There are plenty of deeply weird things about The Neverending Story, even on the surface. But do you remember how profoundly scary The Neverending Story actually was? If you go back and watch it as an adult, you’ll realize how messed up it really is on a fundamental, psychological level. It was released in that magical time during the 1980s when a lot of awesome things came out, but the PG rating was carelessly thrown around and children were casually exposed to dark topics and the stuff of nightmares.
Lets face it, you only kind of remember the crazy stuff in The Neverending Story. The clearest thing in your mind is probably Falkor, and how badly you wanted your very own luckdragon. He was the big take away, the rest probably traumatized you so badly you blocked it out. It behooves us, then, to remember the things that make The Neverending Story disturbing.
It’s pretty heartbreaking when you realize Bastian’s waking life and his fantasy world are literally crumbling around him because he’s afraid to say his mother’s name out loud. He has to acknowledge her (in spite of his father’s advice to forget her), pick up the pieces of his former life, and create his own story to move on with. And even once he does this, he still isn't ready to face the real world. It's implied that he remains lost in fantasy for a significant amount of time.
It is established immediately Bastian lost his mother and is having nightmares about her. At the breakfast table, he attempts to discuss this with his father, but gets quickly dismissed.
He berates the kid for drawing unicorns, and tells him he needs to keep his feet on the ground. Then, he not-so-smoothly transitions into a lecture about his grades, and how he’s disappointed in him for not trying out for the swim team. Really, Dad? Swim team? Then he tussles Bastian's hair and comments on how great their little talk was. He is so insensitive, it’s physically uncomfortable to watch.
After escaping from some mean kids, Bastian wanders into a bookstore and takes a book from the shopkeeper, who has already told him to leave. Young Bastian then goes to school and, upon realizing he has a math test, he decides to go hide. He grabs the key to the school's attic to read his ill-gotten goods for the rest of the day.
So, in the first 10 minutes, we’ve got our child hero wandering city streets alone, taking things that don't belong to him, blowing off a test, and skipping class the entire day. Oh, and breaking and entering. In other words, a classic hero.
Even when ignoring the fact that all it takes to save Fantasia is renaming the Empress (which is basically just a metaphor for creating your own story), why on earth is Atreyu sent on a mission where he isn’t allowed to bring any weapons and has to go alone? And where is he even going? He’s told to find "the cure," but he isn’t told where it might be. He wanders aimlessly with his horse for a week before making any progress, and his mission is pretty time sensitive.