I have enjoyed two entertaining viewings of Jim Henson’s 1986 film Labyrinth this year. The first was at my local movie theater during one of those “throwback” viewings with a great college friend. It was a nice experience to watch something on the big screen that I have seen aired on television and on VHS tapes and DVDs several times over the years. The second viewing was with my best friend who is seven years my senior and would have been among Labyrinth’s target audience when it was released (I am 30 and she is 37). We also watched it with her 15 year old daughter who was born twelve years after the film was released. It was interesting to see the different reactions from the various ages of folks who brought completely different past experiences with the film to the viewing. Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) is an adolescent who is obsessed with acting out scenes of her favorite book, Labyrinth instead of dating boys her own age. Her parents ask her to babysit her younger brother. She becomes upset with her parents who do not understand her and annoyed with her baby brother. During the climax of this frustration, she recites the deplorable words from her book that invites the Goblin King Jareth (David Bowie) to take him. When he actually appears, she realizes what she has done and begs him to return her brother. Jareth strikes a deal that if she can reach him in his castle and solve the labyrinth, he will release the baby. Sarah only has thirteen hours to complete her task. Otherwise, her baby brother will become a goblin. I watched this several times as a kid, but I was able to notice several things that flew completely over my head back then. The first time that Sarah is in her room, I could not believe all of the hints and clues that are lying around to foreshadow the different events and characters she comes in contact with inside the labyrinth! For starters, there is a music box with a dancing girl affixed to it that looks like Sarah later on in her fantasy sequence and a doll that looks like Jareth from the same sequence is next to her mirror. Attached to her mirror is a picture of David Bowie. Keep looking around the room during this scene and you will see a stuffed animal version of a Firey, Ludo, and Sir Didymus. There is even a wooden toy labyrinth stuck in there. The camera makes sure to pan over copies of Where the Wild Things Are, The Wizard of Oz, and Snow White that are conveniently between Hoggle bookends. On the wall is a print of M.C. Escher’s Relativity which will be the basis of the set in the movie’s climax. Later in the film when we see Sarah’s room, there is an LP cover and band poster that has a giant drill the looks a lot like The Cleaners that clean out the passages of the labyrinth and nearly take out Sarah and Hoggle. I could not see it in the first scene set in Sarah’s room, but it is very present later. Her room is a cornucopia of foreshadowing. The books that the camera slowly pans across were not mere dressing for the set. In fact, the copy of The Wizard of Oz is in view twice. This is perhaps the most significant of the books to this film. The film itself can easily be interpreted as a modern retelling of The Wizard of Oz. The most obvious connection between the two is that both films are musicals and the lead character is a teenage girl. Neither Dorothy nor Sarah is interested in dating. Instead, they spend their time daydreaming of fantastical worlds. Also, both have very dramatic arguments with the matriarchs of their families (Sarah’s mother and Dorthy’s Auntie Em) before they are transported to other magical worlds to complete their quests. But wait, there’s more! Much like Sarah parallels Dorothy, Jareth is Labyrinth’s version of the Wicked Witch of the West. Both challenge the heroines and try to interrupt their progress. The Wicked Witch of the West has the help of her flying monkeys while Jareth has an army of goblins to do his bidding. Bubbles are a significant image and Glinda even travels in one. Meanwhile, Jareth juggles his crystal balls and sends them floating like bubbles. Both Jareth and the Wicked Witch of the West have their own headquarters of sorts that they use to watch the progress that their respective protagonists make throughout the film. Both Jareth and the Wicked Witch of the West are sore losers and cheaters. The Wicked Witch puts our heroes to sleep with an enchanted poppy field while Jareth sends a very hungry Sarah a peach that is supposed to make her forget she is searching for her brother. Just as Dorothy had the help of her Tin Man, Scarecrow, and Cowardly Lion on her journey, Sarah has the help of Ludo, Sir Didymus, and Hoggle. While Dorothy’s dog, Toto, travels with her to Oz, Sarah’s dog, Merlin, has a counterpart named Ambrosius that serves as a trusty steed to Sir Didymus. Subsequently, Dorothy follows the Yellow Brick Road to Emerald City in search of the Wizard, but Sarah follows the labyrinth to Goblin City in order to find her brother. These similarities, although present, are inserted subtly so as you do not feel like you are watching a generic version of The Wizard of Oz, but you feel a twinge of familiarity with the story. It is reminiscent of seeing an old toy as an adult that you loved as a child, but had forgotten how it once was magically transformed from stuffing and material into a living entity. Not only does the story and set contain magical elements, but Henson and his team achieved wondrous and magical feats in puppetry and special effects in order to bring this movie to life. Much as he had done previously on The Muppet Show, Henson incorporated multiple puppetry techniques such as black velvet (based on Bunraku a type of puppetry founded is Osaka, Japan in 1684), marionettes, dance, and early green screen technology to achieve the seamless scene containing the Fireys as they sing “Chilly Down” and try to take off Sarah’s head during their game. Henson even challenged his own limits when he asked his creative team to create an axe wielding mechanical guard aptly named Humongous. It stood fifteen feet tall and was operated by a goblin. It was operated by only one puppeteer and was the largest puppet that The Creature Shop had built to that date. My personal favorite scene of the film is the corridor that Sarah’s falls down. It is lined with hundreds of green Helping Hands that grab and eventually catch her. Most of the hands are latex arms and hands that are stuck in the set, but some are latex sleeves that puppeteers have put on. They catch Sarah as she is falling and the puppeteers use their hands to suggest eyes, noses, and mouths to use in order to talk to Sarah. The faces were generally made up of 5 to 7 hands. They hold her in place as she decided whether to go up or down, eventually dropping her into the oubliette when she decides to go down. One of the reasons Labyrinth is such an amazing film is the sheer amount of talented people that were behind the making of the film. Not only did David Bowie perform as Jareth, but he also wrote and performed songs for the film. After Henson’s first fantasy film, The Dark Crystal, was a box office flop, he secured funding when George Lucas signed on as executive producer. Artist Brian Froud created hundreds of goblins that inhabited the labyrinth and Goblin City as well as the overall look of Labyrinth. Not only did Henson direct the film, he also was attached as a writer along with Terry Jones of Monty Python fame. Trekkies (like me) will be interested that Dr. Beverly Crusher…oops…I mean Gates McFadden (credited as Cheryl McFadden) served as the choreographer. As far as Muppet family is concerned, there are several familiar Muppet performers who worked on this film. Brian Henson provided the voice of Hoggle. He and his sister, Cheryl Henson, also worked as puppeteers. Dave Goelz, who fans will recognize as the voice and hands behind Gonzo, performed Sir Didymus. Karen Prell, Steve Whitmire, Frank Oz, and Muppet newcomer Kevin Clash are among the laundry list of puppeteers who made this film a reality. This is the last film that Jim Henson directed. Although it did not perform well in theaters, it has become a cult classic. Discussions of a sequel are what led to the conceptualization of the film MirrorMask. Labyrinth is a film that has conquered the test of time and should be in everyone’s personal film collection. I give it 5 out of 5 rubber chickens! See larger image Labyrinth [Blu-ray] New From: $7.85 USD In Stock Muppets 101: Labyrinth (1986)5.0Overall ScoreShare this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.