The sorely missed David Bowie, former Python Terry Jones and Muppet overlord Jim Henson join forces for Labyrinth – the adventures of a teenager called Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) as she journeys through a fantasy world to rescue her baby brother from the Goblin King (Bowie).
Directed by Henson, written by Jones and executive-produced by George Lucas, Labyrinth disappointed critically and commercially in 1986, but has since gained a significant cult following – Leicester Square’s Prince Charles Cinema regularly hosts masquerade balls in the film’s honour. The movie’s cult status is thanks in large part (ahem) to Bowie’s role as Jareth, a glam rock Goblin King with amazing hair and leggings far too tight for a 15-certificate, let alone a U.
Bowie’s crotch is highly symbolic. In the great tradition of Red Riding Hood and The Nutcracker (told you they were too tight), this is a coming-of-age story about a girl whose innocence is literally ticking away. Sarah’s bedroom is full of toys that take on life in the labyrinth; a world that she conquers as she becomes a woman. It’s like Toy Story 3 as told by Sigmund Freud. At the centre of the labyrinth is Jareth, a big bad wolf in creep’s clothing. For Sarah, as for so many people, Bowie represents a sexual awakening.
The labyrinth itself boasts ingenious production design, with every aspect of the set playing a crucial storytelling role. Every frame bursts with creativity and imagination, from the Helping Hands sequence to the Escher-style climax, immersively realised through special effects that look immaculate 30 years on. Each weird and wonderful encounter is designed to teach Sarah some lesson in wisdom or bravery, like Alice in Wonderland with David Bowie songs.
On the way, she meets and befriends an endearing array of puppety characters, including Hoggle, Ludo and Sir Didymus – a canine knight who rides on the back of a dog called Ambrosius. Played by a variety of Henson Company stalwarts including Frank Oz, Brian Henson and Kevin Clash, they help Sarah understand the value not only of friendship, but of imagination.
Funny and musical, surreal and subversive, traditional and modern, this is a fresh take on the classical fairytale, like Pan’s Labyrinth or Spirited Away. To celebrate the film’s 30th anniversary, and the indelible legacies of Jim Henson and David Bowie, this is the perfect time to revisit the Labyrinth. You’ll have a ball.