Tuesday, September 14, 2010


I just got back from ten days in my home areas of Chicago and central Wisconsin. I certainly have a lot of thoughts inspired by the trip, as well as things I've been meaning to write about for weeks, but today I'm going to talk about the film Labyrinth, which I just saw tonight for the first time in perhaps two decades.

Labyrinth is the story of an imaginative young girl who has to rescue her baby brother from the Goblin King's labyrinth. Jennifer Connelly is excellently cast as a beautiful girl, wise beyond her years, who catches the attention of the Goblin King, played by David Bowie. She gradually matures and takes on new strengths and responsibilities through the course of the film.

I love this film for a number of reasons.

First off, and least objective, is that I grew up with the movie. My parents and those of my two best childhood friends used to drop us off at the local gym every few Friday nights for the gym's regular pizza parties for kids. These were always a big event for us. We swam in the pool, then watched a movie while eating pizza. Probably about 70% of the time the film shown was either Labyrinth or The Princess Bride, both of which are excellent works blending reality and fantasy (Neverending Story is another great film in the genre).

But beyond my sentimental connections, tonight's viewing reminded me of many other merits of the film. Most obvious is the amazing muppetry, care of Jim Henson, George Lucas, and Frank Oz. There is a stunning array of goblins, scenery, mythical lands. The artistry is apparent in every scene. And the special effects are mainly done through actual puppetry and stagecraft, not some computer animation, so they don't at all look dated.

I also love the weird, psychedelic songs written and sung by David Bowie. They add one more layer of surreal content done by real craft. However, here is a differing opinion from a reviewer who loved the movie's effects but hated Bowie's singing.

Most of all I feel that Labyrinth is an honest, mature film for kids. It doesn't dodge around any issues it thinks are too tough for kids to deal with. The movie is scary in parts, and is imbued with certain palpable but nebulous adult tensions that kids can sense without necessarily understanding. This is exactly what the world of children is often like. The film's goblin world is delightfully detailed and fanciful, and does away with many of the more complex moral codes of the adult world. Again, this lack of established morality seems to me to be a real nod to the world of children, which is new and confusing and without as many givens as the adult world. Even the nascent romance between underage Sarah and the Goblin King, which is clearly inappropriate to the adult eye, isn't played with any heavy-handed morality. There are latent sexual tensions that erupt in the pleading and blind rage of a spurned lover at the end of the film. Here is a photo of the lovely couple dancing as Sarah is in a spell-induced stupor.

So all in all I feel that Labyrinth is a mature treatment of profound issues, but from a child's viewpoint. This type of high quality in children's entertainment is much more impressive than many of the winking, ironic Pixar films, which more often than not are merely adult-oriented films dressed up with animated characters. Labyrinth brings a sincerity and complexity that doesn't take kids for fools.

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