For me, there are four movies that personify being an 80's kid. When I meet a person who claims to be an "enfant des 80s", I often ask if you have seen these four movies and what you think of them. If you tell me that you’ve seen Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, Legend and The NeverEnding Story, own them and have them all committed to memory, then I know you’re a good person. The only logical explanation for having missed them is if you grew up Amish or on a hippie commune or were in a coma due to a tragic combination of Pop Rocks and Diet Coke. If you still haven’t made the effort to see them or if you don’t care for one of them, then you are NOT a true 80’s child and I’ve got a woodchipper out back with your name ALL over it.
Without further a Mountain Dew, here we go-go with some of the commonalities found in all four movies and perhaps why they were so damned good:
Common Thread numero one-o: young lead characters. Like any good children’s movie, all four movies pulled the children into the action by involving them in the main plot, making us the heroes and heroines in our very own, fantasy and rubber puppet-filled adventures. Bastian and Atreyu, Jen and Kira, Princess Lily and Sarah were our guides through their respective magical worlds.
Bastian was an utterly bizarre child, but we all could identify with him because as 80’s children we were all forced to have the same ridiculous pudding-bowl-slash-Darth-Vader’s-helmet haircut.
And even though I felt really bad for him because his mom died and everything I just couldn’t excuse his behavior at school…I mean, who decides to waste a good truancy locking himself in a creepy attic filled with horror movie props when he could be logging some important joystick hours down at the local 7-11 trying to perfect his fireball move on Street Fighter II? Apparently Bastian does. Bastian also eats whole apple cores and his father drinks raw eggs in his orange juice. Freaks.
Someone NOT practicing the ancient art of HADOUKEN!
Atreyu was cool when I was a kid but rewatching it…he’s kind of girly. Actually…now that I think about it…I’m not real sure whether Atreyu was a boy or a girl. Well…whoever he was she kicked a lot of ass and we all cried when its horse died.
Atreyu looks like Jodie Foster's Native American counterpart in Taxi Cab. What kind of perv chose that outfit?
"I now pronounce you prince or princess of Androgynia"
I think of Jen and Kira whenever I see someone who has had too much plastic surgery. I am pretty convinced that Joan Rivers is a Gelfling. Even though they were puppets, they were also young characters and sometimes played by children in the action shots.
And now ladies and gentlemen, if you look to your right, you'll see that Jen and Kira actually look more lifelike than Joan Rivers.
Princess Lily was the typical “screw everything up so we can have a plot” kind of character but she got to wear that kickass black dress and touch a unicorn, not to mention make out with a still sane Tom Cruise. Not even Katie Holmes can say that.
"Snort snort, this dress is plus 5 to babe-a-liciousness, snort snort"
Sarah, who was a strangely mammiferous fourteen year-old, did an awful lot of whining and wall-slamming but I remember thinking as a child that she was justified in doing so. Babies deserve to be taken to goblin cities and tossed into the air by a lavender-tights-clad David Bowie.
This dress kicks so much ass, and not just because both June and Jennifer had busted out all over...but I'm sure that helped.
Common Thread 2: Friends in foam latex.
In The Dark Crystal, we have the gentle, midget brontosaurus Mystiks and the potatoesque Podlings. The Mystics pretty much just chant and throw sand and waddle the whole movie, which is thrilling.
The Podlings are some sort of hybrid between taters, pantyhose dolls and hippies. They sing and dance a lot, nobody but Kira can understand them and they aren’t overly concerned with hair care or personal hygene.
Labyrinth gives us the freakishly huge and mentally disabled Ludo, Sir Didymus the aromatically impaired fox and Hogbrain (“HOGGLE!”) a midget in rubber who likes shiny things and is frightened of Jareth, not because of the standing threat to throw Hoggle into the bog of eternal stench, but because of David Bowie's imposing junk.
Yes, we made the same face when we saw it too, Hogwart.
In NeverEnding Story Bastian and Atreyu kind of share Falkor since Atreyu let ARTAX SINK INTO THE SWAMPS OF SADNESS. Thank you for traumatizing all of us. I’m pretty sure that’s the reason for half of the 4-H memberships in the 80’s: girls who just wanted to rescue Artax, since Atreyu couldn’t save the horse her/himself. Artax wasn't latex but I'm sure he was later dug up and ground into glue which is...nothing like latex. Nevermind.
Falkor, scaley flying dog thing.
I'm sorry he/she couldn't save you Artax. (S)He'll pay dearly!
Princess Lily hangs around with the dwarf equivalents of The Three Stooges, accompanied by a frightening, baby-piranah-toothed, hissing elf called The Gump. Look honey, if his name is ONE LETTER away from “Gimp” and he hangs out shirtless in the forest, time to look for some other friends. I know Gump isn’t in latex but…he’s probably “into” latex, if you catch my not so subtle drift.
