Labyrinth is a 1986 musical fantasy film following a 16-year-old girl named Sarah who must reach the center of an otherworldly maze in just thirteen hours in order to rescue her infant brother. With a budget of $25 million and a final theatrical gross of $12.9 million, the film was considered to be a box office failure with mixed critical reviews. Yet, today, it has a cult following and is considered by many to be a classic. So, be careful what you wish for, and take a look behind the scenes into the wonky world of Labyrinth.
The Script Went Through Several Revisions And Treatments
Before Labyrinth became the classic that many know and love today, the script for the film traded hands, a lot. Illustrator Brian Froud first pitched his idea of a baby surrounded by goblins to Jim Henson after a screening of The Dark Crystal. Jim Henson and Dennis Lee then came up with a story which was given to Monty Python’s Terry Jones and Fraggle Rock’s Laura Phillips, who each wrote a script.
Finally, it was passed on to screenwriter Elaine May did her own revisions to make the characters feel more human. Although the lone screenwriting credits went to Jones, he didn’t feel “very close” to it because his version and the final version were so different.
Michael Jackson Was Considered To Played Jareth
In the early developments of the film, Jareth, the Goblin King was going to be another non-human character, with one of Jones’ scripts not having him appear until halfway through the movie.
He later received a message from Jim Henson that he wanted Jareth to be played by either Michael Jackson or David Bowie, so the character needed to be in the whole movie, singing. Henson then outlined the movie featuring Bowie, meeting with him several times over two years before finally agreed to take the role.
Author Maurice Sendak Had Some Things To Say About The Film
Maurice Sendak, the author of the iconic children’s books Outside Over There and Where the Wild Things Are, wasn’t thrilled about the movie. The plot of Labyrinth was incredibly similar to his story Outside Over There, with some of the audience members even referring to the creatures in the film as “Wild Things.”
Although Sendak’s lawyers advised Henson to halt the production, their warnings did little. As a note to Sendak, in the movie’s credits, it reads, “Jim Henson acknowledges his debt to the works of Maurice Sendak.” Regardless, Sendak complained about it for years.
Baby Toby Followed In His Father’s Footsteps
Toby Fraud was the son of the movie’s film designer Brian Fraud and played the kidnapped baby Toby Williams in the film. Ironically, the young Toby would grow up to follow in his father’s footsteps and would go on to be a designer, artist, and puppeteer in films such as Pananorman and The Chronicles of Narnia.
Considering that he was so young when Labyrinth was being filmed, he admits he doesn’t remember much about the experience except for peeing on David Bowie the first time he met him. Not many people can say that!
There Are Hints About The Film Can Be Spotted In Sarah’s Room
Several of the movie’s characters are cleverly hidden around Sarah’s room that most people might not pick up on their first watch. There’s a stuffed animal that looks like Sir Didymus on her dresser, a doll that looks like Ludo, bookends similar to Hoggle, and a figurine of Jareth on the side of her desk.
Furthermore, there’s a scrapbook that shows newspaper clippings of an actor who is no other than David Bowie, and the dress she wears at the ball can be seen on a miniature doll. Finally, there’s a wooden maze game on her dresser that is a foreshadowing of the Labyrinth.
Jareth’s Crystal Ball Tricks Are Real
The tricks that Jareth does with his crystal balls, such as twirling them in his hands, is no special effect or camera trick. They were actually done by choreographer Michael Moschen, who is also an accomplished juggler.
In those scenes, Moschen was crouched behind Bowie with his arm sticking through Bowie’s armpits. Impressively, he had no screen to see what he was doing, so all the tricks that he was performing were impressively done completely blind.
There Was Strategy To Keep Toby Calm
In the scene when baby Toby is seated on Jareth’s lap, the baby had to be kept under control as Jareth is whispering in his ear. When filming the scene, Toby screamed in so many takes that something had to be figured out in order to keep him quiet.
