1986: Looking Back At LABYRINTH - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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1986: Looking Back At LABYRINTH

Andrew East deals with a little slice of the Labyrinth.

Ah, Labyrinth. A movie which is intricately weaved into my childhood. I can’t remember when I first saw this film, although it must have been on either video or on a television broadcast as I definitely didn’t see it in the cinema.

I have been, throughout my life, a huge fan of the work of Jim Henson. It started with the Muppets and progressed into the many other Henson Company projects such as Dinosaurs, The Dark Crystal and Fraggle Rock.

Labyrinth, for me, is one of their greatest achievements. The mix of live actors and puppetry is flawless and it is packed with brilliant characters. Both Jennifer Connelly as the protagonist, Sarah and David Bowie as the Goblin King are perfect in their roles. The puppet characters such as Hoggle, Ludo and Sir Didymus are all well-defined and beautifully realised. There is a wide range of puppetry on display from rod-operated puppets to full costumes. There are CSO’d puppets and simple hand-worked ones.

The plot itself is very simple. Sarah’s baby brother, Toby, is taken by the goblins and she ventures into the eponymous labyrinth to retrieve him. On the way she meets a cavalcade of characters some who hinder, some who help until eventually confronting the King in his castle. There are a lot of mind-bending set pieces and even some rather adult themes weaved into the narrative.

The different areas of the labyrinth are wonderfully designed from the seemingly neverending first passage, to the neatly tended garden maze; from the wild forests and Bog of Eternal Stench to the Goblin City and the MC Escher-inspired castle.

Although the story is simple, the adult edge to it is evident in the characters of Hoggle, Sarah and the Goblin King. Hoggle, for example, is employed by the King to lead Sarah astray but spends the story torn between serving his master and doing what he knows is the right thing to do. It’s an interesting character to have in a children’s film because his loyalties are never entirely defined until the very final scenes.

Sarah and the King also have an interesting relationship. At one point it almost becomes sexual. It is fairly clear that Labyrinth is exploring the idea of puberty and children becoming adults and leaving behind their childhood things. This is exemplified in the scene where Sarah is almost tricked into believing she is home and is tempted by her toys and material possessions; her memory of Toby beginning to fade.

Even more metaphorical is the dream sequence involving Sarah at a masked ball. The decadence on display is almost reminiscent of an orgy and there is definitely a sexual edge to the party. The Goblin King oozes sexuality and Sarah is clearly bewitched by him (Bowie does wear VERY tight leggings throughout the film). I have to be honest and say this was the one sequence of the film I always used to fast forward as a youngster – not because I found the sexuality or uncomfortable romance awkward, but because I really didn’t like the song which accompanies this sequence.

The songs are another strong aspect of the production, particularly the fun and toe-tapping Dance Magic Dance.

We recently showed Labyrinth to my young children (aged 7 and 4). They really enjoyed it, particularly the hilarious climactic battle in the Goblin City. As a film it still has the power to enchant children and it deserves its cult status among us children of the 80s.

A primary school teacher and father of two, Andrew finds respite in the worlds of Doctor Who, Disney and general geekiness. Unhealthily obsessed with Lance Parkin’s A History, his Doctor Who viewing marathon is slowly following Earth history from the Dawn of Time to the End of the World. He would live in a Disney theme park if given half the chance.

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