Where Everything Seems Possible and Nothing Is What It Seems

        "Where everything seems possible and nothing is what it seems."  Young Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) is left home alone by her parents, and she has to baby-sit her little brother Toby. But the baby keeps crying; and Sarah, while telling a story to make him sleep, inadvertently conjures the Goblin King Jareth (David Bowie) from a fantasy world who steals the child and brings him to his castle in the middle of a Labyrinth. Sarah has to rescue him before midnight, or the baby will became a goblin. Along the way she meets a small group of loyal friends: Ludo, the friendly rock-calling monster; Hoggle, the goblin who changes his views on his life; and Sir Didymus, the small courageous doglike creature. This is a delightful musical with equal amount of delightful mischievous creatures lurking around every corner!

        In 1983, Jim Henson began to plan a new fantasy movie, Labyrinth. As with The Dark Crystal, Brian Froud was to be the conceptual designer. But this time, the development process would be somewhat different. To begin with, Labyrinth would include human characters and take place partly in the everyday world. This was not a case of inventing everything from scratch, even though much of the film would take place in a make-believe setting and involve many animatronic creatures created in the Downshire Hill Creature Shop.

        Labyrinth would keep the Creature Shop busy devising everything from talking door knockers to a walking junk pile. It's impossible to come up with a "typical" Labyrinth character, but the kind of complexities involved can be understood by taking the case of Hoggle--a major figure in the movie who reluctantly befriends the film's heroine. On one level, Hoggle was simply an evolution of the "humans with muppet heads" concept that had begun with Hey Cinderella! Inside the basic Hoggle suit was an actress provided with a concealed view hole and a television monitor that showed her what the camera saw. But Hoggle's enormous head went way beyond anything imagined at the time of Hey Cinderella! This was remote-controlled, animatronic device requiring several people to operate it, one performing the lips, one the eyes, one the brows, and so on--all supervised by Brian Henson.

        Coexisting with Hoggle would be characters like Sir Didymus--a courtly terrier who speaks Elizabethan English and rides a sheepdog named Ambrosius. Other inventions included Ludo (a gentle, lumbering giant with matted red fur), and the maniac "fierys," who could cause flames to leap up from the ground and separate their heads and limbs from their bodies. In fact, Labyrinth would contain the full gamut of puppet styles and animatronic innovations Jim had introduced over the years. Labyrinth was directed by Jim Henson with all the technical flair he had brought to his early film projects. And while he did not perform any major characters, several Muppet Show and Sesame Street veterans did, including Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmire, and Kevin Clash, along with Brian Henson and Dark Crystal alumni like Dave Greenaway.

        The pleasures of the tale, however, are in the telling--as is so often the case in Jim Henson's projects--the telling is essentially visual. In a sense, the Labyrinth itself is the film's central character, and it is splendidly realized in all its manifestations. In places it is made up of damp, high walls, from which an exotic form of creeping plant watches with beady eyes. Elsewhere, it is like a topiary maze, such as can be found at Hampton Court Palace and in formal gardens throughout the world. Sometimes, it is just a rocky landscape, or a forest where the path winds back on itself, presenting innumerable confusing intersections. There are doors that lead to an infernal bog or--in one case--to a chute lined with talking hands. Finally, inside Jareth's castle, the Labyrinth becomes a complicated Escher-like puzzle that dislocates space and time. Always, however, the maze is achieved so convincingly that it seems to draw the heroine onward, and the viewer with her.

        What makes a movie like Labyrinth, a supposedly mere children's film, so special to so many people who have, or should have, long grown up? If you could think of one fantasy movie that gave you the intoxicating feeling that you were falling in love for the first time, then you have found the Labyrinth. This movie has the seductive power of pulling in the dreamers; the lovers and someone like you and pushing you away obsessed. There is no way to view Labyrinth; there is only ways to experience it: to become Sarah, the over-sensitive, melodramatic child and to know that her needs are your needs, and to fall in love with a dream like Jareth.

        Labyrinth does not push the fact that thinking in this wistful way is wasteful and that all should grow out of their daydreaming state. It does not end with the realization that one needs to grow up and abandon what was before because it was "wrong." The Labyrinth is a metaphor of an ever-changing, fast and furious, yet gentle and nostalgic journey of our life, our minds and emotions. Everything changes and has so many perspectives that nothing can ever be wrong and nothing can ever be right. Where everything can be accommodated.

        Labyrinth is a poetic journey where you are reassured that in the end you are the hero, that you are brave and worthy and that heroines can be touchy, clumsy, and intelligent. But that it does not matter if you can think of it as crazy, strange creatures at doors and stranger things in bubbles. They are not mistakes. There are no such things as mistakes, only experiences. If we never made them, we would not end up knowing what to do in the end.

        The Labyrinth is shimmering emotions that constantly change, where feelings are allowed to be multi-faceted instead of one or the other. In real life people are always both right and wrong at the same time and nothing is able to sit long enough to be labeled. The Labyrinth is not patronizing, pointing out in black and white what is right and what is wrong and what you should be doing. The Labyrinth is about personal choices and knowing in the end that what we choose is what is right and wrong for us. The Labyrinth is your life. We all want to fall in love with something that is beautiful, which manifests itself as Jareth. We also want to escape it because it eats us whole. The Labyrinth is your life. You will need in desperately one time in your life and then you will try to leave, but it will always be a part of you.

Amy Wolford

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