of the sea.  The Rockbiter commences a disturbing a speech, asking Atreyu, "They look like good, big, strong hands, don't they?"  He proceeds to tell Atreyu that, strong as he appears, the Nothing ripped his little friends right out of his hands, and out of existence.  He informs Atreyu of his plan to sit there and let the Nothing take him.

Instead of trying to make some sort of intervention for this planned suicide, Atreyu looks creeped out, and just leaves.

Morla was creepy enough to be ripped off by Stephen King.  Atreyu's first attempt at finding a cure for the Childlike Empress entails travelling through the Swamp of Sadness to find Morla, the wise and ancient one.  Morla turns out to be a giant, schizophrenic turtle.  Morla has also become apathetic and bored with immortality, and basically tells Atreyu that they (Morla speaks in first-person plural) don't give two craps if the nothing devours all of Fantasia because, hey, at least something different would happen.  In other words, the all-knowing being that the hero turns to for guidance is an uncaring letdown.

This is probably why, just a few years later in "It", Stephen King uses an ancient, all-knowing turtle as a metaphor for an uncaring God.  (No, we're talking about the book version of "It".  The mini-series was stupid.)  Seriously.  The children go to fight the ultimate evil, and whilst they float in the "deadlights", they come across an immense turtle who could help, but is too disinterested to do so.  The turtle even tells them that the whole universe was just something it unintentionally crapped out after a bit of indigestion.  I am not even making this up.

(Fun fact:  Look for this same being under a different nickname, "the Subliminal", in Stephen King's later book, "The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon".)

Artax in the Swamp of Sadness.  If you don't remember this, it's because it was traumatic enough that you blocked it out.

I remembered that this scene was coming, and had already planned on distracting by son or taking him out of the room during it.  But I had forgotten how long this scene is.  How many minutes of screentime in a kids' movie can you devote to a drowning horse?  And Atreyu's agony is very, very real (especially compared to the awful overacting done by the kid who played Bastian).

The only kind thing they do is cut to black before actually showing the horse becoming completely submerged.  (Though, this was more likely for practical reasons, as they had no intentions of actually drowning the horse.)  The scene starts back with Atreyu sitting in the swamp, and it was at this point that I let my son start watching again.

"Uh-oh," he said.  "Horsey go?"

"Horsey got tired, baby," I responded.  "He went back home.  Horseys don't like swamps.  Hey, look at the giant turtle!  You like turtles!"

What?  You try to explain a horse literally drowning in depression to a one-year-old.

While there are plenty more scenes in "The Neverending Story" that contributed to future psychiatric treatments, these are the most prominent ones for me.  And, in my quest to prove what a bizarre time the '80s were, I'm going to be doing future posts on other kids' movies that made me weird adult I am today.  So far, I have plans for "Labyrinth", "The Dark Crystal", and even "The Princess Bride".  (There's weird stuff you don't remember from there, I promise.)  If there's any other movies you'd like to see me cover, let me know in the comments section.

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