Like its lugubrious predecessor, THE NEVERENDING STORY II: THE NEXT CHAPTER is everything a children's fantasy adventure shouldn't be--self-important, built on characters who serve blatantly obvious plot points, and oppressive in terms of physical production and storyline. In the
undistinguished tradition of RETURN TO OZ and THE BLUE BIRD, this film is impressed with its own good intentions.
As in the 1984 original, young protagonist Bastian (Jonathan Brandis), still coping with his mother's untimely death, must find inner courage by popping inside the pages of a magical book, a children's adventure story in which he plays the heroic leading role. As the sequel opens, scaredy-cat
Bastian is afraid to plunge off a high dive to qualify for the swim team. Once ensconced in the pages of the fantastic tome, however, he vows to save the inhabitants of Fantasia, a magical land created by the dreams and imagination of humankind, where the evil queen Xayide (Clarissa Burt) plots to
destroy the Childlike Empress (Alexandra Johnes), as well as stifle the imaginations of the kids in Bastian's mortal world.
After Bastian reacquaints himself with his buddies from Fantasia, including Atreyu (Kenny Morrison), a large flying dog informs him that the food supply of the Rock People has become hollow. Xayide is draining this world of substance--Fantasia will slowly disappear without Bastian's help.
Unfortunately, Xayide knows that Bastian loses one memory every time he makes a wish on the serpentine charm found on the cover of the "Neverending Story" book. Sending a bird-like creature, Nimbly (Martin Umbach), to egg Bastian onward, Xayide waits for the boy to wish himself into oblivion and
forget his mission.
Meanwhile, Bastian's father Barney Bux (John Wesley Shipp) investigates his son's sudden disappearance, figures out how the magical book operates, and then functions as a sort of psychic cheerleader spurring Bastian on to victory. After fighting off a slew of monsters and creating a dragon,
Bastian's memory loss changes his personality and he nearly kills Atreyu. An ornithological pang of conscience behooves Nimbly to warn Bastian of the sexy siren's machinations. In the film's conclusion, Bastian redeems himself with one final wish--that Xayide have a heart. Fantasia is immediately
transformed into a cheery land, Bastian gets the nerve to dive into Olympic-sized swimming pools, and the Childlike Empress is free to inspire hacks to write more heavy Teutonic-flavored fantasies like The Neverending Story.
In classic children's books and films, the adventure works on us psychologically without our awareness--our imaginations unearth the theme indirectly. In the case of THE NEVERENDING STORY II every meaning is spoon-fed; there's nothing for us to discover, nothing for our curiosity to dig up. And
who would want to visit Fantasia--the Ice Capades has better costumes and sets, and the villainess looks like a refugee from an adult sex fantasy complete with form-fitting spangles and sensuous voice. Even if one overlooks the budget constraints, what is one to make of all the plot-holes? Why
does Bastian wish for a dragon that he can't control and that disappears from the film and never returns to the plot? Why does it never occur to him to make one wish for an entire staircase instead of wasting wishes one step at a time?
Glossing over the tacky atmosphere and the over-explicitness of the screenplay, the viewer must also develop a tolerance for the insufferable Jonathan Brandis. Screwing up his face, as if constipated, to suggest every emotion, he's a calculated young actor, the kind of programmed robotic trouper
who gives child stars a bad name. Everything in his performance and every moment in this ten-ton fantasy is telegraphed.
Packaged in cloying cuteness, THE NEVERENDING STORY II pushes too hard to be effective; it never reaches the child in us. We don't want the world to be made safe for more of this crushing whimsicality; the film leaves you in such a sour mood you keep praying the kid will end up amnesiac. The
adult viewer will not be so lucky; nor, I suspect, will this film appeal to children used to more action and better production values. If you want to stoke children's imaginations you've got to offer them something more inspiring and graceful than this film, which could give video games a good
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- Released: 1991
- Rating: PG
- Review: Like its lugubrious predecessor, THE NEVERENDING STORY II: THE NEXT CHAPTER is everything a children's fantasy adventure shouldn't be--self-important, built on characters who serve blatantly obvious plot points, and oppressive in terms of physical producti… (more)