Jim Henson is a beloved figure the world over for his part in creating The Muppets (for more on
these anarchic creations, see The Muppets Christmas Carol review in Chapter 12) as well as
pioneering puppeteering in modern film & TV. He’s an icon of the medium who sadly died before his
time at the age of 53.
As is the case with most celebrity deaths, his shorter life only heightened the feeling of reverence
around him, making him a symbolic icon of puppetry that persists to this day.
Alongside his work with The Muppets Show and Sesame Street, Henson made two movies
independent of his most famous creations, both of which went on to enjoy a wide cult appeal and
are now considered as classic of their genre.
The first of these films was 1982’s The Dark Crystal, a property whose popularity was such that it
spawned a Netflix TV series decades after its initial release, which was also warmly-received, albeit
Following on from this relative success away from Kermit & Co (although still within his
puppeteering wheelhouse) came this film in 1986, a collaboration between Henson, producer
George Lucas, and writer Terry Jones (of Monty Python fame). The film also gets a boost through
having one of the world’s most famous men, David Bowie, in a starring role.
Labyrinth follows the story of Sarah (Jennifer Connelly), a frustrated teenage girl, saddled with
babysitting her baby brother Toby. In a fit of madness, she calls upon the Goblin King (Bowie) to take
her brother away. Immediately remorseful at her actions she makes a deal with the Goblin King,
forcing her to navigate a tricky labyrinth in order to save her brother, before he gets turned into a
I found myself pleasantly surprised with Labyrinth. For many years I’d heard it talked up as being a
cult classic and how I ‘had to see it’. That kind of thing often puts me off watching a film, sometimes
out of spite, but mostly because hype is a dangerous thing, and furthermore, so are cult films.
Following that awesome segue (hello, I am a writer, smug-smug), let’s talk about cult films.
There are many different types of them. There’s the sexy (Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Lost Boys),
the terrible (The Room, Trolls 2) and there’s the odd (Donnie Darko, Eraserhead) and that’s just
scraping the tip of the iceberg. As a general rule of thumb though, a ‘cult film’ is something that
struggled to find an audience upon its first release, but later found its niche. Usually through the
midnight showing circuit.
Although I’ve heard of this film being referred to as a cult film. I’m not sure I agree. Sure, it is a little
off-the-wall, Jim Henson productions tended to be more imaginative than most, but I still think it has
a broader market appeal than most of its bedfellows.
It’s light-hearted, charming, fun and creative. There’s something to be enjoyed here for everyone, I
feel. The kids will love the silly characters and the puppets and the adults will enjoy its campy nature
and appearance of David Bowie.
The word I used a few paragraphs ago (imaginative) probably describes the film best; across all
departments too, it didn’t reserve its whimsy just for the puppets. There’s some truly remarkable
production design and costumes on display, and Henson’s incredible eye for anarchic, family-friendly
storytelling is on full display.
But the real success is undoubtably the puppets, oh my lord, the puppets, they’re wonderful. I really
shouldn’t be surprised that someone with Henson’s background nailed the puppet design, but
they’re remarkable works of creativity and engineering.
Hoggle is the highlight of the bunch. I’m interested to know just how he works, but in the same
breath, I really don’t want to know either, for fear of ruining the magic.
However he works, his
design may cause a few to recoil at the start, but his character really shines through later in the film.
I really was amazed at just how expressive he was, conveying sadness and disappointment, all the
while being a puppet, some human actors don’t have that range!
When you cast a star from another medium in your film, you’re taking a big risk; and while this
wasn’t Bowie’s first leading role (The Man Who Fell to Earth pre-dates this) he wasn’t exactly a
seasoned actor when he was cast.
While he undeniably brings a certain charisma and magnetism to the role – I also applaud him for
playing a villain when he comes from such an image-conciouss world – he can hardly be described as
a powerhouse in front of the camera.
He isn’t awful, but he certainly doesn’t look comfortable either
(to be fair, I wouldn’t be in those trousers) altogether he cuts a somewhat awkward figure in the
film. He isn’t quite menacing, but he does have a presence about him (and no, I’m not referring to his
There is a lot to enjoy about Labyrinth when all is said and done. It did seem to drag in the middle,
despite its fairly-light ninety-minute runtime, and some of its songs don’t quite hit home, but it does
produce that brand of whimsy that Henson would become universally famous for.
It’s a fun, light
watch that feels right at home amongst him filmography, despite its flaws, it’s a very enjoyable
watch; the only thing is, you’ll end up with that song stuck in your head for weeks afterwards…