Directed By: Jim Henson
Screenplay By: Terry Jones
Story By: Jim Henson & Dennis Lee
Production Company: Henson Associates & Lucasfilm
Distributed By: Tri-Star Pictures
While I do not doubt that there isn’t a single person who has not heard of the Muppets and, by extension, Jim Henson, there are far too few who know of one the two original films that did not feature Jim Henson’s star creations and was, for the most part, not a movie suitable for young children. Of course, by young children I mean those of Sesame Street age as this is a movie that features fantastical creatures of all shapes and sizes that while a six or even five year old could handle, a toddler may be a wee bit freaked out by some of them. That being said, let’s get on with the film’s summary shall we?
Fifteen-year old Sarah is on the edge of childhood and adulthood, torn between the wild imaginings and fun times of being a kid and the responsibilities and hardships of being a mature adult. Her problems aren’t made any easier when she has to babysit her infant half-brother Toby whom in a fit of childish whimsy over a play that she had been trying to recite earlier, wishes him away to the land of Jareth, the Goblin King. Unfortunately for Sarah, the Goblin King is very much real and is well and truly in love with her but will not give the boy up but is willing to give Sarah a chance at rescuing him.
Tasked to navigate the massive maze that is his underground kingdom, Sarah has thirteen hours to find her way to its heart to rescue her brother lest he become one of the many goblins dwelling under Jareth’s command. Along the way, Sarah encounters a colorful cast of characters that will help and/or hinder her way through the riddle that is…
… Man, I love this movie!
Plot wise, it is by far one of the most original stories I’ve seen in film. Oh sure, there are plenty of elements that are borrowed from other stories and even subtle nods towards another underground realm of wonder but overall? It is a movie that is all but impossible to tell where precisely it’s going to go and I don’t just mean with the difficulties and eccentricities presented by the Labyrinth itself. There is so much that happens to Sarah as she ventures her way through the Labyrinth that you have little to no clue where she’ll end up in it and what lesson she’ll learn along the way. This movie is the modern Wonderland to me and it shows all over the place with creative creatures and dazzling designs.
Being a Jim Henson film, it is difficult to tell where reality begins and stunning backdrop begins. There are backgrounds that are so visually impossible and yet absolutely real that it can give one a headache trying to figure to separate the two. One such example of this is when Sarah, in the “first lap” of the Labyrinth thinks that the maze only goes in two directions, forwards and back, and does not realize that the walls are an optical illusion and that there are several passages that she’s missed.
Of course, if ever there is one thing that Jim Henson and his company are famous across the world for it’s their creature creation and implementation. The whole of the Labyrinth isn’t mere stonewalls and walkways. It has forests, bogs, and hidden tunnels all filled with creatures of all assortments. Creatures that likely never encounter each other due to the fact that few have dared to traverse the Labyrinth beyond visiting its heart, the Castle of the Goblin King.
Some of these things, and yes I’m afraid I’ve no better word for them than that, include “Helping Hands,” stone hands that line a vertical tunnel that can create faces in order to speak and “False Alarms,” giant stone heads that utter words of warning the closer one is to their goal.
I’ll be honest, there are some moments where one can blatantly tell there’s puppetry involved such as the case with a pair of talking doorknockers and the Helping Hands but they are vastly outnumbered by those that are frighteningly realistic such as the many goblins that literally dance alongside the singing of their king.
Ah yes, I should mention that shouldn’t I? This film is not just an adventure/fantasy film but a musical fantasy adventure film but contrary to most other musical films there is some rhyme and reason to the song numbers that occur. Then again, when one has David Bowie playing the likes of a Goblin King, then musical numbers are not only expected but are all done with a surprising amount of dancing involved. One would assume this is plainly evident in the song “Magic Dance” that Jareth sings to try and entrance Toby into accepting being a goblin but I’m actually talking about my favorite number that, unfortunately, is not sung by Jareth called “Chilly Down.”
Finding her way into a forested section of the Labyrinth, Sarah encounters a group of Firey that call themselves the Fire Gang. Contrary to their name, though they can produce flames with their hands, these creatures are more commonly recognized by their rather hedonistic mannerisms when it concerns their games. Of course, games to a Firey includes but is not limited to, removing entire limbs and making fun with the parts.
Contrary to how that sounds, it’s not even half as disturbing as you think as Firey all have the ability to remove parts of themselves and easily put themselves back together. Unfortunately for Sarah though, they don’t comprehend the idea that other creatures are incapable of such acts so their song and dance routine quickly turns to a rather alarming end.
One element that I like most about the film is Jareth’s relationship with Sarah. It is said many a times by the Goblin King himself that he is in love with her but his actions towards her might tell otherwise. Yet, in the final confrontation between the two, there’s an interesting line said by Jareth which goes: “Everything that you wanted, I have done. You asked that child be taken, I took him. You cowered before me, and I was frightening. I have reordered time, I have turned the world upside down, and I have done it all for you! I am exhausted from living up to your expectations of me. Isn’t that generous?”
Jareth, for all that he has done to Sarah, he did out of love for her. Following that way of thinking, we never truly grasp just where the magic ends and the real Jareth begins. Just as he has tried to bewitch Sarah with his offers of dreams everlasting, so too has she bewitched him to playing the villainous role, to fulfill each and every expectation she has of him so that he might be all that she wants him to be and more. I… I honestly have no idea where to even begin describing just how refreshing it is to see such an open take on love in what is essentially a children’s movie.
Yet if there is anything in particular that I dislike about this movie it’s the lack of information in concerns to Jareth the Goblin King. His being in love with Sarah is nowhere near as maddening as the riddle that is his natural form whence compared to the goblins. For being their king he looks nothing at all like them though one can assume that given his extreme magical prowess, as he can and has bent the rules of time and space for Sarah, Jareth’s human form is merely a disguise.
Still, aside from that one small complaint, I’ve got nothing negative to say about this movie. It is a delightful watch and one that needs to be watched frequently as one grows older I’ve come to find. There are elements in a story that are missed by innocent eyes but just the same there are magical moments that just can’t be seen with the tired eyes of an adult.