Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, big wigs, glitter and David Bowie; you couldn’t be any more 80s if you tried (unless you are Michael Jackson’s, Moonwalker, in which case, touché M.J). When I first saw this film I wasn’t old enough to comprehend that the 80’s was a decade of bad fashion and big wigs, instead this array of glam and shoulder pads added to the magic and opened up the fantasy genre to me. I didn’t even think that they paid some guy to lob glitter over David Bowie while he tried to seduce a young Jennifer Connelly- I thought that glitter was just run of the mill rain in Jim Henson’s crazy world.
Labyrinth (1986) is about a young girl called Sarah (Connelly) who lives with her father and stepmother but she is unhappy and jealous of her younger brother Toby. In an attempt to deal with this, she escapes through fantasy stories and costumes but one rainy day her fantasy world comes true. Sarah asks ‘The Goblins’ to take Toby away – and they do. Sarah has to roam an otherworldly labyrinth full of dangers and trickery, reach the centre of the Goblin City and appease, Jareth, the Goblin King (Bowie) before her time runs out and Toby becomes a goblin forever.
Sarah You DoucheWhen the film starts you really hate Sarah, she’s such a moaner. She shows no affection to her bawling brother and when she’s trusted to look after him she carts him off to hang around with a bunch of goblins and a goblin king who is a prime candidate for Operation Yewtree if I ever saw one. That’s the adult me talking though, when I was a kid I didn’t think Jareth kidnapping children and coming onto their older sisters was a problem. I used to leave my stuffed rabbit on my bed and say “I wish ‘The Goblins’ would come and take you away…right now!” and hope Jareth would come bursting through my window. This never happened.
It didn’t stop me watching it every day, pretend playing the film in my garden, looking for fairies and hoping that one day I’ll stumble on the gateway to another dimension in my back garden – in short this film kept me believing in fantasy and kept my imagination over-active for a few more years. The musical numbers are obviously amazing because it’s David Bowie in the height of his career, my favourite is ‘Within You’ but that part of the film used to scare me, and it’s at the end where everything gets a little bit dark, I still have the soundtrack and I listen to it. I’ll come back to that in a sec.
Characters and Hidden Meanings: *Potential Spoiler Alert*The character arc is fantastic and I believe this film tells a very normal tale with the guise of an unbelievable fantasy world. Much like life and coming of age, Sarah must learn to deal with her responsibility and resolve problems on her own instinct. Each character comes with a life lesson: Ludo teaches us that you shouldn’t judge a book by his cover whereas Hoggle teaches us that everyone deserves forgiveness and a second chance. The twists and turns that she faces in the Labyrinth and the worm who dares, Sarah to “try walking through it” reminds us that the road we take in life is never straightforward, and sometimes you have to deviate from your chosen path to find a new one. Adolescence is a trying time for anyone, but especially for a young girl, and finding the right set of friends can be tricky. Some people give off the impression of being helpful and honest but in reality they aren’t. Again, Labyrinth delivers this message by introducing characters that you would meet in the real world such as ‘The Fireys’ who seem like good fun at first but actually fuck you over and try to take off parts of your body. Just realised how sinister this film is, I want my mum. Luckily, nobody at school tried to take off parts of my body, they just tried to touch them or punch them – can’t have everything I guess. Sir Didymus and his dog Ambrosius are tough ones to work out, I would take a stab at saying that even the strongest person has a weakness and not everyone can be strong all the time. There are times in the film that Sarah loses faith in finding her brother the main one being when she goes to the junk yard. In this twisty-turny metaphorical world, Sarah has to work out who is worth a damn and who is a crafty little shit and after a few major blunders she works out.
Musical NumbersThis films musical score is obviously brilliant because of David Bowie recording songs especially for the film, combine David Bowie with the fantastic prosthetics and puppetry from Henson’s genius mind and you have a backdrop that will enthral children of all ages. Although Bowie provides catchy tunes such as ‘Magic Dance’ and ‘Underground’, he also recorded two of my favourite love songs entitled ‘Within You’ and ‘As The World Falls Down’ which give the soundtrack the same variation of light and dark as the screenplay. As a child I sang these songs in a trill voice while skipping around the living room, and as an adult I pay attention to the lyrics with enormous appreciation for the sentiment and message they give.
And so…The film didn’t receive brilliant critical attention but became a cult sensation and I believe it helped me along in my childhood, without me realising it taught me about life and how to deal with the problems it brings. It provided me with endless entertainment and opened my imagination to see the fantasy world in a different way and dare to think that fairies might bite you rather than help you. Most of all it introduced me to Jim Henson’s creativity and allowed me to be creative myself, thank you for making my childhood awesome Jim and David!