Luckily, a crew member had a glove puppet on hand. So, during Jareth’s speech, Bowie had the puppet in his off-hand that was out of shot that he distracted the boy with. This resulted in Toby being completely entranced and quiet for the scene.
Two People Had To Work The Ludo Costume
After the Ludo rig had finally been constructed, when Henson learned that it weighed over 100 pounds, the director told the Creature Shop to start all over again to make it lighter.
Even after the costume had been modified and brought down to weigh just seventy-five pounds, it was still a monster of a costume. Too heavy for just one person to manage, the suit had to be operated by two different people. Puppeteers Rob Mueck and Rob Mills took turns wearing it.
David Bowie Released Two Music Videos Promoting The Movie
Both directed by Steve Barron, David Bowie released two music videos to help promote the film. The first was for the song “As the World Falls Down,” which features clippings of not just the ballroom scene but also ones with Hoggie and Bowie.
The second was “Underground,” which is played during the credits. This music video once again shows clips from the film, especially those in which Bowie is present. Both of these music videos might seem a bit unusual for anyone that hasn’t seen Labyrinth.
Getting The Baby To Cry
While the filmmakers may have had some issues keeping Toby’s attention during shooting, one scene they particularly found difficult involved making him cry. At the beginning of the “Magic Dance” scene, Toby can be seen crying while surrounded by several goblins.
The problem was that the baby wasn’t scared in the least bit by the puppets and the animatronics used. Instead, they had to wait until the baby was tired and needed a nap before they could film the musical number.
The Last Scene Was Altered During Production
Although the film was initially supposed to have a slightly different ending, it was changed at the last minute during production. Sarah’s final encounter with Ludo, Hoggle, and Sir Didymus was supposed to take place at her bedroom window and not her vanity mirror.
After saying their goodbyes, the creatures were then going to fade away. However, the scene was ultimately changed to what is seen in the final movie for what the filmmakers thought would be a more upbeat resolution.
The Truth About The Worm
While it may appear that the worm tricks Sarah and sends her on the wrong path, this may not be the actual case. If this had not happened, Sarah would not have gone through the entire Labyrinth with her friends. It was only with the help of Ludo, Hoggle, and Sir Didymus that Sarah survived the robot guard and the attack on Goblin City.
If she had gone straight into the castle, she most likely wouldn’t have been successful. This is one of the many themes in the film which is that the wrong decision may turn out to be the right one.
Video Games Have Been Made From It
In 1986, two video games based on the film were released. In the west, Labyrinth: The Computer Game was released for Apple II and Commodore 64. It was the first graphic adventure game released by Lucasfilm Games, which eventually was rebranded as LucasArts in the 1990s.
In Japan, Nintendo and Henson Associates, Inc. released another game titled Labyrinth for the Famicom system. The game is almost completely in Japanese although it was never released in the West. However, there are some unofficial English translations in existence.
A Lot Of Actresses Were Interested In The Role Of Sarah
While Labyrinth may not have been Jenniffer Connelly’s first acting role, it certainly was her breakout. Previously she had appeared in Seven Minutes in Heaven and Once Upon a Time in America, which may have helped her land the part.
However, she was not the only actress competing for the role. Other high-profile actresses included Helena Bonham Carter, Laura Dern, Sarah Jessica Parker, Marisa Tomei, and more. Another actress that came close to the part was Ally Sheedy, a star in The Breakfast Club.
The Case Of The Missing Hoggle
Typically, when movies wrap up filming, props, costumes, puppets, whatever was being used to make the film are shipped to a studio for safekeeping or in case they need to be used again or placed on display.
So, after the filming of Labyrinth was complete, the Hoggle puppet was packed up and shipped off. Somehow, during transportation, the package was lost and ended up at the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama, which is a kind of museum that houses such items. The staff knew they found something of note and added it as part of their museum.
Hoggle Took A Lot Of Work To Bring To Life
One of the most notable characters in Labyrinth is Hoggle, the dwarf that works for The Goblin King Jareth, yet ends up befriending Sarah. While he is voiced by Brian Henson who also performed his mouth puppetry, it took far more people to bring the character to life.
