Normally I would only write about one film at a time but these two are so wrapped up together, in my childhood, that they are impossible to separate. I was a big fan of the Muppets as a kid, as with many other families they were essential Saturday night viewing. The thing was, no matter how entertaining they were I knew they weren’t real. When placed against a real life backdrop there was something cartoon-like about Kermit/Fozzie etc that meant while you enjoyed watching them you were never going to make a real connection. They were just puppets; bits of material on string, not real at all. At least that’s what I thought until I was taken to see ‘The Dark Crystal’ and ‘Labyrinth’.
‘The Dark Crystal’ just blew me away when I saw it for the first time, it still blows me away when I see it now. There was no real life backdrop for the puppets to look fake against, everything that mattered was animated and that lent the affair a surreal and mystical air. At the time, it seemed like I had never seen anything more ‘real’ in my life, the level of detail (down to the tiniest insect) was astounding. The characters (actors?) were doing things that only human actors had done previously. They had families and a motivation to rail against the mortal perils they found themselves facing. They could even die. This was a world away from light Saturday entertainment. When faced with a world of such intricacy, what could I do but live in it whole-heartedly?
I thought ‘The Dark Crystal’ was a one off but it turned out that I was very wrong. A couple of years later; Jim Henson came back and did it all again but this time with a couple of differences. ‘Labyrinth’ was full of the same things that made ‘The Dark Crystal’ special. Again, everything that mattered was animated but this time with a sense about it; one that would appeal to children and adults alike. Who hasn’t laughed (at least a little) at the ‘perils’ Sarah faces when trying to find her way through the Labyrinth? Not everything was animated though, the real world finds its way into the film through settings and two of the main characters. This time, the ‘real world’ scenes, at the beginning, serve as a counterpoint to the ‘other-worldliness’ of the Labyrinth but (at the same time) the ‘real world’ comes across as slightly less real than the Labyrinth itself. Despite some wooden acting at times, I think the two human actors do a great job of interacting in a believable way with a bunch of puppets. David Bowie, in particular, hams it up superbly as the Goblin King and manages to look very impressed with a certain ‘enhancement’ given to him by the props department. Jennifer Connelly, well… I had a little crush on her…
How could I almost forget the songs? I’ll bet everyone reading this is humming one of the tunes as they do. I’ve got the ‘Firey’ song going through my head.
These films are one of the main reasons that I’m into fantasy films and literature these days. I’m just waiting for the ‘Dark Crystal’ sequel to be released and then the magic will begin all over again.