Labyrinth

There isn't anything specifically Christmas-related about Labyrinth, but I've always thought of it as a Christmas movie. We recorded it on the Christmas we first got a VCR (carefully labelled by Father Christmas as a present for Mum and Dad) and the combination of fantasy, Henson workshop creatures and a story about love and friendship certainly makes it feel Christmassy to me.

The story of Labyrinth is simple enough; young Sarah, fed up of babysitting, wishes the goblins would come and take her baby brother away, and they do. Sarah didn't mean it of course, and has to travel through the mysterious Labyrinth to rescue baby Toby from the Goblin King (not actually a goblin, but David Bowie in very tight tights). There's a pretty dark undertone to this story, as the reason the goblins take Toby away is that the Goblin King, a much older man, is in love with 14-year-old Sarah, but it manages to stay on the right side of creepy, with the shadows just giving it an edge rather than rendering it unpleasant or inappropriate.

The screenplay was written by Terry Jones, based on a story by Jim Henson and Dennis Lee. Watching the film as a child, it just seems funny and exciting, but as an adult, you can start to see the marks of Python on the film, in the best way. Who else would introduce a major character by showing him peeing into an ornamental pond? And follow that up by showing him shooting mean-spirited fairies? And who else could have written the wonderful concept of the Bog of Eternal Stench - an absurdly perfect threat for a children's movie, not too horrific, but at the same time something that sounds utterly terrible in an entertaining way to a small child.

The story is also full of the sweetness needed in these films as well. Ultimately, it's a story about friendship (though it slips in a few pleas to children to understand that life isn't fair along the way). Jones' sharp screenplay gives it bite, but its heart is soft and sweet, with gentle giant Ludo, noble Sir Didymus and scarred, lonely Hoggle reminding Sarah of the wonders of childhood even as she undergoes a rite of passage and throws away childish things, realising that childhood demons have no power over her.

The film is also both hilarious (as you'd expect) and exciting. As young children, my brother and I used to jump around on the sofa pretending to be trying not to fall into the Bog of Eternal Stench, or cower under the table calling 'Call the rocks!' And I think every little girl my age desperately wanted to be Sarah in the beautiful, just-creepy-enough ballroom dream scene, complete with magnificently 1980s huge, white, puffy ballgown and big hair (dancing choreographed by Star Trek: The Next Generation's Gates/Cheryl McFadden).

And for the grown-ups, David Bowie in eyeliner and aforementioned very tight tights. I shall say no more.

Brought alive by the great songs (of course, it's Bowie), Jones' witty script highlighted with the great voices of the Henson workshop ('Its so stimulating being your head!') and culminating in a fabulous MC Escher-inspired set-piece which we also tried unsuccessfully to replicate in the living room, Labyrinth is one of my favourite holiday films. I only hope one day, if I ever have kids, they enjoy it as much as I did!

Quotes

Sarah: I can bear it no longer! Goblin King! Goblin King! Wherever you may be take this child of mine far away from me!
Goblin: That's not it! Where did she get that rubbish? It doesn't even start with "I wish!"

Worm: 'Allo.
Sarah: Did you say... hello?
Worm: No, I said "'allo," but that's close enough.

Goblin Cannonball: I hit something! Yes? No?

Jareth (singing): Everything I've done, I've done for you. I move the stars for no one.

If you love the creatures and costumes in Labyrinth, check out Brian and Wendy Froud's lovely and charming blog. If you want to feel old, check out the guest post written by their son Toby - who played baby Toby in Labyrinth!

Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer, classicist and ancient historian who blogs about Greek and Roman Things in Stuff at Pop Classics.

14 comments:

CrazyCris said...

Great review Juliette! And good reason for your association of Labyrinth with Christmas, but I'll still find it hard to associate the two! :p

This is one of those '80s fantasy films that I've seen time and time again (along with Legend and Princess Bride). At one point it scared me, others made me wish I was Sarah, others made me laugh... I never swooned over Bowie though! :p

lol! I can't see the phrase "tight tights" without my brain going straight to "Men in Tights" (We're men, we're men in tights. TIGHT tights!" rofl!)

Juliette said...

We roam around the forest looking for fights! ;)

I only saw this film as a child - I saw Princess Bride at 20 and was underwhelmed (but I'd like to see it again) and I've never seen Legend (as in Legends of the Fall?)

CrazyCris said...

Never seen Legend?!?!?!
An extremely yummy young Tom Cruise and unicorns! :o)

I saw all three films for the first time as a pre-teen, and have rewatched them many times, but Princess Bride the most! I can quote ridiculous amounts of the movie and it's one of my go-to movies when I'm sick...

celticmarc said...

Juliette,

when you were 20 : that was last year right ?

Cris,

a) Men In Tights LOL

a2) ANYTHING from Mel Brooks : LOL

B) Woo ! On se calme le pompom pour Tom Cruise ! C'est vrai qu'il est beau, mais pas question de donner une fortune pour me faire pseudo-psychanalyser !

b2) Labyrinth: a very, very young Jennifer Conelly who's a brilliant actress.

Anonymous said...

Oh vow childhood memories! I saw the movie when it came to the movies and I was very much in love with it from the get goes. And (despite my age or maybe because of it) I was madly in love with the Goblin King. As I don´t celebrate Christmas, would never thought about the movie for this time of the year. But now that I´m nostalgic I think I´m going to find some time to watch it again. Maybe now I would see it different (and notice the tight tights) just hope it doesn´t lose its magic for me. Thanks so much for this Juliette. Love, Cecile.

CrazyCris said...

Marc: le Tom Cruise du passé était à croquer! Now, not so much! Son comportement n'aidant pas... :p

Mark Greig said...

Nice review, Juliette. This is one of my favourite films from childhood. I saw it again a few months back, after which I had 'Magic Dance' playing on a constant loop for days. They just don't make kids films like this anymore.

And Legend is definitely worth seeing just for Tim Curry's Lord of Darkness. Maybe I should do a review for it? You know what, I think I will.

CrazyCris said...

Excellent idea Mark! And yeah, Tim Curry was amazing in it! :o)

Juliette said...

Celticmarc: fraid not, try 10 years...!

Gonna have to seek out Legend, clearly!

celticmarc said...

Cris

Faut donner ça a Tom : il a un méchant charisme....sur écran. Pas sur que j'aimerais passer du temps avec lui en dehors du plateau de tournage..........

celticmarc said...

Juliette

The important ??? Being young at heart. Just look at me going LOL

CrazyCris said...

Celticmarc: Idem! :o(

Josie Kafka said...

I've never seen Legend, either.

I have seen Labyrinth, though. While you associate it with Christmas, I associate it with my grade-school best friend Lyndsey, who loved it beyond all measure for reasons I've never fully understood until I read your review. I suspect I watched Labyrinth at just the wrong age, a bit too cynical to love it with child-like glee. The desire to have my little brother captured by goblins might have hit too close to home, too.

Anonymous said...

I saw this at the height of my Bowie-mania as a teen..Yes I noticed the tights..and wanted to be Sarah in the scene with the dance..
Still have a soft spot for this one and it bears rewatching.
Anna