Jim Henson’s Labyrinth was a film which I had extremely fond memories of and like many had watched it a good few times when young. Thanks to David Bowie’s seductive goblin king and Jennifer Connelly’s sweet performance it was a film I was looking forward to watching again, but though fairly fun it isn’t up there with the best eighties fantasy films. That’s mostly because it’s missing that special magical ingredient to raise it from being “very entertaining” to “absolute classic”, the dialogue is decent yet not amazing and the script could have done with at least one more polish.
When we first meet Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) she’s something of a typical teenager, and so a selfish, spoilt brat whose behaviour leads to her young brother Toby ending up in the hands of Bowie’s Goblin King. Luckily she feels guilty about this and so heads off to rescue him, and has to escape the labyrinth within twelve hours or she’ll lose Toby forever, though fortunately she has some help along the way, even if weird old Hoggle (Brian Henson) might not always have the best of intentions towards her.
It’s one of those films where the lead seems completely nonplussed about being in a fantastic land and Sarah adapts to her surroundings bizarrely quickly, and when she first meets Hoggle he’s pissing in a pond and swatting fairies yet Sarah trusts him completely because she’s not the smartest cookie around. Every so often Bowie turns up and is quite frankly a right dick, threatening poor old Sarah and making her life even more of a misery, but in many ways I was rooting for him to win as while okay Sarah isn’t that great a character and he’s far more fun.
Sarah’s adventures in the labyrinth are entertaining enough but it’s a journey which while beautifully designed rarely leads to any moments which will take your breath away or have you clutching your sides as you’ve laughed so much. The characters she meets are intriguing in a mild way, but fairly forgettable too and it’s only Hoggle and Ludo (Ron Muedo) who are in any way memorable, though I suppose Ambrosius the cowardly dog and Sir Didymus (David Shaughnessy) have their moments.
It’s weird musically as there’s the odd song, or a snippet of one, but it’s not a musical, just a couple are thrown in on occasion and the film would have benefitted from a good few others given that they’ve David Bowie on hand to sing them. Thematically it’s not exactly subtle either and the whole thing about putting aside childish things and losing your innocence is handled in a rather on the nose fashion.
If the script had matched the quality of the design of the film then this really would be something special, but all too often Sarah and her antics are fairly entertaining but nothing more than that. Making use of David Bowie a lot more would have led to a far better film too, and ultimately the slightly lacklustre script is to blame, making this a film which might still entertain the very young but anyone of Sarah’s age and over will probably struggles to understand why so many loved it back when it was released.