Mon
Jun 27 2011 5:29pm
Don Your Tights, Glitter and Goblin Horns—It’s Labyrinth Day!

As Den of Geek was kind enough to point out, today is the 25th anniversary of Labyrinth! Which makes today, that all-important silver birthday, Labyrinth Day. Why no, we’re not all dressed up in our finest capes, eye shadow and mullet wigs. What would possess you to think that?

Labyrinth stands out proudly in a very special category of children’s films labeled “They Don’t Make Them Like That Anymore.” The current generation has been blessed with Pixar, but live action films for kids today have been limited to unimaginative yarns such as Spy Kids and The Diary of a Whimpy Kid. In the shadow of those relatively forgettable stories, the fervent sort of possessiveness and love that films from the Labyrinth generation still inspire serve as proof of how the filmmaking landscape has changed in the past three decades. And all of this with weird CGI, non-sensical pop (how does one “chilly down” again?), and all the glitter you could embed into a stone wall.

There are certain key elements that make this movie, and they can be paired down in pieces: Bowie, Connelly, Henson and Froud. Okay, Lucas helped too somehow. Combine all that with a story from Terry Jones and you’ve got a collaborative effort that really is the sum of its parts. Combine only two or three of those things and you’d have a completely different film.

Let’s start with Brian Froud; if you’ve never seen the book detailing all the background Froud laid out for the Underground goblins, I highly recommend you pick it up, or flip through it at a book store. The man’s imagination never quits, even when he’s coming up with names and functions for characters that spend most of their time on screen getting kicked or knocked over. His blueprint illustrations are what make the puppets in this film (and Dark Crystal) such a treat to watch. They’re undeniably weird-looking, but strangely cuddly at the same time. And, you know, if he hadn’t volunteered his baby to play Sarah’s brother Toby, who knows if they ever would have been able to find a toddler who could handle being around those goblins for hours on end….

Jim Henson’s desire to bring puppetry into a more adult milieu led to his pursuit of both Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, which were targeted toward a teenaged audience. Though Labyrinth did not fair well at the box office, Henson deserved more attention for what he was trying to bring to cinema. In a perfect world, he believed in puppetry and CGI working together to create intricate characters that would dazzle all ages. Without his innovative talent, we would never have been treated to a wall of helping hands, forest gangs who play croquet using their heads and limbs, or cannonballs with feet.

Jennifer Connelly may have won an Oscar and become all legitimate and cool, but most of us saw her first as Sarah, a selfish young girl who wished her helpless baby brother into the hands of the Goblin King. For all that she whined, she was a relatable protagonist, particularly to anyone who was ever accused of getting ’lost in their head’ as a child. Her fear of and attraction to Jareth, the king in question, was a perfect reflection on the confusion that so many of us feel when we realize that we’re not quite children anymore. Interestingly enough, Terry Jones has claimed in interviews that the original conception of Jareth was a creepy, decidedly unattractive character. Much more of a Rumplestiltskin than a rock god. Just another one of those places where collaboration came in and saved the day….

Which brings us to our sparkling, leather-and-cape clad Goblin King.

In a live-by-request concert that David Bowie did sometime in 2002, one fan proclaimed her love of Labyrinth to the glam king’s bemusement: “I could make a joke about tights,” he said, “but I won’t.” Indeed, he doesn’t need to because every joke that could have possibly been made about those tights has already been made, more than once, most often on the internet where you can readily access them. We joke because we can’t admit how hypnotized we were as children (and still are to this day) by the sight of Bowie in tights. Don’t worry, this is a safe place—there’s nothing wrong with that.

