For all its visual inventiveness, there’s something inert about the late Jim Henson’s 1986 fantasy adventure Labyrinth. Plucky Sarah (Jennifer Connelly), enraged by her stepmother’s demand that she baby-sit her infant brother Toby, flies into a temper tantrum during which she wishes that goblins would take the annoying tyke away. When her request comes true, Sarah must venture through an immense labyrinth to rescue the child from the clutches of the Goblin King Jareth (David Bowie). The Henson creatures on display are magnificently strange, and the director takes his time with each sequence, making sure that we’re able to appreciate the impressive craftsmanship on display. In fact, he often takes too much time. Sarah joins forces with a bundle of wacky sidekicks including the troll-like Hoggle and a Chewbacca-meets-Ghostbusters terror dog named Ludo. But the film never quite strikes the comfortable balance between ominous scares and cuddly cuteness that always defined Henson’s best work. The Muppet mastermind shoots for fairy-tale grandeur in the tradition of the storybook classics found in Sarah’s bedroom (Alice in Wonderland, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Where the Wild Things Are, The Wizard of Oz), and Connelly makes a precocious Alice/Dorothy, even if her non-stop courage and determination somewhat undermine what should be a quest in which she, and not her monstrous comrades, learn the importance of loyalty, sacrifice, and friendship. Sarah finally battles Jareth (Bowie sports a Tina Turner-ish hairdo and an outfit that combines vampire cloak with horse-riding tights) in a dazzling room filled with staircases that defy the laws of gravity by branching off in every direction imaginable. It’s an impressive set piece filled with typical Henson magic but it fails to obscure the film’s most phantasmagoric, not to mention eerie, moment: a creepy pedophilic musical number involving the androgynous Bowie’s attempted seduction of then-15-year-old Connelly.
- Jim Henson
- Terry Jones
- David Bowie, Jennifer Connelly, Toby Froud, Shelley Thompson, Christopher Malcolm, Natalie Finland, Shari Weiser
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