Bastian is having a rough time. His Mom died. His Dad nags him while he is enjoying a perfectly good bowl of cereal, telling him to throw away his dreams and become a man. On the way to school he is chased by bullies and forced to hide in a dumpster. Even the old guy at the book store sasses him, but he shows that bastard what's what by "borrowing" a copy of the book he was reading, The NeverEnding Story... which makes this the best title for a movie ever because it describes the movie and refers to an actual thing in the movie.
So Bastian breaks into the school attic and starts reading his stolen book, and instead of being caught and sent to juvenile hall, he finds himself an active participant in the story of Atreyu, a young hunter who must save the land of Fantasia from the evil Nothing.
This is one of many awesome kid movies that came out during the 80s. It's got an imaginative bunch of characters with some great costumes, and even as an adult you have to appreciate the work that must have gone into making this totally fantastic world seem real. One of the best scenes is when Atreyu is summoned to the Palace, and there are all these bizarre creatures hanging around. You just get glances of them but you can't help but wonder, for example, what the society the two faced men hail from is like. Unless you are a miserable wretch of a man with no soul, that is.
So this movie is still cool in a lot of ways, but there are issues with it. The melodrama is running pretty high, though it never reaches the point of ridiculousness that modern films for children are hovering around, like Harry Potter or whatever it is the kids these days are stealing to put on their iPads. It also has very little structure, with Atreyu wandering randomly from fantastic encounter to fantastic encounter, and then when he is about to give up due to having no information on which to go on, suddenly a monster falls from the sky and brings him to where he needs to go.
If you look up Deus Ex Machina in the dictionary you will see this movie mentioned. Actually that's a lie, you'll just see some letters combined to form words, those words combined to form sentences, that will actually explain the meaning of the phrase to you, assuming you know how to read. Draw a picture of Atreyu riding a dragon in the sky next to those words, so that next time this movie gets reviewed and the guy uses the same joke, it will be there and you can laugh.
However, all is forgiven for the totally reckless and subversive theme of the movie. Bastian refuses to let go of his dreams (and I don't mean dreams as in "lofty goals you struggle to achieve" I mean like "falling asleep and experiencing nonsensical hallucinations that have only a vague connection to reality"), skips class, and is on the road to juvenile delinquency and a short awful life on the wrong side of the tracks. But it's okay! Just keep reading trashy fantasy novels and a giant dragon will swoop from the sky and you can then take sadistic revenge on your tormentors!
And that is why this is still a great movie.