Bowie’s first foray onto the silver screen, The Man Who Fell to Earth, allowed him to simply be an actor; contractual differences prevented him from writing the soundtrack and the film’s director later claimed that he felt it was a good thing—it allowed the audience to be able to separate him from his larger-than-life musical persona(s). Labyrinth, on the other hand, wholeheartedly embraced Bowie’s roots, letting his voice drive the film from opening CGI effects to closing credits. Many of the themes were love songs, and while there is always a fair amount of snickering/cringing to be had over his leering at 14-year-old Sarah, the love story aspect of Labyrinth somehow comes off chillingly. By the end of the film, you begin to wonder what sort of being Jareth is, how long he has been lonely, what’s so special about Sarah to him, or if he just does this for all the ladies because it’s his thankless job in this strange netherworld.

And when you consider that Sting or Michael Jackson might have ended up with the role instead of Ziggy Stardust, you can’t help but shiver at the inherent wrongness of it. (The universe where Jackson was Jareth, incidentally, is the same universe where you’re doing the Starlight dance.) No one else could have imbued that role with the same sinister glamor. Is Bowie truly Jareth, or is it the other way around? Whatever the case may be, it seems that he’s still writing the Goblin King’s songs.

Just remember: don’t go wishing for things when you don’t mean it. The world isn’t fair. Friends are worth forgiving and will always be there when you call. Happy Birthday, Labyrinth.

Now do the Magic Dance!


Emily Asher-Perrin does a great Jareth impression whenever someone ends a sentence with “nothing.” (Nothing? Nothing, tra-la-la?) You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

23 comments
Alejandro Melchor
1. Al-X
Worms and snails and puppy dog tails! :D
Carl V.
2. Carl V.
Ah, I'm so happy for this post. I must have had a psychic link telling me an anniversary was coming up because I pulled out my copy of Labyrinth just the other day and started watching it again for the umpteenth time.

I grew up on The Muppet Show and Sesame Street and have been a fan of Jim Henson's work for a long, long time. Labyrinth came out at an age where I could not help but fall madly in love with Jennifer Connelly and madly in love with the film. My appreciation for it and attachment to it has not faded in my adult years.

Henson and company captured magic in such a way with this film that it continues to stand out as something special today. I've heard many and varied interpretations of the "message" of this show, but for me the biggest has always been the bittersweet melancholy of that time period in life where you feel compelled to leave childish things behind and enter into a more grown up world. Thank God that that moment passes and as an adult you can embrace your inner child while still being a mature adult! :)

Labyrinth has been one of my very favorite films for over two decades now and I don't see that changing over time. All it takes is a few notes from the soundtrack to take me on a nostalgic journey back in time. Think I'll have to pop my copy of the soundtrack into the CD player on the ride home today.

Thanks!
Elio García
6. Egarcia
Linda and I bought the DVD not long ago. It's really quite compelling, isn't it? The creativity and imagination behind it all... well, they don't make them like they used to.

Have to particularly commend that last image, from what's probably our favorite scene: the goblin ball as Bowie sings, "As the World Falls Down". The set design is simply stunning, with its pale, floating columns conveying the atmosphere of "Faërie" more effectively than anything I've ever seen put on film. Connelley's costuming and hair for that particular scene, and the costuming in general for the extras in the ball, should have won an award.

Finally, to show something of the film's impact, here's the Masquerade of Jareth, a yearly event inspired by the film. It looks quite amazing.
Danny Bowes
7. DannyBowes
Excellent work. For about a year in grade school, I kept getting in trouble for talking in a croaky Cockney accent (Croakney?) like all the creatures of the labyrinth. Longer-lasting has been my ardent David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly fandom; people said you had to choose just one, but that's just limiting. Absolutely love this movie, and your take on it is spot-on.
Joanna Slupek
8. Spriggana
This brings back memories. The first DVD I have bought. Which is not surprising as I have bought the DVD player because of the movie ;-)...
Carl V.
9. Rowanmdm
Now I want to go home and watch the movie. I will at least have "Dance Magic Dance" in my head for the rest of the day, yeah!

