'Neverending Story' sequel plagued by slipshod production


"The Neverending Story II" should have been the neverstarting sequel.

A follow-up to the 1984 hit, which celebrated reading as an antidote to the "nothingness" of popular culture, this version reiterates the same themes and characters but without the conviction, the production values or the fun.

In this version, a pre-adolescent boy named Balthazar Bux, played by the generically bland Jonathan Brandis, returns to "Fantasia," land of imagination and stories. This theme park is now imperiled by a frosty goddess named Xayride, who is in the process of zapping it.

With his pals the warrior Atreyu (Kenny Morrison) and a creature named Falkor (who looks like nothing so much as a run-over cocker spaniel), he attempts to halt the process by rescuing the "Child-like Princess" from her beleaguered "Ivory Tower."

The epic quest isn't at all epic and it's hardly a quest: Rather, it's a trip through bad special effects and a made-up language that is without charm. The only impressive aspect of the production are the background paintings: These haunting vistas look like the covers of Tarzan novels or the sort of thing you see on vans.

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