Henson had five other people working simultaneously with him. Little person Shari Weiser worked Hoggle from inside of the costume, while four other people off-screen used remote controls to animate his face.
Jareth Was Designed To Look Like A Rock Star
Besides being played by David Bowie, the character of Jareth was initially conceived to look like a rock star, although it’s not blatantly stated in the film.
Designer Brian Froud commented, “I gave him a swagger stick. It has a crystal ball. If you look at it, it’s a microphone. There are a lot of subtleties going on in that. He’s supposed to be a young girl’s dream of a rock star.” Froud went on to explain that production also “got in a lot of trouble about maybe how tight his pants were. That was deliberate.”
A Connection To Star Trek
There is a similarity between Labyrinth and Star Trek and that is Gates McFadden, who played Dr. Beverly Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Before working on Star Trek, she worked as “Director of Choreography and Puppet Movement” for Jim Hensen on The Muppets Take Manhattan and The Dark Crystal.
She also handled the choreography on Labyrinth, ensuring that Bowie, Connelly, and all of the actors had their moves perfected before being filmed in front of the camera.
It Was David Bowie Making The Baby Noises
Although there are many aspects of Labyrinth that make it a classic, one element of the film that doesn’t necessarily hold up is the film’s musical numbers, with none of the songs except those done by Bowie going on to be hits.
One of the film’s most memorable, “Magic Dance” features Bowie singing to a group of monsters and baby Toby who gurgles during the song. Yet, during recording, the baby wasn’t providing the results the filmmakers were looking for, so Bowie took matters into his own hands and made the noises himself.
The Helping Hands Scene Was Dangerous To Shoot
One of the most unforgettable scenes in the film is “Helping Hands,” yet it was not only logistically challenging to film, but also was particularly dangerous for Jennifer Connelly. In the Blu-ray bonus features, it’s explained that the actress was suspended in a harness 40-feet up in the air.
She was then lowered down into a pit of more than one hundred hands wearing latex gloves. However, Connelly had to be careful of her own hands because if they managed to go behind the harness, she had the risk of her fingers being cut off.
Filming Took Place Around The World
Labyrinth has a fantastical look that took several locations to achieve. Most of it was filmed at Elstree Studios in Hertfordshire, United Kingdom. However, some of the other scenes were in the United States. The opening shot is in Memorial Park, New York. When Sarah rushes home in the rain, she runs by the Hudson River.
Another set was the West Wycombe House in Buckinghamshire. This old house also appeared in The Music Lovers and The Importance of Being Earnest. With good set design and editing, the movie looks like a different world.
Darth Vader Appeared On Set
George Lucas was one of the executive producers of Labyrinth. On the first day, he surprised the cast by bringing Darth Vader. He called it a “good luck card” for Jim Henson’s new movie.
Cast members got some autographs and great pictures before filming. Unfortunately, the “good luck card” didn’t work as intended. The movie only made $12.9 million back from its $25 million budget, making it a box office failure. However, it later became a cult classic with its own set of devoted fans.
The Film Had Mixed Reviews
Critic reviews on Labyrinth ranged from positive to negative to neutral. On the positive side, Roger Hurlburt called it “a fantasy fan’s gourmet delight.” Bruce Bailey praised the movie’s script, bringing up how it pulled from classic fantasy tales and served them in a new way.
Although many people enjoyed the visual style, not all critics agreed. Gene Siskel’s review for the Chicago Tribune said it had a “visually ugly style.” Roger Ebert argued that none of the actions in the film had consequences, robbing it of dramatic tension.
George Lucas Helped To Edit The Movie
Along with being an executive producer, George Lucas was also a co-editor. Jim Henson met him when it helped with Yoda’s puppetry in The Empire Strikes Back. On the set, Henson talked to Lucas about a movie idea he had with more advanced puppetry.
