A young boy escapes from his regular bullies by diving into a bookshop. There the shopkeeper introduces him to an ancient storybook which he suspects is dangerous, and sure enough as Bastian begins to read he is magically transported to the land of Fantasia, a world in need of a hero.
A rigorous enough, if rather dated, version of a best-selling German fantasy fable, whose imprecise arcana involves such vague propositions as the blight of “Nothingess” and the power of “faith”. A rather hippish quality, that alludes to the possibility it might all be a dream. Kids tend to want this kind of thing to be certain of its own imagination. As Bastian (a bland Barret Oliver) reads is it into his bully-tormented mind we are journeying or into some extra-dimension ruled by juvenile royalty?
The structure, borrowed from such classics as Alice In Wonderland and Peter Pan, is the story within a story, the framing reality around a fairy-tale. The exotic denizens of the pointedly named Fantasia are a Muppet-styled crew of stone giants, white furred dragon-dogs and a cute-little fellow who rides a giant, speedy snail, which favour cuddly over convincing.
Wolfgang Peterson, usually such a fierce director, isn’t at home here, he keeps it trippy and loose, plenty of dream images, when to make this kind of thing work you need conviction. For all the art direction, it’s drifty and limp compared to say Labyrinth, which follows a similar notion. Tots will like its triumph of the little-man overture, and those swooping flights atop the floppy dragon, but older kids will miss the ironclad muscle we might have expected from the director of Das Boot doing Das Dwarf. Two ignominious sequels followed, but alas the Nothingess was still thwarted.
This was sweet and charming at the time but now it just lacks either the comedy or sophistication of kids' fantasy film that we've all become accustomed to.