Sixteen-year-old Sarah Williams (Jennifer Connelly) resents her baby brother Toby (Toby Froud) and secretly wishes that he will just disappear. Her wish comes true when goblins kidnap the boy. Feeling responsible and guilty about his abduction, she sets forth to retrieve him and finds herself on the adventure of a lifetime. To rescue her brother, she must sneak into the castle of Jareth the Goblin King (David Bowie), which is in the center of a fantastical labyrinth. But, the task is easier said than done, for the maze is filled with strange creatures and mind-bending puzzles, and nothing is really as it seems.
Jim Henson’s Labyrinth is one of those movies from a lot of people’s childhoods that stands out as a wonderfully charming and magical movie that whisks you away to another world. Like a lot of children out there, I too saw this film back when I was a young kid and I do remember enjoying it. The thing is though, I don’t remember a thing about it. I wanted to revisit it today for a couple of reasons. One, I genuinely wanted to watch it again for the first time in well over a decade to see how much it holds up and how much I enjoy it all these years later. Two, Labyrinth is one of my best friends’ favorite movies ever made and so I figured it would be a fun picture to revisit.
After watching it a second time today, I can confirm that Labyrinth is a magnificently magical children’s flick that is chalked full of imagination. There are plenty of films out there for kids to enjoy, but there are only so many that can match the wonder and feeling of childhood innocence that Labyrinth perfectly encapsulates. This story may be a bit weird and not as amusing for adult viewers, but even still, it’s hard to deny the feeling of joy that this movie radiates inside all of us.
The film has an extremely simple but brilliantly strange concept: a teenage girl isn’t too fond of her baby brother and wishes he would disappear, which causes a Goblin King to take the baby away to a mystical land and it’s up to her to save him. It’s fascinating how throughout the entire movie, there isn’t one scene that is boring or unimaginative. Screenwriter Terry Jones has so many incredible ideas and he puts all of them to great use here. Just when you think the film couldn’t possibly get any more strange and creative, he one-ups the situation by including things like talking walls and giant beasts into the mix.
When you really boil it down, Labyrinth is a massively campy movie. It’s so campy that a lot of people don’t like it for that reason alone. But to be honest with you, that’s one of the many reasons why I love Labyrinth. It’s a film that has talking animals, goblins, fairies and so much more and it makes you feel like a kid again. It takes you back to the days when you were younger and you spent hours and hours being creative and thinking about magical worlds.
Something else that is extremely impressive with the movie is its use of practical puppets for a large majority of the film’s goblin characters, most notably the lovable Hoggle. The work that went into bringing these characters to life was certainly tricky but the team that worked on this department did an excellent job in every regard.
Every once in a while though, we do meet some computer-generated characters and they look incredibly outdated. The visual effects on some of them are quite noticeable and it does take you out of the movie for a brief moment. Gratefully though, this doesn’t happen too often for it to be a painful distraction.
If I were to pinpoint the biggest flaw with Labyrinth it would have to be its character development. There really isn’t any development given to any of the characters on-screen here. All we get to know about our lead protagonist Sarah is that she is an imaginative teenage girl that doesn’t always get along with her family, and that’s honestly it. We only see her parents one time in the entire film, and it would have been nice to have gotten some important character beats with Sarah and her family at the beginning especially.
But all of that aside, this is still a wonderfully exciting adventure that millions of kids around the world loved going on back when the movie was released. I am quite curious as well as to how the upcoming sequel is going to turn out. Is Sarah going to be in it again? How are they going to make the film without the late David Bowie? I think it would be interesting if the film followed a grown-up Sarah who has kids of her own and they get sucked into the Labyrinth world and she has to help them on their adventure. It’s still more than likely a ways off, but here’s hoping that the sequel is just as fun and encapsulating as this 1986 classic.
Labyrinth wonderfully captures the magic of childhood innocence with its beautifully crazy and expansive world and its lovable creature characters.
Overall Grade: A-
MPAA Rating: PG
Directed by: Jim Henson
Distributed by: TriStar Pictures
Release Date: June 27, 1986
Running Time: 101 minutes