Jim Henson and George Lucas' Labyrinth- more than just a children's cult classic?
Movie Title: Labyrinth
Director: Jim Henson
Writers: Dennis Lee (Story), Jim Henson (story), and Terry Jones (screenplay)
Producers: Eric Rattray, David Lazer, George Lucas
Date of Release: June 27, 1986
Genre: Fantasy / Science Fiction
WARNING! SPOILER ALERT!
Sarah Williams (Jennifer Connelly) is reenacting her favorite heroine fairytale at the park nearby her house when the clock in the city hall strikes 7pm. She hurries back to her house aware that she has to babysit her baby stepbrother Toby (Toby Froud) after arguing with her stepmother about her tardiness and being ignored by her father. Once left alone with Toby, Sarah is further angered that her stepmother gave him Lancelot, her favorite teddy bear, and shouts for someone to strip her away from ‘this awful place’. Angered that the baby won’t stop crying, Sarah calls for the goblins to take Toby away. Which much to her avail, he gets taken away by Jareth, the King of the Goblins (David Bowie). Jareth gives Sarah the option of taking her dreams or spending 13 hours in pursuit of her brother in the Labyrinth to spare him from becoming a goblin. Sarah resolved to enter the labyrinth in search of her baby brother.
Once she got to the Labyrinth doors, she meets Hoggle (voice Brian Henson), an ancient dwarf, whom taught her how to open the doors to the labyrinth and soon thereafter showed up to her rescue. His mission was to send Sarah to the beginning of the Labyrinth, as per Jareth, but he found her friendship instead which resulted in the loss of three hours for her and Hoggle got threatened to be sent to the worse place in the Labyrinth; the Bog of Eternal Stench! She also found Ludo, a giant but gentle furry beast whom she saved from goblin torture. She quickly lost him too, and landed in a forest with Firies, creatures that danced and took off their heads. They attempted to mutilate her as well, but got rescued by Hoggle. She kissed him on the head, and based on Jareth’s threat that if she ever kissed him, they landed in the Bog. In the river of foul odor, Sarah found Ludo again and met Sir Dydimus, a fox knight with a sheep dog as his steed. Sarah traveled successfully and got closer to the center of the labyrinth until she took a bite of the peach Hoggle was given by Jareth, and she entered a hallucinogenic state. In her dream state, she found herself in a ball wearing a beautiful white gown surrounded by masked faces as she danced with the Goblin King. When she woke up, she was guided into a room full of her favorite fantasies by a goblin woman, unaware of what her original task was. When she found her Labyrinth book, she was reminded all over again about her brother and escaped with the help of her friends.
Then they made it to the castle, and after surviving an attack from a horde of goblins, Sarah went up the stairs in her final attempt to find Toby. She found Toby by the stairs and battled an unsolvable maze that led her to casting Jareth away by reciting the lines from the story that would finalize his disappearance and her baby brother’s safety .
Within the first ten minutes of Labyrinth, we know everything about Sarah Williams (Jennifer Connelly). She is a 15-year-old teenage girl in love with fairytales and the reenactment of her favorite folklores. We also see an argument between her stepmother and her about her tardiness to babysit. She complains to her father about her stepmother, but he doesn’t reinforce the complaint. Soon after this, while she is in her room, we see her mom’s acting scrapbook which features Jareth, the King of the Goblins (David Bowie). That leaves us to wonder or perhaps assume that she is in lust, or maybe even love as she describes it, with her father. So the main character is a teenage girl with a case of Oedipus complex; that sets the stakes for the film’s marginality high. Besides Sarah and Jareth being the only human (well, Jareth for the most part because he is a Goblin) characters, every other character in the film is a puppet. Jim Henson’s puppets were an essential part of the story. A large cast of puppeteers were hired for the film to be the voices and in some instances control the animatronics to every puppet.
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The rumors and criticism of the control theme remain ambiguous to this day. Many analyses of what was to be a children’s story explored multiple allegories presented by the film. One of them was that ‘Labyrinth’ was an allegory of date rape through its persuasion and control of a teenage girl inducing hallucinogens. Sarah’s coming of age sexuality was also explored; was she sexually attracted to demi-God David Bowie who played the King of Goblins? More so, was he really her father? Sarah was in love with her father? The Oedipus complex was heavily analyzed through multiple mediums. Though these themes presented themselves, ‘Labyrinth’ remained viewable to younger audiences with its PG MPAA approved rating in spite of its abundance in metaphorical circumstances.
Being that it was a children’s movie, but didn’t fall in the hands of magic making Disney, the film resulted in a major box office flop. With a budget of $25 million, Henson’s puppet driven masterpiece only grossed $12.5 million. DVD sales didn’t do it much justice either. Thus, ‘Labyrinth’ was an economic cult success.
‘Labyrinth’ was able to transgress, first of all, with the help of Sarah Williams as the strong female lead central to the story. Her strength shines when the King of Goblins suggests that all he wants is to control her and her mind. This breaks the barrier of mind control over what is typically stereotyped as a weak female and weak society easy to be controlled. Also, the “bad guy”, Jareth, became very likeable as the King of Goblins. He even snuck in a few solos throughout Sarah’s journey through the labyrinth. Other than that, the film’s composition of the puppets and Sarah’s struggle through the maze slightly display the power of transgression. Puppets aren’t necessarily brand new to the entertainment medium, but they aren’t common in the major motion picture brand.
The cult following that Jim Henson created through his characters is one that still stands. There is still an annual “The Labyrinth of Jareth” for cosplay fans of the film. These fans dress up as their favorite ‘Labyrinth’ characters and enjoy a social night out. Also, several fandom blogs and clubs sprouted on Sarah/Jareth fandom. Many other fan made websites opened up as well, but have been taken down since the release of the film.
Community for ‘Labyrinth’ remains at the annual “Labyrinth of Jareth” cosplay event, but no other ritualistic behavior by fans is known of.
“You remind me of the babe”, sings Jareth.
“What babe?” asks the Goblin.
“The baby with the power”, Jareth replies.
The Goblin asks again, “What power?”
“The power of voodoo”, is Jareth’s final response.
Dialogue in ‘Labyrinth’ has revolutionized itself through the songs David Bowie performs throughout like “As The World Falls Down” and “Within You”. But there are other important lines of dialogue that made their way to fan shirts, posters, and common dialogue amongst people without even knowing they referenced ‘Labyrinth’. The Worm that Sarah encounters upon entering the labyrinth greets her by saying “ello”, which has been used by fans and others alike as a spawn of the film. Another line of dialogue that spread like wild fire was Jareth’s promise to Sarah in the film’s finale; “I ask for so little. Just fear me, love me, do as I say and I will be your slave.” “It’s only forever, not long at all”, and “How you turn my world, you precious thing” are other famous quotes David Bowie reiterates that have stood the test of time.
Needless to say, ‘Labyrinth’ established David Bowie as something more than a demi-God, but as a cult icon as well. His big white hair, and evidently awkward bulge remains one of David Bowie and Jim Henson’s prime examples of genius.
So, on a scale of one through eight, ‘Labyrinth’ gets a solid seven on the cult status scale.