Director Jim Henson’s “Labyrinth” is one of the many epic fantasy films of the eighties indirectly influenced by George Lucas’ “Star Wars,” and while it never aspires to be anything more than a standalone tale, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t possess epic potential from beginning to end. Director Henson unfolds a very unique and entertaining tale of a young girl who learns how to grow as a person through a menacing adventure through a massive labyrinth. Much in the realm of “Alice in Wonderland,” or “Wizard of Oz,” young Sarah finds herself confronting many monsters and menaces, and becomes a hero in the end.
Much in the realm of “Coraline” and “Mirrormask,” Henson’s fantasy adventure is less about the world that we see and more about our heroine’s personal growth. When we meet Sarah, she’s a fantasy obsessed teen who complains and whines about everything in her life. Forced to babysit her toddler brother for the night, she makes one wish too many and wishes him away by goblins. Little does she know the Goblin king has been watching her, and heeds her wish, stealing her toddler brother. Now anxious to find him, she has thirteen hours to work her way through the Goblin King’s labyrinth and find her brother before he becomes the king’s minions. “Labyrinth” garners an immense and incredible world built around Jim Henson’s masterful puppetry, and Frank Oz’s excellent voice work.
Sarah is a character that begins very unlikable and grating and eventually finds redemption throughout the course of her journey. She not only begins to realize that one should be careful what they wish for, but that she really doesn’t have it all that bad, compared to other people in the world. At one point The Goblin King pushes time forward to which Sarah declares “That’s not Fair” The Goblin King responds with “ You say that so often, I wonder what your basis for comparison is?” Much of the labyrinth and its characters are reflections of Sarah’s life and her personality, as she’s tasked with taming wild beasts that are symbolic of her bratty toddler brother, and she learns through others the value of appreciation, gratitude and that life can’t go exactly the way you plan it, all the time. It’s a realistic and down to Earth goal for a character that needs a lesson in humility.
The world Henson and his crew create is vivid and incredible, with a reality that never quite makes sense, and environments that act as paradoxes and misdirection. You can never be sure what is around the corner, and often times you can never trust your eyes to tell you that there is a corner in this maze. The puppetry is still as striking and beautiful as ever, and the creatures are ugly, but charming in their own elements. David Bowie is a scene stealer as the glamorous Goblin King who is devious and deceptive, and manages to throw in a few great songs that he sings with his goblin army. “Labyrinth” thankfully lives up to its hype as a wonderful eighties fantasy gem. It’s up there in quality with the likes of “The Neverending Story” and “Legend.”