I’m not just here to recommend a movie, but also a type of movie. It’s something that I don’t see around much these days, and that saddens me.
The type of movie I refer to is the dark family film.
I feel like these days kids films are kids films, and only that. They’re created and marketed for innocent angels untouched by the horrors of the world, intent on keeping them that way. This is not a good way to raise a child. Children need to be taught, albeit delicately, that the world can be a very strange place; hard to understand and unbelievably counter-intuative. Ugly people can be beautiful, and beautiful people can can be ugly. The universe is complicated, even just your little slice of it can seem impossible to navigate. Life is full of dead-ends, bad information, and it’s only your decisions and ability to persevere that will ultimately get you through it.
Nowhere is this better laid out for them than in Jim Henson’s Labyrinth.
I want to make one thing clear. I believe that Labyrinth is one of the defining factors in making me who I am today. I don’t just mean this in a shiny, happy, my-first-book-of-letters, kind of way. I mean it in a grungy, nihilistic, my-first-horror-film, kind of way. This may just possibly be the first film I saw that contained horror-elements, and it was a case of baptism-by-fire for sure. This movie is scary. It knows where to grab you and how hard to squeeze. Tiny furry creatures, slimy swamps, and menacing villains all helped to prepare me for the movies that would later hit me in my teenage years.
I don’t want to make it sound terrible, however. This is not a post-apocalyptic flesh eating zombie gore fest. It’s the story of moral choices, friends, imagination, and the transition from childhood to adulthood; the idea that being able to escape into a world of fantasy is not a sign that something’s wrong with you, but at the same time it discusses the need to fulfil your responsibilities and face the consequences for your own actions in the real world. These are all things that children need to hear.
But enough about the merits of existentialism in youth. Let’s talk about the film itself.
It centres around a young girl named Sarah. Sarah is like every teenage girl, except she isn’t. She isn’t going out and partying with her friends, she entertains herself with stories, toys, and fantasies. Never-the-less this is driving a wedge between her and her family as she rejects authority in her own way. It fuels her dislike of her baby brother, whom she sees as a burden on her own freedom. One night, she hits her breaking point and literally wishes her baby brother away. He disappears. Next, the Goblin King arrives to tell her she must navigate his labyrinth and find the child in less than 13 hours or else he will become a goblin forever.
A young Jennifer Connelly plays Sarah. A role which I doubt she had to fight hard for, as she appears to be the perfect mix of beauty, empowerment, and emotion. In fact, maybe they had to convince her.
Who plays The Goblin King? Oh just some guy called David Freakin’ Bowie!
I’d love it if David Bowie‘s middle name was actually Freakin’.
Everything about this movie is so 80’s. The effects, the music, the hair, the David Bowie. Did I mention David Bowie is in this?
Jim Henson is a genius for even thinking about combining these ingredients. His puppetry almost comes in second to everything else that just fantastic about this film. That’s not to say the puppets aren’t magical, they certainly are. Henson does a wonderful thing of putting creepy faces on loveable characters. It makes you scared and happy all at the same time. I don’t know if you know this but, he based them on real people too:
No I made that up. But, it’s uncanny, right?
Ok, time for the dislikes. I don’t really have any dislikes, because this movie is so amazing. However, one thing has started to bother me as I got older. Three words: David … Bowie’s … codpiece. That is all.
I’ve told you everything you need to know. Now go see the movie! It will change your life!
Labyrinth (1986) Trailer