The final film directed by Jim Henson before his sudden death in 1990, Labyrinth was a box office failure, but found a cult following after its home video release. Today, the movie is seen by many as one of the defining fantasy films of the 80s, and there's even been talk of a sequel. Here are 13 fascinating facts about Henson's dark fantasy.
Michael Jackson and Sting were also considered for the role of Jareth
Although in the very early stages of the project the Goblin King was conceived of as a puppet, once Henson decided a human should play the part, he wanted to cast a musician. Sting, Michael Jackson, and Bowie were all considered for the role, but after several meetings with Bowie, it was decided that the "Space Oddity" singer would play Jareth. In a 1987 interview with Ecran Fantastique, Henson explained why he chose Bowie to embody the Goblin King: "I wanted to put two characters of flesh and bone in the middle of all these artificial creatures. And David Bowie embodies a certain maturity, with his sexuality, his disturbing aspect, all sorts of things that characterize the adult world."
Designer Brian Froud said in his book The Goblins of Labyrinth that Bowie's ever-changing image made the singer a particularly good fit for the role: "Jareth needed to be a mercurial figure who would continually throw Sarah off balance emotionally."
The movie got into legal trouble with Where the Wild Things Are's Maurice Sendak
Labyrinth was the focus of some surprising tension between Henson and Where the Wild Things Are author Maurice Sendak. Sendak felt that the plot of Labyrinth resembled his novel Outside Over There, about a young girl who must rescue her sister from goblins. He had also learned that some of the creatures in the film would be referred to as "wild things." Sendak's lawyers advised Henson to stop the production, a move that Henson's biographer Brian Jay Jones says shocked the puppeteer.
Henson and Sendak had a personal relationship, and Henson had even visited the author's home and seen early illustrations for some of his work. According to Jones' biography of Henson, there was some speculation that Sendak, who was friends with Henson's wife Jane—whom Henson was separated from at the time—might have been expressing some anger over Jane and Jim's separation.
Regardless, it was eventually decided that the "wild things" would be remained "fireys," and Sendak withdrew his objection. The film's credits read “Jim Henson acknowledges his debt to the works of Maurice Sendak."
Brian Froud later explained, "Jim was an admirer of Sendak, but we based Labyrinth on European folklore. We can only assume Sendak was using the same sources. The link between his work and ours was only noticed well into production.”
Monty Python's Terry Jones worked on the script
Jones received screenplay credit on the film, although the final product was drastically different than his version. In an interview with Empire, Jones explained how he came to work on the movie: "I was adapting my book, Erik The Viking, into a film, and I thought I’d ring Jim Henson’s office to see if they’d like to do the monsters. And they said they’d just been trying to get hold of me the day before! Jim’s daughter Lisa had read Erik and said I might be a good fit for Labyrinth. Jim came round to my house in Camberwell and I remember he couldn’t take his eyes off our dog, which was a long-haired Jack Russell terrier. It eventually became the basis for the knight, Sir Didymus. Mitch The Bitch was immortalised in Muppet form!“
The baby who played Toby grew up to be a puppeteer
Baby Toby was played in the film by Toby Froud, the son of designer Brian Froud. Toby grew up to work in film as a puppeteer and creature designer, and recently executive produced the feature-length filmYamasong: March of the Hollows along with Heather Henson.
But David Bowie made a lot of the baby sounds himself
The baby gurgling sounds heard in the "Magic Dance" scene were made by Bowie, rather than baby Toby. Bowie felt the actual baby's vocalizing wasn't up to snuff.
Ludo met Princess Diana
At the Labyrinth Royal premiere on December 1, 1986, Princess Di came face-to-face with one of the friendliest creatures in Jareth's labyrinth: Ludo.
George Lucas brought Darth Vader to the first day on set
On the first day of filming, executive producer George Lucas arranged for someone dressed as Darth to deliver a good luck card to Henson.
The Helping Hands scene was incredibly complex to film
The scene where Sarah is grabbed by the Helping Hands required Jennifer Connelly to be in a harness 40 feet in the air with nothing to hang on to, while over 100 performers reached out to her from a rig. Connelly was warned that if she tried to touch the back of the shaft, her fingers could be sliced off.
The movie features a medieval oubliette
The pit that Sarah is dropped into by the Helping Hands was based on a medieval holding cell called an oubliette. The name comes from the French word for "to forget," because prisoners in the oubliette were often left there permanently. Charming stuff!
Jareth's face is hidden throughout the movie
The Goblin King's face is hidden in seven scenes throughout the film! You can check out all the secret Bowies in the video below.
Jareth’s staff was designed to resemble a microphone
The stick Jareth carries is appropriately called a "swagger stick" (a much more badass name for a short stick or riding crop), and also doubles as a microphone.
Hoggle can be seen at the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Alabama.
A worker unpacking a large crate at the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama, came upon Hoggle. The puppet—which must have initially given the worker quite a scare—can still be seen at the center's museum.
Jim Henson was incredibly discouraged by the movie's reception—but lived to see it become a cult favorite
Labyrinth opened June 27th, 1986, and grossed merely $12.7m from a $25m budget. TriStar pulled it from theaters after less than a month, and critics largely panned the movie. Henson said he was "stunned and dazed for several months" by the movie's loss. His son Brian told SFGate, "He [Henson] was used to being loved (and) I think it knocked him a little, because he knew he had done something extraordinary."
Thankfully, Brian says his father lived to see the movie gain the following it deserved through the home video release: "He was able to see all that and know that it was appreciated."