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Why Our Obsession With The Movie ‘Labyrinth’ Continues Decades Later

Charlotte Bond
Photo Credit: Henson Associates, Inc. / Lucasfilm Ltd. / MovieStillsDB
Photo Credit: Henson Associates, Inc. / Lucasfilm Ltd. / MovieStillsDB

When Labyrinth first hit theaters in June 1986, cinema-goers weren’t that impressed. But over the following 35 years, the movie has gained a cult following.

Here are some facts you might not have known about this now-iconic film and how it found its way into our hearts.

The original script looked very different

Jim Henson and George Lucas
Jim Henson and George Lucas in publicity portrait for the film ‘Labyrinth’, 1986. (Photo Credit: TriStar / Getty Images)

The film was born from a collaboration between Jim Henson and Brian Froud, who had worked together on The Dark Crystal. Froud produced some concept art which, along with a novella written by children’s author Dennis Lee, was then passed to Monty Python’s Terry Jones.

Apparently, Jones didn’t really take to Lee’s novella, so he used Froud’s drawings as his main inspiration. He provided the first draft of the script, but it received at least 25 treatments between 1983 and 1985 from various other writers, including George Lucas.

In the end, Terry Jones was credited as scriptwriter, but he has gone on record as saying that the final version was very different from the one he originally wrote.

In the early drafts, Jareth appears halfway through. But then Jones was told that either David Bowie or Michael Jackson would be the Goblin King, so he needed to appear earlier, and have songs.

Maurice Sendak was not impressed

Maurice Sendak
Maurice Sendak attends the book signing of Maurice Sendak “The Mother Goose Collection” on July 26, 1990 in New York City. (Photo Credit: Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)

The author of Where the Wild Things Are was unimpressed with Labyrinth since his book Outside Over There involves a nine-year-old girl having her baby sister stolen by goblins, and she has to get her back. Sendak started legal proceedings, which were eventually settled so the movie could go ahead.

In the end credits is a statement: “Jim Henson acknowledges his debt to the works of Maurice Sendak.” It’s also possible to see copies of Sendak’s books in the background of Sarah’s room at the start of the film.

Laura Dern and Sarah Jessica Parker auditioned for Sarah while Sting and Mick Jagger were considered for Jareth

headshot of Jennifer Connelly
Photo Credit: Henson Associates, Inc. / Lucasfilm Ltd. / MovieStillsDB

The character Sarah is a teenager on the cusp of adulthood. After auditioning Yasmine Bleeth, Laura Dern, Maddie Corman, Ally Sheedy, and Sarah Jessica Parker, Henson was won over by Jennifer Connelly’s performance.

Originally, Henson wanted the Goblin King to be another puppet, but he also wanted to make a lighter film after The Dark Crystal turned out darker than he intended. He was looking for a charismatic singer who would change the tone of the film. Sting, Prince, Mick Jagger, and Michael Jackson were all considered before Henson went with Bowie.

It was a family affair for both Henson and Froud

Baby Toby with the goblins
Photo Credit: Henson Associates, Inc. / Lucasfilm Ltd. / MovieStillsDB

Jim Henson’s children, Brian and Cheryl, both worked on the film. The baby named Toby was actually Brian Froud’s son Toby. Toby Froud told Portland Monthly in 2014 that he might have peed on Bowie the first time they met.

Labyrinth was filmed at Elstree Studios in Hertfordshire, England. In the studio next door, the movie Legend was being filmed. The cast and crew of the two movies would intermingle between takes. Brian Henson met Mia Sara, the lead actress in Legend, and developed a crush on her. He married her in 2016 and they now have a child together.

Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Doctor Crusher was the choreographer

the ballroom scene
Photo Credit: Henson Associates, Inc. / Lucasfilm Ltd. / MovieStillsDB

Gates McFadden (named Cheryl McFadden in the credits) was Director of Choreography and Puppet Movement. She was also supposed to be cast as Sarah’s mother, but the film was shot in Britain and the labor laws would not permit her to act, so she had to do just the choreography.

She did get an uncredited moment before the camera as one of the masked dancers in the ballroom scene. You can also spot her in the documentary Inside the Labyrinth as she directs the dancers.

There are also two cast members from Red Dwarf

Photo Credit: Henson Associates, Inc. / Lucasfilm Ltd. / MovieStillsDB

Continuing with the 1990s sci-fi connection, Danny John-Jules and Charles Augins, who were both involved in Red Dwarf, also starred in Labyrinth.

