Labyrinth was introduced to me by my sister, who insisted I needed to see it because “David Bowie says every line exactly how you you’d imagine he would.” She followed this statement with an impression of Bowie that I soon learned was dead on.
David Bowie is definitely the best part of this movie, but there are so many reasons to like it. This was the last film directed by the late great Jim Henson. It is full of the same irreverent humor and touching emotion that made his Muppets so popular. As with all Muppet adventures, the invented creatures feel as real as any of the human actors. The only real difference between this and a film starring Kermit the Frog is the darker packaging (though, not too dark).
In fact, I love the slightly dark, gothic inspired world that 15-year-old heroine Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) is thrust into. It’s inspired by illustrator Maurice Sendak, who happens to be one of my favorites. Many of the creatures look like something out of Where The Wild Things Are, and the story has many similarities to Outside Over There. Both Labyrinth and Sendak’s work share a similar style, full of muted colors and ugly brutes. It’s fantastical, but still grounded in a weird reality that works within the logic of the film.
Of course, this entire movie would probably be forgettable if it weren’t for David Bowie. He seems like such an odd choice for a kids fantasy flick. But given that Prince and Michael Jackson were also considered for the part, Bowie was probably the more appropriate choice. At one point Jareth the Goblin King (Bowie) and Sarah dance at a ball, and it’s all a bit… sexy? That’s not really the right word for it, but there is a sexual awakening vibe to the whole thing that’s slightly uncomfortable watching as an adult.
For all it’s strangeness Labyrinth is still a fun movie. It fits nicely into that awkward tween/teen period, when you’re no longer a kid but you’re not quite an adult, either. Henson’s muppet creations are superb, as always, and David Bowie’s contributions to the soundtrack are great as well. I would definitely count this as a classic, though a decidedly offbeat one.
It is a marvel to me that this film works at all. Everything about Labyrinth just screamed ‘recipe for disaster’. Let’s get one of most out there, risqué musicians in the world with hardly any acting experience, put him in a family friendly film where the majority of the time he will have to be working with a bunch of puppets. Labyrinth should never have worked, but work it did, and despite some less than stellar box office numbers when it was first released, has gone on to become a massive cult hit in the nearly thirty years since its release.
The plot follow 15 year old Sarah (Jennifer Connelly), a young girl obsessed with fantasy LARPing. She is stuck at home on a Saturday night babysitting her little brother, Toby. Disappointed with her boring night and the supposed favouritism her brother is shown, Sarah wishes that goblins would come and take her brother away. To her horror, her wish is answered by Jareth the Goblin King (David Bowie, sporting an awesome cod piece and some of the best 80s hair you will ever see). He takes her brother and sets Sarah the challenge of getting through a labyrinth and into his castle in thirteen hours, otherwise Toby will be his forever. Along the way Sarah finds some muppet allies who help her on her quest, as Jareth tries to stay one step ahead of her.
Like I said, this movie just should not ever have worked, but it ends up being a perfect storm of awesomeness. David Bowie is delightfully kooky as the villainous Goblin King. One advantage of having a pop star as your male lead means the soundtrack is pretty much taken care of. The music in Labyrinth is a lot of fun and I challenge anyone not to bop along to “Magic Dance.” Jennifer Connelly is fine as the whiny teenage LARPer. She gets a bit annoying at times, but is likable enough that you still don’t want her little brother to be turned into a goblin. The puppet work in this film is quite impressive. I will always be an advocate for real props on set, rather than CGI performances. This film is nearly 30 years old, and the characters still look believable enough because they were really on set acting with the humans. We recently watched Jumanji, which is a great film, but the use of CGI in that film makes that film look incredibly dated, despite the fact it is ten years younger than Labyrinth.
Labyrinth is a fun family adventure, led by an unexpectedly awesome performance from David Bowie.
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