Oh geesh, let me get a helmet and full-body padding for the oncoming stones that will be thrown at me. *slow inhale… slow exhale* I’ve never seen this movie before! *braces for assault* It’s true. A lot of the celebrated, dark 80s movies were completely lost on me with a few notable exceptions. Movies like DARK CRYSTAL (1982) and THE NEVERENDING STORY (1984), never seen those. Well… okay, I saw NEVERENDING STORY a few years back and it’s definitely something I appreciated, so I can’t imagine that I wouldn’t like this.
Honestly, it’s a good idea that movies like this get re-released. They’re movies that don’t really get made anymore. Puppetry? It’s a dying art and people have to look really hard to find movies that do it today. Even when animatronics are incorporated, there’s still instances where CGI is implemented. For example, if I remember correctly, in JURASSIC WORLD (2015), the close-ups of the raptors are real animatronic raptors. But there’s CGI in the way the eyes, or the mouth furls, something of that nature that makes it look more “real” than the animatronics weren’t capable of offering. Today, this is how filmmaking is as a standard. A majority of films will be CG and it’s going to be rare to see anything that’s actually built and actually moving, something the actors can legitimately act with, instead of using their imaginations. So it’s awesome for kids today to experience what the technological limitations created from straight talent, both in front of and behind the camera, and pure imagination was able to give in the 80s and some of the 90s to create something that can still stand the test of time and be wonderful to watch no matter what age you are and what year you’re seeing it.
Anyway, got back a few hours ago from seeing the movie and I didn’t finish my initial impressions before seeing it, so I’ll skip what I thought it was about before going in.
In support, we have a trio of legendary Star Wars alums, Frank Oz (STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI  and INSIDE OUT ), the late and great Kenny Baker, who was R2-D2 in all the Star Wars films up until REVENGE OF THE SITH (2005), and Warwick Davis (LAST JEDI, ROGUE ONE , FORCE AWAKENS , and the upcoming SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY ).
Now for the crew. Directing is the late and great Jim Henson, known for The Muppets and Sesame Street. Penning the screenplay is Terry Jones, known for Monty Python’s LIFE OF BRIAN (1979) and HOLY GRAIL (1975). Composing the score is Trevor Jones, known for THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN (2003) and NOTTING HILL (1999). The cinematographer is the late Alex Thomson, known for DEMOLITION MAN (1993) and ALIEN 3 (1992). Finally, the editor is John Grover, known for a ton of stuff that I’ve never heard from.
This is my honest opinion of: LABYRINTH (1986)
Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) is a teen girl who is an aspiring actress and practices her lines from the play she’s acting in, called “The Labyrinth.” She tries to do the right thing, but is constantly screwing up, meeting the ire of her overbearing parents. After arriving home late to babysit her infant brother Toby (Toby Froud) while her parents go out for the night, Sarah discovers one of her treasure teddy bears has been removed from its shelf and is in Toby’s possession. Reacting poorly to this discovery, Sarah wishes upon her play that the Goblin King would take Toby away and give her a moments peace. Turns out, the characters in her play are real and the Goblin King Jareth (David Bowie) take Toby away. Realizing the mistake she’s made Sarah demands her brother back, but Jareth has the baby locked away in his castle at the end of large and perilous labyrinth, and if Sarah can reach the end of it after an allotted time, she can have him back.
Just gonna rage a little here, HOLY GOD, CONNELLY IS A BABY!!! HOLY GOD, CONNELLY IS A BABY!!! Now that I’ve got that out of my system, let’s proceed.
I liked it. I liked it a lot, actually. Is it flawless, no, but it’s actually a really fun fantasy, adventure film.
The first five or ten minutes is about the worst parts of the movie. Maybe it was the directing, or the writing, or… maybe Connelly was just that green at the time (this was only her fourth acting job), but her acting is… very subpar compared to what we’re all likely used to now. But more than that, Sarah is written very much like a clichéd teen. While her parents go out, she’s asked to babysit and she’s late for it, she starts screaming, “I can’t do anything right, can I?!” Ugh… maybe if I hadn’t seen movies with angsty teenagers before, this wouldn’t bother me as much as it does, but… I have seen movies with angsty teenagers before, so this does bother me. She runs to her room, slams the door, mopes and pouts, complains like it’s no one’s business, calling her home a “horrible place,” she is such a drama queen that I was beginning to hate her.
