20 Things You Never Knew About 'Labyrinth'
Michael Jackson almost starred as Jareth instead of David Bowie.
It's been 35 years since Labyrinth premiered, so it seems an appropriate time to celebrate Muppet mastermind Jim Henson's fantasy favorite — one of the most beloved cult movies ever made. Henson and star David Bowie are both gone now so the film is more poignant than it ever was. Both artists died much too young, but Labyrinth will live on, and speak for both of them.
Now, more than three decades after the film's release in 1986, you can sit back and enjoy it as the fantastical camp adventure it is and maybe see the film in a new light. Here are 20 things about the movie you might not know, even after 35 years:
1. Labyrinth was inspired by The Wizard of Oz and it pays homage to the classic 1939 film with a place in Sarah's library. But Labyrinth is even more inspired by the books of Maurice Sendak, including Outside Over There and Where the Wild Things Are. The end credits state: "Jim Henson acknowledges his debt to the works of Maurice Sendak."
2. Helena Bonham Carter, Jane Krakowski, Yasmine Bleeth, Sarah Jessica Parker, Mary Stuart Masterson, Laura Dern, Lili Taylor, Laura San Giacomo, Ally Sheedy, Mia Sara, and Marisa Tomei all auditioned for the lead role of Sarah Williams. Krakowski and Sheedy were the top choices along with 14-year-old Jennifer Connelly, who would eventually win the part. She was Henson's choice.
3. Michael Jackson, Prince, and Mick Jagger were all considered to play the role of The Goblin King, Jareth, whom Henson originally envisioned as a Muppet before changing his mind and focusing on musicians. Henson also liked Police frontman Sting, but his kids convinced him David Bowie would have more lasting appeal. Bowie said of the role, "I'd always wanted to be involved in the music-writing aspect of a movie that would appeal to children of all ages, as well as everyone else, and I must say that Jim gave me a completely free hand with it. 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. So I was pretty hooked from the beginning."
4. Bowie, who studied to become a mime when he was 17 years old, didn't perform Jareth's wonderful crystal ball trick. They were done by choreographer Michael Moschen, a professional juggler, who crouched behind Bowie and replaced his arms.
5. Labyrinth boasts the first-ever CGI animal in a feature film: the owl in the title sequence.
6. Monty Python member Terry Jones wrote the screenplay based on Henson and Dennis Lee's story, but the script was very much a collaborative effort that included executive producer George Lucas. Jones wanted an ending that saw Sarah physically attacking Jareth until he shrinks down into a tiny goblin. Jones had this to say about the experience, "I didn't feel that it was very much mine. I always felt it fell between two stories. Jim wanted it to be one thing and I wanted it to be about something else." At least 25 treatments and scripts were drafted for Labyrinth between 1983-'85.
7. The sources of the fantasy and characters can be seen in Sarah's bedroom at the beginning of the movie: She has a stuffed animal that looks like Sir Didymus on her dresser; a doll that looks like Ludo on the shelves next to her door; bookends with with goblins similar to Hoggle on her dresser; and figurine of Jareth on the right side of her desk. After you see the Hoggle bookend, a scrapbook shows newspaper clippings of Sarah's actress mother with an actor - David Bowie. Plus, the dress she wears in the ballroom scene adorns the miniature doll in her music box. And a wooden maze game on her dresser foreshadows the Labyrinth itself. There's also a small painting on her wall that depicts a contraption much like the one operated by the "Cleaners" that Sarah and Hoggle have to escape from. And, lastly, there's a print of Relativity by M.C. Escher (above left) which is, of course, the inspiration for the showdown setting with Jareth.
8. Bowie is to thank for the decidedly transfixed stare on little Toby's face in the scene where the baby rests in Jareth's lap. The actor was using a hand puppet off-camera to distract him while Jareth whispers in his ear.
9. The "Magic Dance" scene consists of over 48 puppets, 52 puppeteers, and eight people in goblin costumes.
10. The dialogue starting with "You remind me of the babe" that occurs between Jareth and the goblins in "Magic Dance" is a reference to an exchange between Cary Grant and Shirley Temple in the 1947 film The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer.
11. Bowie was the voice behind the gurgling baby sound effect in "Magic Dance."
12. Steve Barron directed two Bowie music videos to promote the film: "As the World Falls Down" and "Underground."
13. Sarah's dog Merlin also plays the role of Sir Didymus' mount, "Ambrosius." The two names are a reference to Geoffrey of Monmouth's The History of the Kings of Britain. Merlin is named "Merlin Ambrosius."
14. To help the puppeteer inside him to see, there was a miniature video camera in Ludo's right horn that fed to a small television monitor mounted inside the puppet's stomach. This is a typical Muppet trick for the bigger puppets, including Big Bird on Sesame Street.
15. The baby who plays Toby is Toby Froud, the son of conceptual designer Brian Froud who worked on Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal, another Henson production. Toby became a puppet designer.
16. After solving the problem of the guards who lie or tell the truth, Sarah falls into an oubliette, which Hoggle ominously describes: "It's a place where you put people... to forget about 'em!" The word "oubliette" literally means "forgotten place." And oubliettes were real dungeons accessible only through a hatch in the ceiling. People left in them weren't meant to come out again.
17. An ongoing joke is Hoggle's name being mispronounced. Sarah calls him "Hogwart" which is a reference to the famous British humor book The Compleet Molesworth by Geoffrey Willans and Ronals Searle. The word would resurface again in British pop culture as the name of a very special school in a certain book series by author J.K. Rowling.
18. Hoggle consisted of one actor inside the suit along with four puppeteers led by the director's son, Brian Henson who controlled 18 motors inside the face rig. Henson also provided the voice.
19. The Hoggle costume was lost after production wrapped, but it turned up again at The Unclaimed Baggage Center, a store in Scottsboro, Alabama. Apparently, it was lost by an airline company. Shocker.
20. During the Goblin Battle Scene, when Sarah and the gang opens the door to the Goblin Castle, you can see milk bottles near the door, a Henson trademark. Labyrinth was the entertainer's final feature film. He passed away four years after its release, in 1990.
[h/t Wikipedia and IMDb]