One of the joys of Stranger Things is the pastiche of 1980s references threaded throughout the series, from direct references to toys and games of the era to shots of characters that mimic famous moments from 1980s films. But as the kids get older, these movies and TV shows have been become central to their lives, either by seeing them in the theaters (like Back to the Future) or watching at home on VHS (like The NeverEnding Story). Most people know Back to the Future, but what's The NeverEnding Story? Warning: Spoilers for Stranger Things Season 3 follow.
When Dustin returns home from summer camp, he's got a new device he's created and a plan. He tells his friends he's met a girl named Suzie and he's going to radio her in Utah where she lives with her Mormon parents. According to him, she's as hot as Phoebe Cates, and a genius to boot.
Unsurprisingly, his friends are highly doubtful about all of this, especially when his first attempt at contact fails. But Dustin has the last laugh, looping Suzie in during the mission to close the gate to the Upside Down when Hooper and Joyce need to know the numerical sequence that comprises Planck's Constant. To his friends' shock, Suzie answers, knows the number, and will recite it, but only if her "Dusty-Bun" will sing their favorite song.
That song is the theme to The NeverEnding Story. Originally titled Die Unendliche Geschichte, this German-made (and by German, I mean West German), English-language film was, at the time, the most expensive film made outside the US or USSR. Based on the novel of the same name by Michael Ende, it's the story of a bullied nerd named Bastian Balthazar Bux, who discovers a book in the library about a fantasy world called Fantasia, it's dying ruler, the Childlike Empress, and the warrior Atreyu. Atreyu sets out to find her cure and save Fantasia from an evil trying to swallow it called "The Nothing."
As Atreyu struggles to complete his quest, he learns it's not his to solve, but that of another, named Bastian, who is reading this story right now. If that feels all a little startlingly meta for the 1980s, it was. But that was one of the reasons nerdy kids loved it so much. They, the bullied reader at home, is the real hero, who can save Fantasia from the Nothing with the power of their imagination.
That and the theme song is a total earworm.
The best part about the song, when Dustin and Suzie sing it, is that within a few bars both utterly forget to be embarrassed. Suzie might not realize that all of Dustin's friends are on the radio along with them (at least, until Erica finally has had e-damn-nough), but Dustin does, and yet, but the chorus he's happily singing with gusto.
Hopefully, Dustin and Suzie's love of The NeverEnding Story will encourage others to watch or rewatch it. And here's to more musical numbers as part of Stranger Things going forward.