Bastian (Oliver) is a young boy coping with the death of his mother and the fact that his father (Gerald McRaney) is distant and not being real helpful with the "son is being bullied" thing. Bastian, who's an avid reader, steals a book from a mysterious bookseller (Hill) and then hides in the attic of his school all day and into the night reading it. The book - the titular Neverending Story - tells the tale of the land of Fantasia, which is under attack from a mysterious force called the Nothing that is swallowing the land piece by piece.
Most of the movie takes place in Fantasia, following the exploits of the young Atreyu (Hathway), the chosen champion of the Childlike Empress (Stronach), who is dying of an unexplained illness. Atreyu ventures across the land searching for a cure, only to have all this wrap back around to Bastian, who is, in addition to being the reader, part of the story - the "human child" who can save Fantasia by giving the Empress a name. Into all this, though, there's an interesting look at the nature of imagination and a pretty severe fourth wall break (the Empress notes that someone is experiencing this story right along with Bastian - that is, us, the viewer).
The movie ends with Bastian riding his luck-dragon, Falkor (voiced by Oppenheimer) into the real world and swooping down on the bullies that tormented him earlier, which apparently elides the whole back half of the novel on which this movie is based. It's a good enough ending for the film, although reading the synopsis, it would have been interesting to have a "part two" that went into the rest of the novel (the sequel, which is next on my list but which I haven't seen before, apparently very loosely goes into some of that territory).
The effects in this movie hold up, more or less; Falkor flying looks pretty silly, but the giant turtle and the rock-biter look pretty cool. The scene in the Swamp of Sadness where Atreyu loses his horse Arthax is heart-breaking, but really the one that gets me is the rock-biter waiting for the Nothing to come and take him, lamenting that he wasn't strong enough to hold on to his friends and that they were sucked away.
(And because it's obligatory: Yes, this whole movie is superb Changeling: The Dreaming fodder.)
My Grade: B+
Rewatch value: Medium-low
Next up: The Neverending Story II: The Next Chapter