Labyrinth is a 1986 fantasy film, directed by Jim Henson, produced by George Lucas, and designed by Brian Froud. Henson collaborated on the screenwriting with children's author Dennis Lee and Monty Python alumnus Terry Jones. The leads are David Bowie as Jareth the Goblin King, and Jennifer Connelly as Sarah Williams. The plot revolves around Sarah's quest to rescue her little brother from the Goblin King while trapped in a world that is an enormous otherworldly maze. Most of the other significant roles are played by puppets or by a combination of puppetry and human performance. It was shot on location in New York and at Elstree Studios in the UK. It was the last feature film directed by Henson before his death in 1990.
Sarah Williams (Connelly) is a 15-year-old who loves playing dress-up. The movie opens with a scene of Sarah rehearsing lines from her book Labyrinth
in a park. While trying to remember the final line of a speech in the book, she loses track of time, forgetting that she must babysit her infant half-brother, Toby. Upon belatedly remembering this, she runs home to find her stepmother Irene waiting angrily for her. They quarrel, after which Irene leaves with Sarah's father on a date, while Sarah remains behind to babysit Toby. Here, the already furious Sarah realizes her treasured teddy bear
, Lancelot, is missing from her room. Storming into Toby's room, she finds Lancelot and reprimands Toby. He begins to cry; Sarah, possibly to tease him further in revenge, begins rehearsing more lines from Labyrinth
, telling an account of a young woman granted special powers by the King of Goblins
. According to the story, the girl (whom Sarah apparently uses to represent herself) could no longer stand her life and wishes for goblins to take away her screaming baby brother. As she ends the story and turns off the light, she remarks, "I wish the goblins would
come and take you away...right now". Toby suddenly stops crying. Worried, Sarah enters his room, to find that Toby has vanished.
A barn owl flutters through the opened window and transforms into Jareth, the King of Goblins (Bowie), who tells her that he has taken the baby as she had beseeched. Appalled at the realization of what she has done, Sarah begs for the return of her brother. Jareth gives her 13 hours in which to solve his great maze, called the Labyrinth, and find Toby. If she fails, Jareth will change him into a goblin and keep him forever.
The Labyrinth is not a simple maze; the pathways and openings in the walls of the maze change from time to time, and are riddled with logic-puzzles and tests. At its entrance, Sarah finds Hoggle, a curmudgeonly dwarf, spraying fairies with a solution that stuns them so that they will not bite him. She bribes him with plastic jewelry to lead her through the maze. Although he eventually sides with Sarah, it is later revealed that he is a halfhearted operative deployed by Jareth. Sarah's other companions, acquired along the way, are Sir Didymus, a chivalrous, dog-like knight who rides a sheepdog called Ambrosius, lives near the Bog of Eternal Stench, and guards a bridge to uphold a sacred oath (the terms of which are never fully explained but require those who pass to do so by Didymus' permission, which Sarah manages to get); and Ludo, a giant, furry, gentle beast she rescues from some of Jareth's goblins. Ludo has the unique ability to summon boulders by howling (which is of much use when the bridge Didymus guards breaks apart, and against Jareth's guards in the Goblin City).
Sarah and her friends experience a variety of adventures, including an encounter with detachable-limbed revelers known as "The Fire Gang", who try to remove Sarah's head; a detour through the Bog of Eternal Stench; a stop at the muppet:The Four Guards, where she must solve a Raymond Smullyan-inspired Knights and Knaves logic puzzle to avoid certain death; a junkyard-like recreation of her own bedroom; and a hallucinogen-induced masquerade ball. There, Jareth attempts to keep her until the 13th hour by dancing with her. She breaks free of his spell and makes her way into the castle beyond the goblin city with barely enough time to spare.
The film climaxes in Jareth's multi-dimensional, M. C. Escher-inspired castle, wherein he makes a final appeal for her to abandon her quest and stay with him. She defeats him by reciting her monologue from the beginning of the movie, including the until then forgotten final line: "You have no power over me". The room crumbles away, whereupon Sarah finds herself in the front hall of her home with the clock striking midnight and the barn owl (Jareth) flying away.
In Toby's room, she gives him Lancelot, then returns to her room. As Sarah clears her dressing table, she seems confused about whether she has undergone the turning point in her life between childhood and adulthood. Hoggle appears, along with Ludo and Sir Didymus, as images in the mirror. They seem to be bidding her good-bye as she leaves behind the fantasies of childhood, but remind her that they will still be available "should you need us". Sarah insists she presently needs them, whereupon they appear in her bedroom. The film closes as the Labyrinth's creatures celebrate in her room. Outside, the owl watches the party, and flies away into the night.
