Henson Week: Labyrinth

In honor of Netflix’s release of The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, we’re taking a look at some of Jim Henson’s other works.

Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the Goblin City to take back the child you have stolen. For my will is as strong as yours and my kingdom as great. You have no power over me!

The year was 2009. It was my sophomore year, and I sat in French class and listened as some of my classmates discussed the musical cult classic, Labyrinth (1986), and sang some songs from the film. The film sounded intriguing and right up my alley: David Bowie, fantasy, strange puppets, and ‘80s synth pop–what’s not to love?? I rented the movie from my local Family Video and immediately fell in love. This lovechild of Jim Henson, George Lucas, and fantasy illustrator Brian Froud would only fuel my fascination with all things “dark and quirky.”

As I watched the opening scene, I remember empathizing with Sarah’s (played by Jennifer Connelly) woes as the “spurned” older sister and stepchild, yet simultaneously thinking, “Well, she sounds like a royal brat.” As the oldest of four (all younger brothers), I could relate to feeling like my parents expected a lot of me and feeling somewhat jealous at times of my brothers. I felt nostalgic for the times when I had fewer worries and more time to do, well, whatever I wanted. (I never wished for my brothers to be taken away by a Goblin King wearing pants that left nothing to the imagination, but that’s neither here nor there.)

Jareth Singing
Image via Henson Associates, Inc. and Lucasfilm LTD

Both the world Sarah lived in and the world she traveled to felt so familiar to me. Even though I’ve never been to an actual goblin kingdom, the design of the world—the creatures, the strange plants, the illusory architecture—felt like a place I’d visited many times in books or in daydreams. The fact that this world still resonates with me ten years after my first viewing of this film goes to show the attention to detail and the amount of care that went into creating the world within Labyrinth.

The synergy between the designers, the actors, and the puppeteers is real, and it’s what brings the film to life. The character Hoggle is portrayed by the actor Shari Weisner, a little person who wears a bodysuit and a mask with mechanical facial features that move, Rob Mills and Ron Mueck worked in tandem to animate the gentle giant Ludo, and a team of people bring the mischievous fieries to life. The only CGI used in the movie is to edit the puppeteers out where needed, and the absence of computer effects really gives the film a wonderful and unique flavor that could only come from the mind of someone like Henson. The world could do with more films that use mechanics and practical effects because at the end of the day, the sheer love and effort that went into the film is what gives it its heart.

I can’t wait to share with you my thoughts on how the use of puppetry in film has withstood the test of time when I share my review of Age of Resistance.

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is available on Netflix.

Labyrinth Poster.png

Written by Alix Teague
(Alix is a fan of memes, puns, and unironically using words like “yeet.” She also has an MA in literature, so she’s clearly putting it to good use. She likes to refer to herself as the Millennial Bard. Follow Alix on anything at @alixplainlater)
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