Flashback Fridays: It’s Only Forever . . . That’s Not Long At all

Writing this on very little sleep so forgive a rambling sentence structure . . .

My eleventh birthday.  The very first time I got to go to see a movie without a parent right there in the theater.  My best friend and I bought huge sodas and popcorn containers (the kind of thing our parents would never buy) and settled in to watch a brand new Jim Henson fantasy movie.   It had everything we wanted to see:  muppets, goblins, magic, a female protagonist, wild costumes and an amazing setting.

Remember Labyrinth (1986)? Starring David Bowie,  a very young Jennifer Connelly, with the story and directing by Jim Henson, this was a lovely bit of magic that directly appealed to tween girls and did not involve unicorns, princesses or anything pink.  Thinking back, this really was one of the first fantasy movies of this kind of quality for kids.  We had science fiction like E.T.  the Extraterrestrial, The Explorers and The Navigator, but up until now, most live action fantasy had been campy sword and sorcery adult style stuff.  Right around the mid 1980s we started seeing movies that really got creative with fantasy and had money to back up their creativity.  But I don’t think any of the other movies quite meshed with the tween-age girl as well as this one.

The plot is uncomplicated:  A teenage girl feels her life is unfair.  Her father and stepmother don’t understand her, and she lives in her own little perfect fantasy world of stuffed animals, fairy tales and other toys.  She’s angry when she has to watch her baby brother, Toby and while babysitting him she invents a wild story of goblins coming to take him away.  What she doesn’t realize is that her story isn’t just a story, and her words inadvertently allow actual goblins to steal her brother away.  This of course is unacceptable, and when Sarah finds herself face to face with the Goblin King (David Bowie) she insists on getting her brother back.  The goblin king  tells her she has thirteen hours to solve and impossibly complicated labyrinth and win back her brother–and Sarah accepts the challenge.  From here on out, our story is in a wild fantasy world full of amazing Froud and Henson designs.  Sara’s facing impossible odds, but with a little help from newfound friends, she just might beat the Labyrinth and get Toby back.

I loved this movie.  To a degree I still do.  I absolutely adore the wild costumes, the sets, and Henson’s muppets.  My best friend and I watched this on our birthdays every year.  (This was back in the day when we’d have to hope it was available at the local video store).   David Bowie made the perfect brooding Goblin King.  His wildly exotic looks, his wilder wardrobe and his ability to spin crystal meditation balls all worked to create an alluring villain that invites you to be intrigued and attracted while still dealing with someone who is the enemy.   There’s this amazing scene where Sarah confronts the Goblin King in a Escher-like room that just blew my mind.

Despite the passage of years, the magic of the movie holds up fairly well thanks to the mind of Jim Henson.  There’s not a lot of sparkly lights and glowing magic, nor “special effects” that look cheesy with the advance of technology.  Henson’s concrete puppets and vivid animation of them keep the world of the Labryinth feeling real and vibrant, even in these modern CGI times.

For the most part, I think this movie is fine for the 8 years and up crowd.  However there is one thing . . .

I didn’t have this pointed out for me until college.  I confess I really didn’t notice (probably because I was too busy wanting his cloaks and capes) but the goblin king’s pants are reeeeeeaaally tight.   It doesn’t leave much to the imagination, and is the cause of much humor and several online memes.  I don’t think this ruins the movie for kids–especially if its not pointed out to them, but may cause a giggle fest among teenage audiences.

A book was written after the movie: Labyrinth: A Novel Based on the Jim Henson Film by A.C.H. Smith, Terry Jones and Jim Henson (Henry Holt & Company, 1986).   What’s interesting about the story in the book, is it becomes clear that Sarah is in mourning for her mother who died, and that has a lot to do with preserving her room full of toys and fantasy.  She’s living in the past, in partial denial.  When the Goblin King offers her a crystal orb, it comes with the implication that she will be able to see her mother within it, something she desperately yearns for.  It gives Sarah a lot more dimension than the girl we meet in the movie.

In 2006 Tokyopop published the first volume in a manga series for teens: Return to the Labyrinth (volume 1) by Chris T Forbes and Chris Lie.   There were four volumes published altogether with the last one out in 2010.  If you like Labyrinth fanfic, this might be worth a look, but overall it’s quite a departure from the original movie, and isn’t really for younger kids.

I do believe that this movie, along with The Princess Bride, Legend and even The Neverending Story helped to slowly give fantasy movies a wider audience and persuade those making them to really try new things.  These movies  are the early stepping stones that have lead to the stunning fantasy movies such as Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter.    It’s also one of the few kid fantasy  movies that features a female protagonist who rejects the princess image (quite vividly) in order to save her brother.  There aren’t a huge amount of good fantasy movies for girls that give them an active heroine to follow and identify with, so I’m happy to have Labyrinth on the list.

Now I’ll open the floor to my readers.  Have you seen the movie?  Are you a fan?  If so, what’s your favorite scene from the movie?

Please comment! (Jareth is waiting).


About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on May 25, 2013, in Flashback Fridays, General Posts and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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