Many of the fantasy characters in the film appear as various toys and figurines in Sarah's room.
- Jennifer Connelly as Sarah Williams: Protagonist. Sarah is an imaginative young girl with a love of make-believe. Although she briefly wishes for Toby to be taken away, she repents almost immediately and asks for his return. She is dedicated to her quest for that return, very attached to her friends, and courageous when another is threatened. She resists the Goblin King's affections in order to fulfill her quest.
- David Bowie as Jareth, the Goblin King: Antagonist. Jareth is the seemingly cruel master of a wide kingdom of goblins, which is called the Underground. Jareth is cunning, feared among the goblins, and ubiquitous throughout his fortress. He appears to be able to manipulate aspects of his world at will, creating bizarre landscapes and redirecting Sarah's journey. He is able to create, seemingly from thin air, small crystal orbs which are used to work magic. He is shown contact juggling them throughout the film; this was produced by having another actor (Michael Moschen) stand behind David Bowie and perform the juggle while organizing the picture to make it seem that only one man stood in the viewers' field of vision. Jareth is shown to be able to change into a barn owl, in which form he appears at the beginning and end of the film. Over the course of the film, Jareth appears to become romantically interested in Sarah, even asking her to stay in the Labyrinth, but it is not revealed whether he is sincere. More of Jareth's background and motivations are revealed in the authorized English-language manga sequel Return to Labyrinth. A figurine of Jareth can be seen on the right hand side of Sarah's desk, while a photograph of Sarah's mother includes David Bowie, the actor portraying Jareth.
- Toby Froud as Toby Williams: Toby is Sarah's infant half-brother through their father. His mother is Irene Williams while Sarah's mother was Linda Williams (Sarah's father's first wife). Conceptual artist Brian Froud's infant son (also named Toby) played Sarah's brother in the movie.
- Linda Williams: Only seen in the photographs in Sarah's bedroom and mentioned in the novelization, Linda Williams is Sarah's biological mother. She is said in the novel to have been lured away by a performer who might have been Jareth's alter ego. Sarah's father later married a woman named Irene, Toby's mother.
- Shelley Thompson as Irene Williams: Never mentioned by name in the film (although many fans dubbed her "Karen"), in 2006 she was officially named "Irene" by the Henson Company in the Return to Labyrinth manga. Irene is very prudish and believes things should be normal, proper, and acceptable. Sarah resents her, as does Toby in the manga.
- Christopher Malcolm as Robert Williams: A somewhat one-dimensional character; he only appeared briefly in the film as Toby and Sarah's father. He is only mentioned by name in the novelization.
- Shari Weiser and Brian Henson (voice) as Hoggle: Hoggle is a cowardly dwarf-goblin that works for Jareth, but becomes loyal to the sweet-natured Sarah. Hoggle gets irritated when Jareth pronounces his name wrongly, which he appears to do deliberately to annoy Hoggle. There is some implication that Hoggle may have been developing romantic feelings for Sarah; Jareth's peculiar threat to throw him into the Bog of Eternal Stench could be interpreted as evidence of jealousy. Against his own wishes, Hoggle gives Sarah a peach as a gift from Jareth, who again threatens to dump him in the Bog of Eternal Stench if he does not do so. When Sarah loses her way as a result of being induced into a deep sleep by the peach, which subsequently causes Sarah to temporarily lose her memory, Hoggle is unable to cope with his feelings of guilt and remorse, and becomes estranged from Sarah, who publicly brands him a coward. However, at the entrance to the Goblin city, when Sarah, Ludo, and Sir Didymus are under attack from the guardian - a goblin in a towering suit of armor, brandishing a large axe - Hoggle risks his life to save them. Hoggle is commended for his bravery by Sir Didymus and Ludo, whereas Sarah forgives him for his earlier mistake. A book end that looks like Hoggle can be seen in Sarah's room.
- Ron Mueck (voice) as Ludo: Ludo is a gentle creature, once called a "yeti" in the dialogue, who was being tormented by goblins until Sarah rescued him. Despite his great size and strength, Ludo tends to be reluctant to enter into a confrontation with anything, and instead will issue a deep, lowing howl which will psychokinetically summon rocks of many sizes and number to his aid; a talent which proves useful several times throughout the film. He speaks with a very limited vocabulary, often using only nouns to make his point (for example, "Sarah friend"). Ludo, unlike the conventional depiction of a yeti, has shaggy red fur, horns on his head, and a long, straight, swinging tail. A doll that looks like Ludo can be seen near the window of Sarah's room.
