Today I watched Jim Henson’s Labyrinth (1986)
Jennifer Connelly plays Sarah, a young and impulsive girl who is angry that she has to babysit her baby brother. During an angry outburst she accidentally summons goblins to steal her brother away. Despite her anger with babysitting she has enough sense to not allow her brother to be kidnapped, but the Goblin King Jareth has already wisked him away to his palace at the center of the titular labyrinth. Jareth, being a mystical being, is willing to give up the boy, but only if Sarah can traverse the labyrinth in a set amount of time. This task will be quite challenging but along the way she meets a series of helpful companions and learns many helpful skills in the bizarre goblin world.
This is an incredibly imaginative film, full of strange and enticing visuals. It is brought to life with the trademark puppetry and technical wizardry of the Jim Henson company who deliver some of their most technical and inventive designs ever. It may borrow heavilly from The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland and other similar stories, but it freshens them up with modern sensibilities in the design and music by Trevor Jones and the late, great David Bowie. The music has the style of 80’s pop music which is a strange blend with the weird fantasy visuals, but it all works by revolving on that most enigmatic of figures in Bowie.
While Jennifer Connelly does not deliver the best of performances, the film can prop itself up on the performance of David Bowie as The Goblin King Jareth. He plays some kind of enigmatic pop wizard which I suppose is what he was in real life, his presence holds everything together. He blends the elements of mystical faerie worlds with the funky synth tunes to make the story contemporary to the Eighties in the same way that The Wizard of Oz film was to the late Thirties. Inherently they share the same themes of growing up and learning responsibility as well, through the use of fantastical fable to symbolize the coming of age.
As a coming of age story the film works quite well, Sarah’ character arc is well defined and the focus of virtually every scene. The film is resplendent with fascinating designs that are sure to delight and disturb a viewer of any age in the best way. It is a fantastic achievement in puppetry and the practical effects do wonders for the atmosphere of strangeness that permeates the film. It is a perfect stepping stone for children to move into darker material and is just a wonderful family film in general, highly recommended. 4/5