Common Thread 3: Scary freaks. Scaring kids witless, as I've written in past articles, is an absolute pre-requisite for something classifying as an actual 80's children's movie. For anyone who saw these movies as a child, at LEAST one thing has made them stuff their faces into whatever was nearest and softest (my apologies to my mother’s bosom and my neighbor’s cat) to avoid seeing them on screen.
In Legend this was ANY time Tim Curry (as Darkness) showed up. He was JUST too frightening for words and I couldn’t bear to look at him for more than a brave minute and then it was back into the seat cushions for me.
WARNING: WILL CAUSE LOSS OF BOWEL CONTROL IN CHILDREN
Also keeping up the creep factor was Robert Picardo, better known as everyone's favorite holographic doctor on StarTrek Voyager. You won't recognize Mr. Picardo in the movie because a) he plays a woman and b) because he plays a sea hag who looks a little like a woman who is slowly turning into a giant seaweed phallus. His shreaking and flapping and grunting and cackling were equal parts shocking and disturbing to a young mind. I half expected her to pop out of the swamp in LOTR: Two Towers. It's a grenis, master!
He's like the ugly girl in school if she wrapped herself in seaweed and fell in the bathtub
In Dark Crystal…I have to say, the Skeksis were gross but they never scared me. What DID scare me were the MOTHER-EFFING GARTHIM! Those crabby, scuttly, beetley, lobstery, clickety, clackety, vibrating monster deer ticks from HELL! With their beady purple eyes and scuttling, shuffling ways.
Ain't no can of RAID big enough...
NOT a baddie but still violently hideous was Aughra, who I think looks an awful lot like Della Reese.
Touched by an Aughra
She can PLUCK HER FRIGGIN' EYE out of her its disgusting socket and peep around at you.
When she asks Jen if he thinks she’s going to eat him, I used to silently pray to God that she’d die. Also, her face looks like someone took a dump and then lit it on fire. Charred poo.
In Labyrinth I think the scariest thing for me as a child were the sea of goblins at the beginning when they’re waiting for her to “say her right words” and steal the baby away.
Doing their best recreation of a Queen album photo
Lastly and not leastly we have NeverEnding Story which actually had THE scariest creature of all of the movies: G’mork, servant to The Nothing. This bastard, blue-and-green-eyed, nappy-furred beast used to cause me to tremble physically from fear, a feat that up to that point only Wayland's "Madame" had accomplished.
Horror of horrors, Madame the nightmare.
From the corny, 1920s-radiodrama violin cues to his glow-in-the-dark eyes and sharp teeth there’s no wonder kids would run screaming from their rooms at night, flailing and kicking and rolling headfirst down the stairs because it was dark and I missed the first step. A COMPLETELY NORMAL REACTION I TELL YOU!
Lastish I want to address the four villains in the movies.
Jareth was some kind of punk fop with a jiffy-popped Tina Turner wig and tights on with no codpiece. It must've been in the shop for repairs. I really loved those crystals he had and actually there's a guy in Portland, Oregon where I live who stands in front of our mall and demonstrates them. It's pretty friggin' amazing. I don't think I was ever very scared of David Bowie but I REALLY wanted to walk upside down, that was killer.
The Nothing was an interesting villain because it forced children to see evil as a concept rather than a single man or whatever, which is pretty genius. Also genius was The Nothing's employ of G'mork, who brought a face to the devistation of Fantasia. This character was overtly and necessarily frightening but he got his for sure.
"COME FOR ME G'MORK! I AM ATREYU!"
The Skeksis were a perfect example of Jim Henson's brilliance. A combination of humorous and deadly, each Skek had its own personality, its own way of moving and each one had its own intricate design. They were savage but at the same time aristocratic, a dichotomy which we see nowadays in Washington D.C. Off the subject, the design of The Dark Crystal was friggin' amazing. Brian Froud owns.
Finally, Darkness was played to delicious heights by LaCurry, whose heavy sense of melodrama really befit the role. He was arch and sweeping and operatic and I love every second of his performance now that I'm able to watch it without hiding. The makeup was just top notch and he moved well, aside from some costume jiggling (horns), etc. His voice was perfect, even though they pitched it way down. His posh accent really fit that character. By the way...question: if he's Darkness...who is his father? They never say but we all get that pit in our stomach because we KNOW who it is but because they never mention a name or define it, it's even more frightening. It's kinda weird that Tim Curry's dad is a chair though.
In conclusion: Well, okay I don’t actually HAVE a conclusion but I do want to say that these movies shaped who were are as 80’s kids, encouraging us to dream big, fantasize about the impossible and to go right on ahead and be unreasonably afraid of imaginary things. Or maybe the moral of this reviewpinion is that plastic surgery can turn you into a Gelfling. Yes, I think that’s it. Oh, and also..if you’re gonna take your kid to see something, make sure you kind of…watch it first. Make good and sure that you know when to trick them into taking their hands off of their eyes just in time for the scariest part of the movie. Heh heh. Kids are dumb.