For Labyrinth, Henson made the first movie edits before handing it to Lucas. Henson later said that Lucas made more tight cuts on the dialogue. Others who have worked with Lucas said that he is the opposite; he tends to want to keep dialogue.
Jim Henson Thought That It Would Be A Hit
Jim Henson thought that people would love Labyrinth and was disappointed by the box office result. In an interview with CinemaBlend, his son Brian Henson said that the movie took years and a lot of effort. However, “it was received as too weird.”
If he had been alive still today to see how the gross revenue has consistently performed,” Brian said before trailing off. “It’s turned out to be great success in the long run.” It made less than The Dark Crystal, but remains well-known today.
It Was A Henson Family Affair
Jim Henson’s family also helped in the making of Labyrinth. His daughter, Cheryl, was a the puppeteer for one of the Fireys. His son, Brian, provided the voice for Hoggle and was one of the four puppeteers for him.
“It’s really weird and interesting and fun to do a character with four other people,” Brian told WABE. “You have to get to this point where you’re almost thinking in sync.” He also said that he designed Hoggle’s voice to be a half-Cockney, “fantasy British” accent.
Toby Froud Hardly Remembers Anything
Toby Froud, Brian Froud’s son who played the baby, is now grown up. Today, he works as a puppeteer himself. During an interview with Portland Monthly, Toby admitted that he remembered very little of Labyrinth. He only knows that he peed on David Bowie.
Toby also said that he wished he had met Bowie after the film. “I grew up a huge fan of his music,” he admitted, “and knowing I sat in his lap!” He said he had “vivid memories” of the goblins’ faces and “chaos around me.”
Jareth’s Armor Had Historical Influence
When the audience is introduced to Jareth, he wears glittering armor with leather mail and a cloak. This design was inspired by 15th-century knights’ armor. Solid plate armor began to replace chain mail in the 14th century.
The design is appropriate, considering that much of the film was inspired by Medieval fairytales. Many of the creatures such as fairies and goblins come from Celtic and Norse folklore. Conceptual designer Brian Froud made many sketches of more “modern” fairytale designs and outfits.
Inspiration Came From The Author Maurice Sendak
Labyrinth had many influences. One of the main influences was author and illustrator Maurice Sendak. Henson admired Sendak, who wrote Outside Over There and Where the Wild Things Are. In the end credits, a note says, “Jim Henson acknowledges his debt to the works of Maurice Sendak.”
Others have said that the movie was clearly influenced by The Wizard of Oz. Film critic Richard Corliss wrote, “Labyrinth lures a modern Dorothy Gale out of the drab Kansas of real life into a land where the wild things are.”
David Bowie Was Immediately Hooked
Although many musical artists were considered for the role of Jareth, David Bowie seemed to have the most passion for it. “I’d always wanted to be involved in the music-writing aspect of a movie that would appeal to children of all ages,” he said. He added that Henson gave him creative freedom.
“I was pretty hooked from the beginning,” Bowie said. “The script itself was terribly amusing without being vicious or spiteful or bloody, and it had a lot more heart in it than many other special effects movies.”
It Was The First Feature Film To Use A Realistic CGI Animal
Many have praised the Labyrinth’s visual effects for its set design and puppeteering. But the movie made another feat that many forget. In the opening scene, you see a CGI owl. This is the first realistic CGI animal to appear in a feature movie.
The animation was created by animators Larry Yaeger and Bill Kroyer. It is unclear why Henson desired a CGI owl in the opening while puppets were used for the rest of the film. The CGI company that made the owl, Omnibus, went bankrupt in 1987.
The Fire Gang Scene Was Altered In Post-Production
In the movie, Sarah crosses through the firey forest where she runs into the Fire Gang. The background in this scene had to be added in post-production. During filming, the background was a black velvet cloth that the puppeteers hid behind.
After filming, editors added the forest background. Jim Henson later said that he was unsatisfied with the look of the finished scene. However, he considered the puppetry to be a worthy inclusion despite the background not meeting his expectations.