- David Shaughnessy (voice) as Sir Didymus: Sir Didymus is a small dog-fox goblin who guards The Bog of Eternal Stench. Shortly after he meets Sarah, he joins her in her quest to rescue Toby. He has a 'steed' named Ambrosius (a sheepdog identical to Sarah's own dog, Merlin), who runs from trouble. In contrast, Sir Didymus is quite fearless and frequently taunts his enemies, goading them to attack. Despite his size, he is an excellent fighter, utilizing a miniature lance and his sheer quickness to battle larger foes. A battle showed him to be an approximate match for Ludo, who is many times his size, in solo combat. He is shown 'adopting' Ludo as a foster-brother. There is a stuffed animal that looks like Sir Didymus on Sarah's shelf.
- Percy Edwards (voice) as Ambrosius. Sir Didymus' loyal steed. Unlike his courageous master, Ambrosius is a coward and generally runs from trouble, but stops short of abandoning Didymus altogether. Ambrosius is in most respects identical to Sarah's dog Merlin, but appears somewhat smaller.
- Timothy Bateson (voice) as William the Worm: The worm is a small, blue goblin that wears a bright red scarf, has 3 bright blue tuffs of hair,and lives in the brick wall of the first passage of the Labyrinth. He encounters Sarah during her earliest time within the maze. When Sarah asks him 'How do I get through this Labyrinth?' he mistakenly thinks she means 'How do I get out of this Labyrinth?', unaware that she wants to reach the castle. He therefore sends her one way and tells her never to go the other way. Behind her back, he remarks, 'If she had kept on going down that way she would have gone straight to that castle". This provokes viewers to think that he was deliberately misleading her. The novel version therefore changes his line to "If she'd gone the other way, she'd have walked straight into that dreadful castle".
- Frank Oz and Sir Michael Hordern (voice) as The Wiseman: This goblin encounters Sarah halfway through the Labyrinth, giving her puzzling advice and arguing with the bird-like figure that lives upon his head. His scene possesses no real significance, but serves to bring comic relief to the movie and transition into a more significant piece of the story.
- Dave Goelz (voice) as The Wiseman's Bird Hat. Spends most of his time arguing with the Wiseman; like the Wiseman, has no real significance, but again, brings some comic relief to the story.
- Karen Prell and Denise Bryer (voice) as The Junk Lady. The Junk Lady encounters Sarah after she wakes up from the dream invoked by Jareth's peach. The Junk Lady tries to distract her from her quest to find Toby, as Sarah has lost her memory after eating the peach. She leads Sarah into a "junkyard"-like version of her own bedroom, giving her an array of toys that her speech suggests Sarah once owned and loved but were discarded by her parents. After reading a passage from the "Labyrinth" book, Sarah realises that the Junk Lady is not real, but an illusion created by Jareth. She then remembers that she has to save Toby, and discards the toys, at which point the room and the Junk Lady both disappear. Sarah is immediately reunited with Ludo, Sir Didymus, and Ambrosius.
- Warwick Davis as Goblin Corps.
- Steve Whitmire, Kevin Clash, Anthony Asbury, and Dave Goelz (voices) as The Four Guards.
- Robert Beatty and Dave Goelz (voices) as Right and Left Door Knockers (respectively): The door knockers are a dynamic duo literally living upon a set of doors. One has a knocker ring in his ears; the other in his mouth. Therefore one can hardly speak and the other can hardly hear, making them a form of irony.
- Kevin Clash, Charles Augins, Danny John-Jules, Richard Bodkin (voices) as Fiery 1-5: The Fieries (also called the Fire Gang) are a group of wild goblins that lurk within the Labyrinth's forest. They have detachable body parts and sing one of the songs on the soundtrack. They come to Sarah's help at a moment when she is lost and uncertain by inviting her to take things more lightly, though this "help" goes one step too far when they fail to grasp the concept that Sarah does not come into pieces as they do, and attempt to take her apart. They, along with Ludo, Hoggle, Didymus, and many other unnamed goblins, appear in Sarah's room for the final celebration. There is a doll version of a Fiery (with button eyes) on Sarah's shelf.
- Humongous is a giant robot that guards the entrance to Jareth's castle. It resembles a goblin and is controlled by a pilot inside its head.
- The Lichen: A yellowish fungus that grows in the Labyrinth walls. It has eyes and mutters to itself.
- False Alarms are rock-formation faces that cover the walls of the underground passages of Jareth's Labyrinth. They tell Sarah that she is heading in the wrong direction when she is not.
