Early in Jim Henson’s LABYRINTH (1986)—before Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) witnesses her baby brother kidnapped by goblins—and well before she matches wits with David Bowie’s Goblin King to win him back—we follow a tracking shot through her bedroom, as it takes stock of books and belongings. It’s a veritable “Who’s Who” of the fantasy form: Hardback copies of Grimm’s fairy tales, the saga of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, Where the Wild Things Are … there’s even a print of Escher’s Relativity hanging on the wall. Henson is paying tribute to his forefathers. And in this, the last film he ever directed personally, he translates the language of those influences into his own Muppet tongue.
Labyrinth – 1986 – dir. Jim Henson
“Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way to the castle beyond the Goblin City to take back the child that you have stolen. For my will is as strong as yours and my kingdom is as great. You have no power over me.”
The speech is intriguing mostly because of the foreshadowing it does; much like “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” did for Dorothy in the film version of The Wizard of Oz, an inspiration for Labyrinth. Sarah (Jennifer Connelly), a teenager who is trapped within a self-created fantasy world, accidentally wishes her younger brother away to the Goblin King Jareth (David Bowie). When the clock strikes thirteen, the baby will become a goblin—unless Sarah can solve the labyrinth, fight her way to the castle through the Goblin City and save him.
â€œTimes of transition are always magic,â€ the late Jim Henson is quoted as saying in Jim Henson: The Works, a hefty coffee table book chronicling the career of the visionary creator of the Muppets. â€œTwilight is a magic time and dawn is magic â€“ the times during which itâ€™s not day and itâ€™s not night but something in between. Also the time between sleeping and dreaming. There are a lot of mystical qualities to that, and to me this is what the film is about.â€ Henson was referring to Labyrinth, the 1986 film that he described as being â€œabout a person at the point of changing from being a child to being a woman.â€ Labyrinth indeed falls into a tradition of coming of age stories that straddle the line between the real and the fantastic, from family- friendly fare like the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz (one of Hensonâ€™s inspirations), to Neil Jordanâ€™s grownup 1984 horror film In The Company of Wolves. It makes sense that this is so. Adolescence is certainly a liminal time in oneâ€™s life: neither childhood nor adulthood but a confusing in-between, and a film like Labyrinth populated by fantastic characters and possessed of an uncertain sense of time, place, and space perhaps more aptly conveys the outsized anxieties of adolescence than many realist films about young adults.