15-year-old Sarah accidentally wishes her baby half-brother, Toby, away to the Goblin King Jareth who will keep Toby if Sarah does not complete his Labyrinth in 13 hours.
I’m sure we’ve all had movies that we love as a child; that we think are amazing, perfect, and ageless. When you watch those films as an adult, they don’t seem to have the same zest that they did when you were a child. This has happened to me before with a movie called Vamp, and it’s slightly happened again with Labyrinth.
The movie starts out with Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) reciting a passage from her book to a statue, obviously pretending she’s a princess or damsel in a fairy tale. She then must quickly run home to baby-sit her young, infant brother.
We quickly realize that she’s pretty spoiled and self involved by the way she cries and moans about having to take care of her brother while her parents are out. She obviously takes him for granted, which will be the moral compass of the story.
Toby won’t stop crying so she wishes that the Goblin King will take him away so she won’t have to deal with him anymore. To her behest, her wish is granted, and Jareth the Goblin King (David Bowie) takes the child away. Sarah immediately regrets her decision and pleads for her brother back. Jareth agrees, but only if Sarah can navigate her way through his labyrinth and get to his castle in the middle.
And so begins our fairytale. Sarah meets dangers, friends and foes on her journey to turn Jareth away and get her brother back all the while learning a valuable lesson in the process.
This is a difficult movie to review, because I am not the intended audience. This has become a cult film over the years, with dozens of fan sites on the internet and hordes of people loving the film, and I can understand why it works for them and why children of todays age will still enjoy it.
First, the star of the film is obviously the creatures. Jim Henson had quite the imagination and the puppets in this film prove it. From such a genius as Henson, you’d expect nothing less than perfection, and of course he delivers. In fact, he succeeds so much, you wonder if the film is an excuse for him to show off! In todays film-age of CGI everything, it’s refreshing to see something real on the screen. When does a film like Star Wars Episode III stop being a live action film and become an animated one? But disputing that is for a different time.
Like I said, the puppets are very well done, and the actors and puppeteers do wonderful work giving each creature a personality all their own. The fact that they invoke feelings from the audience is something to be admired.
The cinematography by Alex Thomson and Production Design by Elliot Scott go hand in hand. The aspect ratio of 2.35:1 is used to great effect to sell the epic world in which Sarah must find her way through. The film is both dark and colorful at the same time. At times it’s frightening for children (I remember being scared), but not overly scary like a horror film intended for adults.
An adult watching this film should be able to tell that the labyrinth scenes are shot in a studio with made sets. But maybe that’s part of a whole that gives this movie its charm. As an adult, you should also be able to tell that these are puppets singing and dancing and conversing. But this film has such a charm to it, it almost dares you to keep reminding yourself that the puppets aren’t real, and the locations are sets.
The story is pretty solid from Jim Henson and Dennis Lee, but I think the script itself could’ve used some work. George Lucas is a producer on the film, and you’d swear he wrote the dialogue and didn’t even try. However, like I said, I am not the intended audience for this film, so I’m sure to kids the direct and sometimes “thinking out loud” dialogue will be perfect to let them know what’s going on.
One thing I do need to mention to any parent that plans on sitting their child in front of this movie: the style of the times more or less dictated what people wore. Bowie wears some very tight pants that seem to be hiked a little too far up his body creating quite a “cuppage” situation. I was pretty distracted by it whenever he was shot from the thighs up. And yes, whenever a creature that only comes to his waist is close to Bowie, there’s a close up of it. Buyer beware!
As a child I was captivated by this film, and I think many children today will be just as captivated by it, given the opportunity to be exposed to this fairytale classic. It seems small in comparison to the movies of today that can add computer generated sets and skies and props to any scene, but it’s definitely refreshing and charming to see real creatures in a real world. Children tend to accept flaws in a movie as long as they get lost in the story, and I think they’ll want to visit the labyrinth again and again.