- Helping Hands are gnarled, hand-shaped goblins that protrude through the walls of the shaft that leads to one of the Labyrinth's many oubliettes. They talk by making their hands into face-formations and acting as a group, though they sometimes argue among themselves.
- The biting fairies are pixies that live on the outer wall of the Labyrinth. They bite those who touch them, possibly in self-defense. When we first see them, Hoggle is shooting them down with a spray-gun.
- The captain of the guard is a goblin with a long white mustache, who serves Jareth.
- Other Goblins: Every single Goblin within Jareth's Labyrinth has his own name and backstory, which is compiled in the book Goblins of Labyrinth as well as the now out-of-print The Goblin Companion: A field guide to goblins. Some of these goblins are Quiver, Luerk, Bakarbobs Karnobissica, Bubl, Squeek, Pug, Pilch, Fodder, Pongo, Skoat, Boing, Sneek, Skuell, Candlewic, Zitzi, Gibbergeist, Amam Pherruginus, Trysop, Frolow, Bec, Caul, Faustius, Hortenz, Target goblins (Multiple goblins), Nipper Sticks (Multiple goblins), Twark (A goblin bird), Eled the worm tamer, Spue, Hywr, Lowr, Roem Baba, Gurdy, Quilk, Maelicious, Groeg, Dogsthorpe, Bregg the poet, Kluttons (multiple goblins), and Bonus Eventius.
The following songs were composed by David Bowie and performed by his character, Jareth, in the film. The exception is "Chilly Down", which is performed by the Fieries (a.k.a. The Fire Gang).
Bowie admits in the documentary Inside The Labyrinth that he had to make baby noises during the "Magic Dance" sequence because the baby in the studio would not.
The film turned out to be a failure at the box office, grossing only $12 million from ticket sales (The budget for the film had been $25 million).
A 35mm reissue of the Labyrinth was shown at various theaters in the Landmark Theaters chain, beginning with a run from July 27, 2007 to August 2, 2007 in San Francisco, California.
has, over the years, become something of a cult classic
. There was even a recent action figure of Jareth that came to stores in May 2007
Labyrinth in other media
The film was novelized by A.C.H. Smith as Labyrinth: A Novel. It is currently out of print, and the few copies available are rather expensive (with prices in the region of US$30 to US$150).
Marvel Comics produced a three-issue comic book adaptation, which was also printed in a single volume as Marvel Super Special #40.
The soundtrack album Labyrinth includes much of Trevor Jones's score, including "Into the Labyrinth", "Sarah", "Hallucination", "The Goblin Battle", "Thirteen O'Clock" and "Home at Last", and David Bowie's five songs, "Magic Dance" (also credited as "Dance Magic"), "Chilly Down", "As the World Falls Down", "Within You", and the single released for the film, "Underground". A single for "Underground" was released in 1986 and included an instrumental version as well as an extended dance mix of the song.
A video game based on the movie was released alongside the movie in 1986 for the Commodore 64 and Apple II. It was also released in Japan for the Nintendo Famicom.
The Muppet Babies episode "Nice to Have Gnome You" features Miss Piggy in the role of Sarah for a similar plot. The episode features extensive clips taken from the movie.
Tokyopop, in partnership with The Jim Henson Company, published a manga-style four volume comic called Return to Labyrinth. The first volume was released August 8, 2006. It was written by Jake T. Forbes and illustrated by Chris Lie with cover art by Kouyu Shurei. It is a sequel to the film and is about Toby, the baby brother in the movie, when he has grown to be 15 years old. In October 2007, Tokyopop released the second volume, Return to Labyrinth 2. In an afterword, editor Tim Beedle announced that the series, originally planned as a trilogy, was being extended to include a fourth volume.
Labyrinth was parodied in the Cartoon Network's Adult Swim sitcom, Fat Guy Stuck in Internet, in episode 109, "Boogie, Baby, Boogie!".
Sources and inspirations
- The filmmakers acknowledged several influences, including Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the works of Maurice Sendak (the plot mirrors that of his story "Outside Over There"), and M. C. Escher.
- Many of the settings and creatures in the film were based on designs by Brian Froud, who had previously collaborated with Henson on The Dark Crystal. Froud and screenwriter Terry Jones later collaborated on the book The Goblins of Labyrinth which depicted some of the incidental creatures from the film.
- Some of the puzzles and riddles are inspired by the logician Raymond Smullyan.
- Some of the film's visuals including set pieces were inspired by M.C. Escher artworks. A poster of Escher's "Relativity" can be seen in Sarah's room.
- As described in interviews, the setting and design of the character of Jareth, as well as the many creatures featured in the film are thought to be somewhat influenced by the vivid nightmares David Bowie had as a child.