Labyrinth is a hard film to describe to people who haven't seen it. It took me way too long to finally watch this 80's cult classic that features maybe the most iconic crotch bulge in film history, among other things. Is it a family film? Kinda. Is it a musical? Possibly. Is it weird as fuck? Totally. Labyrinth is a Jim Henson Wizard of Oz-esque fantasy adventure that may be an allegory for growing up, or at least that's what I gleaned from it. Regardless, it's a super imaginative epic that has a plethora of remarkable practical effects that still hold up today.
Our heroine is Sarah (Connelly), a teenage girl who hates her boring life, her fairly reasonable stepmother, and her loud, constantly crying baby brother Toby. She's obsessed with fairy tales, and jokingly conjures the Goblin King to take her baby brother away. Shockingly, Jareth the Goblin King (Bowie) shows up and takes the baby, giving Sarah thirteen hours to navigate his giant labyrinth to find his castle and rescue the baby. Along the way, Sarah makes friends with a duplicitous troll named Hoggle (Brian Henson), a big Yeti creature named Ludo (Mueck), and a wild swordsman mouse thing named Didymus (Goelz). Together, they go after Jareth, who is constantly singing original David Bowie tunes for the soundtrack.
Visually, this film is stunning and a testament to Jim Henson's artistic eye. The story, written by Monty Python's Terry Jones, is insanely weird and doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but that doesn't matter. It's young Betty Ross versus David Bowie, the King of the Goblins. There's no way that doesn't excite everyone who watches this movie. Labyrinth is pure 80's fantasy, and a fun ride for the whole family.
Jim Henson was a creative genius when it came to the art of puppeteering and blending it into live action films and television. His ideas and collaborations brought us the Muppets, movies and TV that still exist to this day, and films like The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. The man behind the voice of Kermit the Frog collaborated with George Lucas (Executive Producer of this film), Terry Jones (of Monty Python fame), Dennis Lee, and artist Brian Froud (who also created the imagery that served as the basis for the creatures in The Dark Crystal) to bring a fairy tale to life that just recently celebrated its 35th anniversary in 2021. The Book of Filmgazm was gracious to grant us the opportunity to talk about it and you should check out the episode here.
Young Sarah (Connelly) is dissatisfied with her home life and responsibilities to her family so she makes a wish she soon regrets and calls upon the Goblin King (Bowie) to take her brother Toby away to his Goblin City. Realizing her mistake, she sets off to get her brother back and embarks on a magical journey through a land of gentle giants, courteous worms, and a chivalrous pooch named Sir Didymus. The further Sarah goes into the labyrinth, the more she discovers about herself and the true power she has inside her. Self-aware at times, the real magic of Labyrinth is in its construction as all the tricks of the filmmaking trade are put to use in bringing this magical world to life. Beautiful matte paintings, puppets with intricate detail in their movements, early CGI compositions, and set designs that take their inspiration from M.C. Escher. It is still impressive to see what was accomplished 35 years ago and that this film still pulls most of those tricks off.
If you have never seen Labyrinth or The Dark Crystal, I encourage you to do so. It is a testament to the sheer force of creativity and collaboration of artists, engineers, actors, and crew to bring characters and a world to life that too often today is done with computers. I am not knocking the innovations that have allowed film to further itself as an art form, I am more referring to an era that is not as prevalent as it was more than three decades ago. As an older guy who grew up with practical effects being the norm, I hold films like this closer to my heart and they feel more real than most CGI effects created today. With original songs written and performed by Bowie himself on the soundtrack and endearing characters guiding us through the story, Labyrinth is a fantasy classic that is a genuine family film.