But thankfully, the moment Jareth takes Toby and hides him away, Sarah realizes her mistake and her character picks up significantly. She still shows her short-tempered side, can be overly critical, but she is determined, adapts to her surroundings, shows how clever and smart she can be, learns forgiveness, is compassionate, and ultimately does become a good character in her own right, and Connelly does have a remarkable amount of charm that pushes past the occasional bad line.
And let’s not forget about the main man himself… David Bowie. I can’t claim to know much about his acting chops. The only movie I’d seen of him up to this point was THE PRESTIGE, which was amazing and so was he. Yet, somehow, when I see him playing the Goblin King, this feels like a role that no one else on God’s green Earth could have possibly been able to play. He is just so much fun. His acting is hammy to the umpteenth degree, but for this world that he’s the overlord of, it works so unbelievably well. Bowie gives such a perfect balance of creepy, yet funny. Menacing, yet intriguing. It’s a wonderful performance.
And the creativity levels are off the freakin’ charts in how these otherworldly creatures look. The bushes made of eyes, the talking worm, Sir Didymus (voiced by Dave Goelz) riding on the back of an English sheepdog, loved all of it. And I am in love with the Helping Hands bit. Holy God, this scene alone deserves the highest of praises. All of the unique faces and expressions, and ways that the mouths move, man, I didn’t want that scene to end. The set designs, while dated, are gorgeous to look at. You know if this movie got made today, it would all be CG, but the fact that someone could literally reach out and touch these buildings and walls, it’s a marvel to be reminded that this was filmmaking once and I weep for its dying existence. Even much of the humor is on point. One of my favorite lines is from the worm that first talks to Sarah, and she goes:
Did you just say “hello” to me?
No, I said, “ello,” but close enough.
I don’t know why, but that tickled me. Oh, and after befriending Sir Didymus and he maintains his honor-bound promise to not let anyone pass without his permission, all Sarah does is ask for his permission and he grants it after a second of thinking about it. I got a nice chuckle out of that one.
By the way, question… Sarah mispronounces Hoggle’s (performed by Shari Weiser; voiced by Brian Henson) name as “Hogwart.” Is… is that where J.K. Rowling got the name for her school in Harry Potter?! Has this ever been addressed by anyone? What did she say when asked?!
But, as someone who didn’t grow up with this movie, I feel I can stick it to you fanboys and girls when I say, there are issues that I have with the movie. Albeit, small ones.
For one thing, outside of the first five, ten minutes, I do think Sarah takes her adventure way too well in the beginning. I mean, she’s whisked away from reality and thrust into a odd fantasy world full of traps and monsters that are out to kill her. Yet, for much of the start, she looks like anyone would look stepping out into a new city. Anyone else would be freaking out, asking how the hell they got there in the first place, clawing at the walls for an escape, something resembling a normal reaction. It’s almost a little too similar to Tim Burton’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND (2010). Alice is faced with freakish-looking beings and creatures, but has no real reaction to them. Also, peeing dwarfs, farting and burping bogs… more gross than creative.
I know this is a fantasy world and the same rules that govern the real world don’t apply to a fake one, but… I’m sorry, it’s so unbelievably creepy to see Jareth professing his love to an underage teenager. If he was dressed more monstrously, maybe this would be creepy in the same way that Bowser is constantly kidnapping Princess Peach in the Super Mario games, but… no, Jareth looks human. He looks like an old white dude. Creepy.
Oh, and why does Sarah need to face the Goblin King by herself? This is the life of her infant brother, who hasn’t the slightest bloody idea of what’s going on and what Jareth has in store for him! Grab Hoggle, Ludo (performed by Rob Mills; voiced by Ron Mueck), Didymus, and that army of boulders and get that baby brother to safety! Screw honor, girl! Screw fair fights! You’ve been thrust into a labyrinth that hasn’t played fair once since you arrived! Fight fire with fire! Sheesh!
Overall, this film is funny enough, a better Alice in Wonderland story than Tim Burton’s was. Hell, if you wanted to make a kid friendly version of American McGee’s ALICE (2000) the video game, this wouldn’t be too off the money either. A great message about learning to appreciate what’s important and growing up, learning responsibility, with a menagerie of wonderful visuals, from the sets to the puppets, to the delightful performances from both Bowie and Connelly, this is certainly a movie that stands the test of time. I can safely say that this should be passed down from generation to generation and remind kids today how filmmaking really was before it got all digital. Charming, smart, and timeless, it’s got all the hallmarks of a great kids movie.
My honest rating for LABYRINTH (1986): a strong 4/5