Directed by Jim Henson. David Bowie, Jennifer Connelly, Toby Frou, Shelley Thompson, Christopher Malcolm, Shari Weiser. TriStar.
Decent Films Ratings
|?Kids & Up*|
Content advisory: Mildly intimidating imagery; some rude humor.
From a National Catholic Register review
By Steven D. Greydanus
You remind me of the babe.
The babe with the power.
The power of voodoo.
Remind me of the babe…
No, it doesn’t make any sense, either in the context of the film or otherwise. Unfortunately, too much of Labryinth is about the same. Lazy and haphazard, Labyrinth plays like The Wizard of Oz or Alice in Wonderland crossed with a middling episode of “The Muppet Show” guest-starring David Bowie.
Where that other 1980s Muppety fantasy family film, The Dark Crystal, is a would-be myth populated exclusively by fictional creatures, Labryinth is a would-be fairy tale trafficking between the human world and a world of goblins and other creatures. The story revolves in more ways than one around its human protagonist, a dreamy, petulant young girl named Sarah (15-year-old Jennifer Connelly) who tearily resents the encroachments of the real world, including a stepmother and baby stepbrother Toby, on her fantasy life. Rather than a big sister with responsibilities, Sarah prefers to imagine herself as a valiant princess on a noble quest to rescue a kidnapped child from the clutches of the nefarious Goblin King.
Wouldn’t you know it, a actual Goblin King named Jareth (Bowie in a Tina Turner wig and lots of makeup) really does show up, and quick as you can say “I wish the goblins would come and take you away right now” Toby is gone. Now Sarah must embark on a quest to rescue him, braving a seemingly impenetrable labryinth where she must solve problems like the old chestnut about the two doors with the lying and truth-telling guards, a bridge guarded by a fox-cavalier sworn to prevent anyone from crossing without his permission, and so on.
Despite some imaginative visuals, such as the Escher-inspired omnidirectional castle at the finale, Labyrinth suffers from a distinct lack of charm, with poorly thought-out characters, limp plotting and a limp climax. Although positioned as a coming-of-age tale, Labyrinth indulges rather than challenges Sarah’s heroic-princess fantasies, with a made-to-order adversary whose whole world, for no very obvious reason, seems to center on Sarah. “Everything that you wanted I have done,” Jareth tells Sarah in the end. “You asked that child be taken; I took him. You cowered before me and I was frightening. … I have done it all for you! I am exhausted from living up to your expectations of me.” Um, well then, why were you doing it? What was the point? Cui bono — who benefits?
Sarah’s friends, too, are there for Sarah’s sake. In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy cared as much about the various longings of the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion as her own; they took her outside of herself and helped her escape the mild self-centeredness of the Kansas prologue. By contrast, Hoggle, Ludo and Sir Didymus have no lives or aspirations of their own, outside of Sarah’s quest; they’re all there for her: “Should you need us… for any reason at all…”
Labyrinth was executive-produced by George Lucas, and like Lucas’s Willow it features a baby as a MacGuffin without any clear sense of where to go with it or why. Barely-integrated musical numbers merely interrupt the story rather than developing or advancing it. Along with the likes of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Labyrinth is yet another cautionary reminder that the musical magic of The Wizard of Oz is easy to copy, but hard to replicate.