It turns out the baby in the stripey pajamas from Labyrinth kind of did grow up to be the Goblin King—in a sense. Toby Froud, who played the little tot David Bowie tossed around during “Magic Dance,” is all grown up and working in the family business: Following in the footsteps of his dad, Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal conceptual artist Brian Froud, he’s teamed up with Heather Henson to bring us a wonderfully eerie, puppet-filled short film, Lessons Learned, which harkens back to the stylistic gloom of Labyrinth.
While it’s not quite Labyrinth: The Next Generation, Froud and Henson have certainly inherited their fathers’ visions. A collaboration between Stripey Pajamas Productions (hee!) and IBEX Puppetry, Lessons Learned uses hand/cable-controlled puppets to tell the story of a boy whose grandfather gives him a “lessons learned” box to contain all of his life experiences. Tempted to look into his grandpa’s “lessons learned” trunk, the boy discovers that these lessons are embodied as actual, living creatures, who pull him into their bizarre fantasy world and refuse to let him go. Portland Monthly Mag has a slightly more spoilery summary if you want to know more.
Having raised more than twice its budget on Kickstarter last year, the film recently premiered at the Hollywood Theatre in June, and will be screening at the Portland Film Festival and elsewhere around the country. If you’re lucky, maybe it’ll come to an indie theater near you.
In addition to the obvious influences, Froud, now 30, cut his teeth working with the animation company LAIKA on ParaNorman and the forthcoming Boxtrolls. The puppets are wonderfully detailed, down to the multiple sets of spectacles on an eight-eyed arachnid. In the age of CGI and even stop-motion, there’s something so enchanting about a handmade puppet.
Here’s a taste of Lessons Learned:
And in case you were wondering—Froud’s favorite Labyrinth song isn’t “Magic Dance,” but the ballroom number, “As the World Falls Down.”