Toby Froud Recreated “Magic Dance”
When David Bowie passed away in 2016, Toby Froud (who played the baby) decided to pay tribute to him. Toby now creates his own films with puppets, and he decided to recreate the “Magic Dance” scene from Labyrinth.
Toby sat in his living room with some friends and puppets that matched the movie. Together, they modeled the scene to remind people of Bowie’s moves. Although Toby never met Bowie as an adult, he deeply admired him throughout life. It shows in his work.
One Of The Puppeteers Did The Muppets Too
Labyrinth had many famous puppeteers. One was Dave Goelz, who also worked on The Muppet Show and The Muppet Movie. In an interview with SYFY WIRE, Goelz talked about how Labyrinth and Muppets seemed to have “traded places.”
Goelz said that his local theater was replaying these classic movies. The Muppet Movie was a hit when it released, and it had a decent-sized audience. Despite flopping upon its release, “Labyrinth was absolutely a packed house” when it played in theaters later. In Labyrinth, Goelz played Sir Didymus.
Getting The Dog To Cross The Stream Wasn’t Easy
When Sir Didymus entered the film, he rode a real dog across a river. Achieving this was no easy task. In the river, the stones were hydraulically controlled. They allowed the dog and puppet to go underwater and rise back up to be visible.
The real dog wore a harness. He frequently slipped on the stones and had to be rescued by a cable. Meanwhile, the puppet had a radio-controlled head that allowed puppeteers to control him from a distance. It’s amazing that the scene ended up as good as it was.
Ludo Had A Camera Attached To His Horn
Operating Ludo was “a challenge,” according to the production notes. The puppet was also a giant costume that the puppeteers, Ron Mueck and Rob Mills, had to control. On his right horn, there was a camera. The camera connected to two tiny screens inside the puppet’s stomach. The puppeteer used these to see where he was going.
One monitor displayed the camera that was on Ludo’s right horn. The other screen showed what was being filmed by the movie camera. These prevented Ludo from walking into things.
Sarah’s Bed Had Holes
In the first puppet scene of the movie, Sarah’s room becomes infested with goblins. One goblin crawls under the sheets, disappears, and then emerges. The effect was achieved by pulling a goblin underneath the sheet, and then letting it drop and pulling it behind a dresser.
To pull this off, the set designers had to poke holes throughout Sarah’s bed so that the puppeteers could manipulate the sheets. Essentially, they chopped up the bed and then covered it with sheets to look normal. Pretty smart.
Sarah Landed In A “Forgotten Place”
In Labyrinth, Sarah fell into a room through a trapped door. Hoggle says that it is an oubliette, and Sarah responds that she doesn’t know what that is. Oubliettes are secret dungeons that can only be entered through a trapped door in the ceiling. In French, the word means “forgotten place.”
Hoggle references this when he says that this is “a place where you put people… to forget about ’em!” It is ironic that they ended up in a “forgotten place” when Sarah told the Helping Hand that she would go down there.
The News Reported On Labyrinth’s Production
Labyrinth’s production was covered in many top newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, Starlog, and Time. Many of these articles focused on the massive scale of the movie, the puppeteering, and the sets. The New York Times said that the movie was more “accessible” than The Dark Crystal since the puppets were played by live actors.
These articles helped to promote the movie before it even finished filming. Unfortunately, they did not affect the box office reception. Reports on the film’s production eventually turned into an hour-long documentary called Inside the Labyrinth.
Labyrinth Had Board And Card Games
Labyrinth had a lot of merchandise that coincided with the movie. One was a board game called Labyrinth the Board Game made by River Horse. It featured miniature models portraying characters from the film. Later, River Horse released a Goblins! Expansion, Fireys! Expansion, and Deluxe Play Pieces.
Under the Jim Henson Collection, the same company released a Labyrinth card game and adventure game. Both were in the style of an RPG. You can still buy these games today; they have remained fairly popular.