Danny John-Jules, better known as the Cat from Red Dwarf, voiced two of the puppets known as Fierys. Charles Augins was both the voice of another Fiery as well as a choreographer on Labyrinth. His connection with Red Dwarf is that he was the choreographer for two episodes (‘Parallel Universe’ incorporated a full-blown musical number designed to show off Danny John-Jules’s dancing skills) as well as starring in one episode as rogue computer Queeg.

Bowie gurgled but didn’t juggle

Photo Credit: Henson Associates, Inc. / Lucasfilm Ltd. / MovieStillsDB
Photo Credit: Henson Associates, Inc. / Lucasfilm Ltd. / MovieStillsDB

Remember that fancy move Jareth does with the crystal balls where he spins them around one-handed? Those weren’t Bowie’s hands. They were actually those of choreographer Michael Moschen. He hid behind Bowie and stuck his arms through the cloak, making it look like Bowie’s movements.

However, Bowie’s vocal talents were particularly handy in one area. The baby brought in to gurgle for the song “Magic Dance” wouldn’t make more than one sound. So Bowie recorded his own gurgles into the song to mix it up a bit.

Prince Charles and Princess Diana attended Labyrinth’s Royal Premiere

Ludo visits with Princess Diana
Diana, Princess of Wales, Royal Command Premiere of Labyrinth, London, With Ludo and Jim Henson, 1st December 1986. (Photo Credit: John Shelley Collection/Avalon/Getty Images)

Ludo made a special appearance at Labyrinth’s Royal Premiere in London on December 1st, 1986. Also in attendance were Prince Charles and Princess Diana. Brian Froud reported that Charles particularly enjoyed one scene… the one featuring the Bog of Eternal Stench. He found it to be uproariously funny!

According to Froud, “Prince Charles was the only one laughing” during the silly bit. When the two men crossed paths again in 1988, the prince told Froud just how much he had enjoyed the scene.

Darth Vader and Sooty were both involved

Photo Credit: Henson Associates, Inc. / Lucasfilm Ltd. / MovieStillsDB
Photo Credit: Henson Associates, Inc. / Lucasfilm Ltd. / MovieStillsDB

George Lucas was the executive producer of Labyrinth. He visited the set on the first day of filming, accompanied by Star Wars baddie Darth Vader, who handed Jim Henson a good luck card.

The British children’s character Sooty was integral to the film, but off-camera. When it came to shoot the scene where Toby sits on Jareth’s lap while the Goblin King whispers to him, Toby Froud would not stop screaming. One of the crew happened to have a glove-puppet Sooty which entranced Toby. So, the scene was filmed with Bowie operating Sooty out of shot so that Toby would sit quietly.

Ironically, Toby wasn’t bothered by the goblins at all, so for the scene where he is surrounded by them and crying, the crew had to wait until Toby was tired and cranky before they could film.

Hoggle needed five operators and Ludo had a camera inside him

Photo Credit: Henson Associates, Inc. / Lucasfilm Ltd. / MovieStillsDB
Photo Credit: Henson Associates, Inc. / Lucasfilm Ltd. / MovieStillsDB

Hoggle was by far the most difficult puppet to operate. Shari Weiser was inside the bodysuit, but Hoggle’s intensely expressive face was radio-controlled by Brian Henson and three others. He groans a lot in the film because having the mouth open was the only way Weiser could see out.

Speaking in the documentary Inside the Labyrinth about trying to work one puppet with four other people, Brian Henson said: “Basically what it takes is a lot of rehearsing and getting to know each other.”

The other challenging puppet was Ludo. This puppet’s bodysuit weighed 75 pounds, so Ron Mueck and Rob Mills would alternate operating him so that neither one of them became exhausted. To help them see their surroundings, there was a miniature camera in one of Ludo’s horns that fed into a screen inside his stomach.

Henson learned how popular the movie was before he died

Photo Credit: Henson Associates, Inc. / Lucasfilm Ltd. / MovieStillsDB
Photo Credit: Henson Associates, Inc. / Lucasfilm Ltd. / MovieStillsDB

Labyrinth was the final theatrical movie directed by Jim Henson. When it opened, it failed to recoup the $25 million that had been spent to make it. Henson was reportedly heartbroken at this.

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However, after he passed away, Brain Henson clarified that his father had learned of the film’s cult following and knew that it was appreciated.

Charlotte Bond

Charlotte Bond is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News