August 13, 1984 12:00 PM

It pokes along at times and lapses occasionally into dark moments of preachy philosophy, but this is still a charming, amusing and harmless film for kids. It focuses on a boy, Barret Oliver, 11, whose mother has recently died, leaving him moody and listless. He happens on a book about a magic place called Fantasia and grows so absorbed in the story that he becomes one of its characters. Oliver is likable, as are Noah (Battlestar Galactica) Hathaway, 12, as the boy warrior and hero of the story, and Tami Stronach, 11, eerily graceful as a troubled princess. Some of the special effects are enchanting, especially a huge, boulder-munching mountain on wheels called Rock Biter, and the fiendish Gmork, which looks like a black wolf and spouts nihilist philosophy like a Berlin coffeehouse regular. While an evil force, the Nothing, causes some good-size storms and earthquakes by Wicked Witch of the West or Darth Vader standards, it is a pussycat. Wolfgang (Das Boot) Petersen directed the film, shot in West Germany, with restraint. A couple of moments may be difficult for little children—when Hathaway’s horse drowns in the Swamps of Sadness, for instance (though it is resurrected at the end of the film). But there are lots of gentle lessons about the value of hope, courage and love and a fair share of plain old fantasy adventure. (PG)

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