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  Labyrinth It's A Puppet!
Year: 1986
Director: Jim Henson
Stars: David Bowie, Jennifer Connelly, Toby Froud, Shelley Thompson, Christopher Malcolm, Natalie Finland, Shari Weiser, Brian Henson, Ron Mueck, Rob Mills, Dave Goelz, David Alan Barclay, David Shaughnessy, Timothy Bateson, Frank Oz, Michael Hordern
Genre: FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 3 votes)
Review: Teenage Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) is reciting lines from a book in a local park with her faithful dog Merlin by her side when a storm starts brewing overhead. Then she notices the time and rushes home, where she is supposed to be babysitting for her infant stepbrother Toby (Toby Froud), and when she arrives she gets into an argument with her stepmother (Shelley Thompson) that ends with Sarah rushing upstairs to her bedroom in a rage, complaining that nobody understands her. Once she's left alone with the crying Toby, she resents him all more, and calls for the goblins to take him away - but she should be careful what she wishes for...

After Jim Henson and his crew had some success with Muppet movies and, more pertinently, The Dark Crystal the next project to seize their attention was a variation on Alice in Wonderland by way of The Wizard of Oz. In fact, so in the thrall of classic children's literature were they that Labyrinth was expressly designed as the heir to their crown, as if it were an adaptation of a revered novel that hadn't been written yet. Unfortunately, for most of the audience the film fell short and the film failed at the box office.

I say "most" because if you saw this as a teenage girl, or are currently a teenage girl, then there's a good chance it will be one of your favourite movies. As for everyone else, the appeal may pass them by as Terry Jones' script was much reworked during production apparently to eliminate any trace of a story. Really, the film acts as a showcase for one puppeteering or optical illusion setpiece after another, and while the talent that has gone into creating them is undeniable and impressive, in effect it results in something that looks more like a selection of variety show numbers.

Talking of numbers, there are songs in this too courtesy of co-star David Bowie who plays the Goblin King, also known as Jareth. It's amusing to see the former Ziggy Stardust in a huge fright wig and inappropriate trousers and he is obviously enjoying himself, but a menacing villain he is not, no matter how many times he plays with his balls (glass balls, that is - thanks to juggling skills of an offscreen talent essaying the role of Jareth's hands). To back up this embodiment of mischief who has kidnapped Toby after Sarah's inadvised wish are a collection of cackling Muppets in various states of endearment.

And they're supposed to be the baddies. The real problem is that everything is too cutesy for its own good so that whenever a serious point threatens to loom, it's scuppered by more showing off. Sarah ends up in the land of the Goblins and the labyrinth of the title, and she collects her own allies starting with Hoggle, a gnome-like fellow who does his darnedest to reject her friendship at every turn. Later there is a huge yak-like creature called Ludo to join up with and a foolhardy but brave fox called Sir Didymus who rides a sheepdog, and they all charm to some extent, but when, for example, it's suggested that Sarah should put away childish things and mature into womanhood this theme is thrown away by the ending, not something you find in The Wizard of Oz. Impeccably made, but emotionally stunted. Music by Trevor Jones.

[Sony's Collector's Edition DVD is a must for the fans, with audio commentary, featurettes, trailer and galleries to entertain them.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Jim Henson  (1936 - 1990)

American puppeteer and creator of the Muppets whose career took off when his puppets were used on children's show Sesame Street. The Muppets got their own show in the seventies, which was successful enough to make the jump to the big screen with The Muppet Movie and its sequels.

In the eighties, Henson went on to direct The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, which both featured his puppets extensively, and on television he came up with Fraggle Rock and The Storyteller.

 
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