At the height of his fame, Jim Henson delivered two films that deviated from his renowned Muppets and Fraggle Rock franchises. The Dark Crystal (1982) and Labyrinth (1986) hint at where Henson could have taken puppetry had he lived longer. They represent the best of Henson’s fantasy world-building, beautifully crafted scenery, and, mastery of the puppet arts. More than thirty years later, revisiting these films produces two insights. The self-evident one is that they withstand the test of time; still heavy, haunting, and Homeric in the case of The Dark Crystal, while Labyrinth remains charged, comical, and campy. The lesser realized truth is that both films are hallmarks of a storytelling that sought to strike a balance between adult and child audiences, challenging adult notions about certain forms of entertainment.
By Jessica O’Byrne
Pan’s Labyrinth – 2006 – dir. Guillermo del Toro
Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth is a rich pastiche of mythological references that is both familiar and completely, breathtakingly unexpected. By combining ages old storytelling techniques with a fearless use of cinematic magic, del Toro manages to once again breathe a completely new spirit into the ancient battle between good and evil. The film is, essentially, two stories in one: first, the story of a post-Civil War Spain in which Franco’s regime is doing its best to root out the last of the opposition forces. Second, the story of Ofelia, a young girl with an incredibly vivid imagination who discovers that she is actually the spirit of the long-lost princess of the underworld. The two stories converge with Ofelia’s mother, who has married Captain Vidal and is very pregnant with his unborn child.