National Kids Day: Labyrinth
As part of National Kids & Pets Day, we decided finding nostalgic childhood films was a bit easier than combining both themes. We are taking this opportunity to review ten films that have been deemed staples of the youths of varying generations. This article looks at Labyrinth.
The cult status for the then-maligned fantasy adventure Labyrinth might come from the universal pool of sources. Of course, we have puppeteering extraordinaire Jim Henson, who directed and co-wrote the story to the film (his Creature Workshop also created the puppets for the film). Terry Jones’s screenplay reeks of Monty Python shenanigans all over, even if the film is not quite as bonkers (and certainly not as offensive). George Lucas and Lucasfilm helped produce the film, so his special effects touch is also highly utilized. Then, we of course have David Bowie, whose music (along with Trevor Jones’ score) help piece the story together; his Goblin King Jareth is unquestionably a part of the film’s foundation, as he has risen as a new figure in pop culture.
Then, there is the young Jennifer Connelly as Sarah, beginning her long, successful acting career (after Once Upon a Time in America, of course). Strong child (or teen) performances aren’t as common as you may think, and Connelly makes her case here. With playfulness, understandable frustrations, and a selfishness that withers into confidence, Connelly’s Sarah is a solid leader, that could have been made annoying under the wrong performer’s considerations. She is driven by theatre in the film, so any bouts of “overacting” seem truthful to her character. It’s a thin line, but she walks it well.
The story is how Sarah foolishly wishes her baby brother away to the Goblin King. This is because she has to babysit while her parents are out, when all she wants to do is perform. She quickly realizes her mistake, and makes her way through the Goblin King’s physical and metaphysical labyrinth. Of course, we can gather that none of this is real, and this is how Sarah passes the time while bonding with her sibling. We never get a sense of what is really going on, so the imagination is kept alive. Terry Jones cleverly uses the babysitting plot element as a device used to keep adults away; no need to worry about why any guardians are not wondering where Sarah is (or what she is doing, rather).
The good news is that Labyrinth has so much love put into every single asset. The puppets, and both the digital and practical effects were worked on with such passion. Even the occasional effect that hasn’t aged well doesn’t quite stick out in any awful way, because you can tell the amount of hours that were put into each part. The effects that still work continue to be magical.
The bad news is that Labyrinth, like Sarah, finds comfort in these corridors. Some of the other films reviewed for National Kids Day don’t spend enough time trying to establish a tone. Labyrinth might spend too much time. The musical numbers can stay, because David Bowie filler is far from the worst issue on Earth. Perhaps one or two of the quests could have been shaved off, in order to make Labyrinth run in circles a little less. This stream-of-quests that might work in a purposefully nonsensical Holy Grail succeeds a little less in a film that has a clear story, message, and strict timeline.
Some of these quests are to be left alone. The masked ball Sarah is sucked into when she passes out is a clever waste of time (as Jareth points to the running clock), for instance. Having a number of these dances, games and puzzles being time wasters slows the film down a little too much. Aside from this main hiccup, it’s hard to complain while the film drones on, because this fictional kingdom is full of surprises and gifts in every single corner. At least the spectacle is nothing short of inspiring.
I’m not sure what Sarah learned on her quest, outside of her love for her sibling, her need to take ownership, and her acknowledgement that all of her possessions don’t actually mean that much. Of course, the quest is done her way, with theatrics and wordplay galore. She also teaches some of her new creature friends (particularly the two faced Hoggle) how to love, respect, and be strong; maybe these were lessons to herself, as well. Labyrinth may not boast that much depth underneath its wonderland, but its cult status is based on its world building, anyway. The story might take its sweet time, but none of us really want to leave this dimension at all, do we?
Andreas Babiolakis has a Masters degree in Film and Photography Preservation and Collections management from Ryerson University, as well as a Bachelors degree in Cinema Studies from York University. His favourite times of year are the Criterion Collection flash sales and the annual Toronto International Film Festival.