From when I was around 12 until 17 (and my sisters were a year on either side of my) the three of us would always get the same two movies every time we rented movies: Labyrinth (which I will one day learn to spell w/o having to look it up) and Girls Just Want to Have Fun. We LOVED those movies, and singing and dancing along was just part of the fun.
Carl V.
10. Carl V.
Oh my gosh, Spriganna's comment reminded me that the Labyrinth soundtrack was the first ever thing I bought on CD, just when CD players were becoming the rage. I bought it before I actually bought my first CD player.
Jenny Thrash
11. Sihaya
Just showed it to my kids the other day. The results were fascinating. The preteen was alternately horrified and delighted, but always riveted. The toddler kept running screaming from the room every time something scary happened, only to run back in again. It was a sure success.
Karen Lofstrom
12. DPZora
Twenty years ago, when my daughter was a wee thing, Labryinth and Dark Crystal were two of her favorite movies. She watched them over ... and over ... and over. I don't know whether I like them or hate them now.
Carl V.
15. jere7my
Hey, Spy Kids is hilarious. Alan Cumming, Tony Shalhoub, Danny Trejo, Antonio Banderas. C'mon. I love Henson's dark side too, but no dissing Spy Kids.
Carl V.
16. euphbass
Does it say that Sarah is 14 in the movie? I assumed she was about 17, maybe even 18. Which makes Jareth's wooing her less weird!
Carl V.
17. helbel
Seeing Labyrinth as a teen left me with a lifelong yearning for men with long hair who wear eyeliner. Oh the shame!
Rich Bennett
18. Neuralnet
The movie is available on Netflix's instant streaming. Great timing... rewatched it last night for the first time in a LONG time. Great stuff.
James Whitehead
19. KatoCrossesTheCourtyard
My friends & I saw this when it came out & we loved it. We were 18 when it came out so we were the oldest kids in the theatre at the time.

We all tried to copy Jareth's crystal ball trick; to less than spectacular results of course. ;-)

Here's a link to Magic Dance:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=olWEXcIUX-I&feature=related


Kato

PS - He's got eyes like mine.
Carl V.
20. Ma1Kidz6
My sister and I loved this movie when we were teens. I recently found it on NetFlix and I watched it with my kids. They loved it. I still like it. It has been fun watching them sing the songs, dance the moves and argue over dialogue. ("That's not the way it goes! Mom! Can we watch Labyrinth! Joe's not saying that part right!) I did have to draw a line when the 9-yr-old wanted to see if his sister's head was detachable. I just may have to watch this again today.
Ashley McGee
21. AshleyMcGee
My sister and I (also) loved this movie as teens, though the first time I ever saw Labyrinth I was six years old sitting in the school library trying to figure out why the baby kept crying, who was going to help the baby, and was that man going to jump out of the screen and kill me? My little sister had just been born the first time we saw the film (though it came out in '86 I only saw it in '91) and I was terrified that something might have happened to her to the point where I asked my teacher if I could call my mom.

Some years later, at the age of fourteen, I stumbled upon Labyrinth again, and thus--belatedly I think--began my love for David Bowie and the fantasy genre as a whole. I connected immediately with Sarah and felt that David Bowie's screen presence (amazingly attractive and delightfully self-possessed) made for an amazing movie. I read several fanfictions, including the most memorable "Crystal Moon" and a fanfiction (whose name escapes me at the moment) that went on to be a three-part saga self-published by the author.

Today, my four year old niece reaches for my cell phone, "Ashey, can I watch the Labyrinth on your phone?" She sits in the back seat with her head phones on singing the lyrics to "Magic Dance" and "Underground" (even though she's not allowed to sing the swear word part). Today, I like to think that I have only good memories of Labyrinth, and they are mounting daily.
Carl V.
22. Leighann
It may not be my favorite movie, but it is in my top 2.

I can't believe it - 25 years? I'm 30. Wow.

And I appreciated David Bowie in tights even then.
Carl V.
23. kmkat
One of my favorite memories of my kids' childhoods is my then-3-yo older son wearing my tall black winter boots, in front of the TV and singing and *dancing* along with Dance, Magic Dance. He loved Labyrinth so much he wore out that section of the videotape.

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