Labyrinth (1986)

Posted by on Jan 2, 2012 in My Childhood | 0 comments

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Disclaimer: The monsters in puppet suits may scare young ones. The monster in spandex pants may confuse little girls and make boys jealous.

As I was putting this book together, I forced myself to revisit all of these films. For those I hadn’t seen in years, it’d be a flashback to childhood nostalgia. For those I’d seen several times, at least it would mean a fresh perspective and memory refresher. In the case of Labyrinth, I knew that wouldn’t be necessary. Since its release (after a lengthy two-year production), I’ve seen this cult classic probably a handful of times each year. It’s one of those movies that will always have a place in my heart and continues to strike a chord with each subsequent viewing.

In her fourth major role since labyrinth2breaking onto the scene in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America, Jennifer Connelly plays Sarah, an independent and perhaps hormonal teen obsessed with fairy tales and fantasy. Out of spite for having to babysit one night, she wishes goblins to take away her infant brother Toby (played by the conceptual designer’s son). Much to her surprise, Jareth the Goblin King, played by David Bowie, meets her request. The only way to save her brother from turning into a goblin is to solve Jareth’s labyrinth in less than 13 hours. As Sarah’s journey progresses, she encounters strange friends including the passive humanoid Hoggle, the gigantic furball Ludo, and, my favorite, the impetuous fox Sir Didymus and his trusty sheepdog steed Ambrocious, while they travel through equally strange lands.

As directed by Jim Henson, written by Terry Jones, and starring Bowie, Labyrinth is a wild Monty Python comedy with original (and catchy) glam-rock songs and acted by a series of puppets in elaborate sets. Connelly and Bowie carry the film, but everyone will find eccentric characters to love along the way. Perhaps it’s my love of all things Bowie that made me enraptured with Labyrinth, because the film saw neither significant critical nor commercial success. As Jareth would say, and I would agree, “Such a pity.”

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He wrote and performed all the songs in the film, often with puppet voices, including the exuberant Magic Dance, fiery Chilly Down, and masquerading As the World Falls Down. Another likely rationale is the puppetry. My generation was one that grew up with The Muppets, Fraggle Rock, Sesame Street, and loads of Nickelodeon shows, many of which features felt puppets. Back then, movies shied away from computer-generated creatures (or if they didn’t, they should have) and opted for real, tangible puppet creations. In the years that would follow, the use of puppets as characters waned dramatically and kids’ dreams to get a big hug from Ludo became a big hug from Sully (Monsters Inc.).

With one look around Sarah’s bedroom, we know that Labyrinth consciously takes elements of Alice in Wonderland, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Wizard of Oz, Where the Wild Things Are, and Grimm’s Fairy Tales. By the end, we know Sarah has taken a journey not to save an innocent, but to abandon her own innocence. It’s the last hurrah before Sarah faces the music of adulthood. As the ending suggests, however, her imaginative journey is something she’ll never forget and is likely going to revisit again in the future. In this respect (retaining innocence through imagination), the movie also seems to thematically borrow from Peter Pan.

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