Jim Henson's 1986 film "Labyrinth"

My girlfriend is pretty awesome. Don’t tell her I said that because then she’ll get all high and mighty and shit. Still, it’s true.

Last weekend she surprised me with tickets to a screening of Jim Henson’s “Labyrinth.” The Silent Movie Theater here in town is hosting screenings of a slew of Henson’s work every Friday and Saturday night in July. It’s the type of shit Muppet nerds like myself drool over.

After some of Henson’s fairy tale-inspired shorts and commercial work, the audience was treated to a screening of “Labyrinth.”

Now, my dad took me to see this in theaters when it was released in 1986. Since then, I’ve probably seen it two or three more times, but always in VHS quality on a small-screen television. Also, it’s probably been ten to fifteen years since I saw it last in any way, shape or form.

That means it had been twenty-three years since I saw it on the big screen. And, wow, seeing it again after all these years has opened my eyes to quite a few details I missed before:

1. Ludo is artist Ron Mueck – Mueck, an Australian artist, is primarily known for his hyper-realistic (and oddly sized) sculptures of humans. Here are a few of his pieces:

Ron Mueck

Ron Mueck

Ron Mueck

But Mueck got his start in model making and puppeteering with Henson. Thing is, I knew Mueck was involved in “Labyrinth,” but I always thought he performed the voice of the dwarf-goblin character Hoggle. (This was actually done by Jim’s son, Brian.) In actuality, Mueck handled the voice work and the puppeteering for both Ludo and a Firey. This means it was Mueck who said, “Smell bad!” about a thousand times while standing in the Bog of Eternal Stench.

Which brings me to my next discovery:

2. The Bog of Eternal Stench is full of assholes – Yeah, I knew it always made fart noises and that stinky sludge would bubble up from the depths of… wherever. But seeing those “holes” on a big screen made me realize that they really look like assholes! It’s not just brown water bubbling up from a hose, folks! This means that someone had to actually physically make these things! I can see this guy’s boss now: “Hey, Ralph! How are those Bog of Eternal Stench assholes coming?”

3. David Bowie’s wiener could be tiny – I used to mistake his huge cod piece as a bulging package. But that’s misleading because, in reality, he could have the tiniest wiener on Earth. You know, like placing a diamond ring in a television box.

4. The labyrinth is covered in glitter – Literally. I kept thinking of that scene in “Little Shop of Horrors” when Audrey uses spray glue on a floral arrangement, and then haphazardly throws a handful of glitter over the whole mess. Oddly enough, “Little Shop” also came out in 1986. Must have been a big year for the glitter industry.

5. Jennifer Connelly was young I remember being young and thinking that she was too old to be playing with dolls. And now I’m old and think that she’s too young to not be playing with them.

6. Elmo is a Firey – One of the Fireys is voiced by puppeteer Kevin Clash, who also does the voice of Elmo on “Sesame Street.” If you listen closely, though, you’ll notice that it’s Elmo’s voice being used long before he was even created.

7. The baby, Troy, is actually artist Brian Froud’s son – Which is good, because dancing with David Bowie in tights would surely make a serial killer out of any normal child.

8. The Henson Company’s puppeteering is at its peak – This might seriously be the zenith for the Henson team when it comes to how they handle their puppeteering. Matched only by what they accomplished in 1982’s “The Dark Crystal,” this is the company’s work at its finest.

9. The best scene is when Sarah falls down a hole and has a conversation with the Helping Hands – Seriously. Check it out for yourself:

10. It’s honestly a good film – Yeah, parts of it are cheesy, and a lot of it is steeped heavily in the now-laughable decade of the eighties, but it still holds up as great storytelling with interesting characters and amazing visuals. A lot of the crap made today could learn something from the structure of “Labyrinth.”

Dance, magic dance,


PS: A funny side note: During the opening credits, people in the audience would clap as each contributor’s name popped up onscreen: Jim Henson, followed by clapping; Brian Froud, followed by clapping; etc. Then George Lucas’ name popped up. One guy booed loudly, and the rest of the audience supported his cause by bursting into laughter. Awesome.