Labyrinth (1986)

Directed by Jim Henson. David Bowie, Jennifer Connelly, Toby Frou, Shelley Thompson, Christopher Malcolm, Shari Weiser. TriStar.

Decent Films Ratings

Overall
Recommendability
?C
Artistic/
Entertainment Value
?
Moral/Spiritual
Value (+4/-4)
? -1
Age
Appropriateness
?Kids & Up*

External Ratings

MPAA ?G USCCB ?A-I

Content advisory: Mildly intimidating imagery; some rude humor.

From a National Catholic Register review

By Steven D. Greydanus

You remind me of the babe.
What babe?
The babe with the power.
What power?
The power of voodoo.
Who do?
You do.
Do what?
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.

Tags: Muppety, Family, Fantasy

Related Content

Mail: Re: The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth

I admit I’m completely baffled. I understand why you didn’t think much of The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, but I have no idea why you troubled yourself to review them. I did see The Dark Crystal and thought your review was actually kinder than it deserved. I admit I never saw Labyrinth, but no one whose opinion I respected ever suggested that I should.

I understand perfectly why you would review an older movie that audiences should take the time to find and see, but these two movies don’t seem to qualify. Of course it is your perfect right to review whatever movies you see fit, but I was greatly surprised that you saw fit to review those two and am genuinely curious as to why.

Many factors go into what movies wind up getting reviewed and what movies don’t. In the case of The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, the precipitating factor was new DVD editions for both films, making them candidates for my weekly “DVD Picks” column in the National Catholic Register — and, being family-themed films that still have a significant nostalgic appeal for many viewers, they are of some interest to my readership.

The Dark Crystal in particular continues to have admirers, though I’m not especially one of them. Labyrinth also has devoted fans — a number of whom have written to take exception with my review. In general, though, readers seem generally to agree more than not on these reviews.

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Mail: Re: Labyrinth

I was both surprised and pleased that you actually reviewed Labyrinth. Surprised, because it just doesn’t seem to be the sort of thing anyone really needs to review, and please because it deserves some attention. I think, though, you missed the point of the movie.

Actually, I think you missed it by trying to find one. That’s why Labyrinth is so difficult to review. Both fans and detractors alike couldn’t care less. As my sister (who hates the movie) says, “It’s David Bowie in tight pants and a blond mullet. That says enough.” She wouldn’t watch the movie if there was a point (and I wouldn’t enjoy it any more).

The purpose of the movie, like Alice in Wonderland (the book) is practically non-existent. Yes, there are some moral lessons to be learned about selfishness, growing up, et cetera. But who watches Labyrinth for that? No one, as far as I know. People watch Labyrinth because it doesn’t make sense. Its like a pleasant (or not so pleasant) romp in childhood dreamlands. Nothing is as it seems (which is something along the lines of the tagline).

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