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The world falls down: Labyrinth sequel just isn’t going to happen

The Hollywood nostalgia-machine isn’t as strong as we want to believe it is. Here’s why we won’t be seeing a sequel to the 1986 cult classic Labyrinth, despite recent rumours.

The rumours started with an article last Thursday in Variety magazine. The main focus was on Billy Crystal’s recent addition to the line-up of Which Witch?, a new Jim Henson Company production in the works, and after meandering over the company’s other up-and-coming productions, it slyly tipped us off that a Labyrinth sequel was one of them. This revelation, buried deep in the body of the article, was picked up quickly by Teh Internets, and soon we saw articles coming up left, right and centre, waxing lyrical about how awesome this was going to be.

Except it wouldn’t be. Disregarding the fact that an insider source has already debunked the myth of a Labyrinth sequel, saying that this comes up every so often at meetings as a joke, a sequel just wouldn’t work, and here’s why:

1. David Bowie is not known for doing the same thing twice.

An ever changing persona has been the only steadfast thing about Bowie’s 47-year career. He’s known for ‘killing off’ personas that get too old and too exhausted, such as the infamous Ziggy Stardust. Talking about his stage personas in a 1988 interview, he says:

“I do not think I am cold about them, but I think it’s work done.”

He’s been averse to working with production teams on projects alluding to his past creations, not only refusing to work with the creators of the film Velvet Goldminenamed after one of his songs and largely based off his 70’s era stage personas, but also shutting down his own attempt to revive his glam rock era in 2002, stating in a Rolling Stone interview:

“Can you imagine anything uglier than a nearly 60 year old Ziggy Stardust? I don’t think so!”

Of course, we don’t know how cooperative he would be regarding a new Labyrinth film, but if his comments on his own revival attempt are anything to go by, I don’t think we can expect to see the oh-so-glam Jareth the Goblin King being played by him any time soon. And what is Labyrinth without the Bowie?

2. Sarah’s story is so done.

The Labyrinth was all about Sarah, and nothing attests to this more than the fact that the 2006 manga sequel, Return to Labyrinth, which focussed on a teenaged Toby instead of Sarah, didn’t do great. Each volume of the 4-part manga only sold a couple of thousand copies, and didn’t do enough to capture the hearts of the fans.

Jim Henson himself stated that the whole purpose of the movie was for his daughters, and is a whole big lesson in learning that you can say no. Although us fanfiction aficionados may wish otherwise, Sarah does not succumb to the Goblin King’s temptations. She said no, end of story. But too many of us still find ourselves hoping for a revisit of the sexual tension, and as the nosedive of Return to Labyrinth shows, we’re just not interested in a story that follows Toby, even though it would be a logical step (the actor who played Toby is a young adult now, so the age works) and fit in better with Henson’s original intention.

3. The world of the Labyrinth is a reflection of Sarah’s mental state.

Okay, this is a pretty major complication that sort of nullifies the Toby idea. Labyrinth is a reflection of what Sarah is currently going through in real life, and while I love believing it’s all real, there are clues throughout the film that indicate everything is constructed from objects in the real world, in her bedroom, and themes she’s preoccupied with. It’s archetype-rich, and it’s personal to her. And part of the process of her growing up is that these archetypes morph, her inner landscape changes, so it’s likely that the Labyrinth we would see in a sequel would have completely changed its character.

One could sort of get round it in a Toby-oriented sequel by creating a ‘new’ labyrinth world influenced by Toby’s mental state, perhaps based on stories he heard his sister tell him as he grew up, but it would still be a different world, it would not be the Labyrinth. It is possible, and it would be nice to see how they would tackle Toby’s adolescent landscape, but it’s not really the spirit of the original, which is all about the mental landscape of a girl, going through adolescence, in the 80’s. Compared to something like The Dark Crystal,  Henson’s other cult classic which generates a lot of sequel rumours but has the world-building and lore already set up to facilitate such a thing without continuity errors, Labyrinth doesn’t quite make the mark.

4. Too much time has passed.

This seems like a pretty standard rebuttal, but it’s kind of true. The chance for a sequel passed us by years ago. Jim Henson died in 1990, and we’ll never know what his thoughts are on a sequel. The original actors have grown much older, and the original film was so heavily cemented in the cultural themes of the 80’s that it would be hard to create a sequel that ‘fits’ without it being a complete pastiche. It can’t lower its nostalgia value, and yet it has to resonate with current audiences.

Previous attempts to create sequels have been met with these sorts of continuity fears. Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean’s 2005 film Mirrormask was originally pitched by executives in the Jim Henson Company and Sony Pictures, who wanted to make a Labyrinth sequel based on the cult success of the original, but after a chat with Lisa Henson, Jim’s daughter, Gaiman shifted the focus away from the idea of a sequel. In his own words:

“It’s not a sequel to Labyrinth, or even an indirect sequel. It’s more something that came out of talking about how you’d do something like that today.”

This enabled him to get around the issue of modernity and CG imagery, as Mirrormask became something entirely its own.

So there we have it.

However, there are a few things that may make some people interested in making a sequel. Us fangirls especially are always gunning for another chance for Sarah to enter the Labyrinth and reconcile/fight/make out with the Goblin King, so it might just be that a sequel would be totally fan-driven self service in this respect. It would not be in the spirit of the original, but it would probably make a hell of a lot of money. God help me, I’d probably end up watching it.

But for now you can be assured that the Jim Henson Company are not likely to pick this up for the moment. They’ve got so many new and exciting projects to work on (such as Which Witch? and a Fraggle Rock movie) so they’ve got their work cut out for them. However, this is worth keeping a wary eye on, as the Jim Henson Company don’t actually own all the rights to Labyrinth.

main image © the Jim Henson Company, 1986

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