The story of a teenage girl losing her baby brother to a Goblin King resembling a rock star didn’t intrigue a lot of people when it first came out in theaters in 1986. While Labyrinth initially only made back about half of its $25 million budget, a strong cult following that marveled at its storytelling and (then) impressive technical work had its say over time. Here are some facts that will remind you of the babe with the voodoo.
1. THERE WERE 25 TREATMENTS AND VERSIONS OF SCRIPTS WRITTEN.
There were a lot of chefs in the Labyrinth kitchen. Illustrator Brian Froud first pitched Jim Henson his vision of a baby surrounded by goblins after a screening of The Dark Crystal. Using a story written by Henson and Dennis Lee as a jumping off point, Monty Python’s Terry Jones and Fraggle Rock writer Laura Phillips each wrote a script. Comedy legend and accomplished scriptwriter Elaine May did some revisions that helped humanize the characters. While Jones ended up credited as the lone screenwriter, because his version and the final version are so different, he didn’t feel “very close” to it.
2. A LOT OF NOW-FAMOUS ACTRESSES AUDITIONED FOR SARAH.
Jane Krakowski, Yasmine Bleeth, Sarah Jessica Parker, Mary Stuart Masterson, Laura Dern, Lili Taylor, Laura San Giacomo, Ally Sheedy, and Mia Sara all auditioned. Krakowski, Sheedy, and Maddie Corman were the top candidates until Jennifer Connelly won Henson over.
3. MICHAEL JACKSON WAS ALSO CONSIDERED TO PLAY JARETH.
In the early stages, The Goblin King was just going to be another non-human creature, and off of that, Terry Jones wrote a script where Jareth doesn’t show up until halfway through the movie. He got a note from Henson that said Michael Jackson or David Bowie was now going to play Jareth, so he had to appear throughout the movie, singing. Henson outlined the movie with Bowie and met with him a couple of times over two years to give him updates on the development of the film before Bowie agreed to the part.
4. MAURICE SENDAK WASN’T PLEASED WITH THE SIMILARITIES TO HIS WORK.
The plot of Labyrinth was close to the one in Sendak’s Outside Over There, and some creatures were going to be referred to as Wild Things (Sendak was the author of Where the Wild Things Are). Sendak’s lawyers advised Henson to stop production and threatened consequences. In the movie’s credits, it reads that “Jim Henson acknowledges his debt to the works of Maurice Sendak." Sendak withdrew his objection, but apparently complained for years afterward.
5. IT WAS FILMED IN ENGLAND AND NEW YORK.
The opening scene was shot in Memorial Park in Nyack, New York. Most of the shooting took place at Elstree Studios in Hertfordshire, England.
6. DARTH VADER WAS ON THE SET.
Executive producer George Lucas was on hand for the first day of filming, and surprised the cast and crew by arranging for Darth Vader to hand Jim Henson a good luck card.
7. IT WAS A HENSON FAMILY AFFAIR.
Jim’s son Brian Henson was the voice of Hoggle; his daughter Cheryl was a puppeteer for one of the Fireys.
8. JARETH’S "MAGIC DANCE" REFERS TO A CARY GRANT/SHIRLEY TEMPLE MOVIE.
In 1947’s The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer there’s a scene in which Grant tells Temple, “Hey, you remind me of a man.” Temple asked, “What man?” “Man with the power,” Grant replied. “What power?” “Power of the hoodoo.” “Hoodoo?” “You do.” “Do what?” “Remind me of a man.” In “Magic Dance,” Bowie replaced “man” with “babe” and “hoodoo” for “voodoo” in the intro.
9. BOWIE DID HIS OWN BABY GURGLE STUNTS.
In “Magic Dance,” the baby in the recording studio was unwilling to gurgle more than once at a time, so Bowie had to do it himself.
10. BOWIE DID NOT DO HIS OWN CRYSTAL BALL JUGGLING STUNTS.
Choreographer Michael Moschen actually juggled the crystal balls without looking, hidden directly behind Bowie, sticking his arm underneath Bowie’s armpit.
11. TOBY DIDN’T MAKE A GREAT FIRST IMPRESSION WITH JARETH.
Toby the baby was played by Brian Froud’s son, Toby. Now a puppeteer himself, in a 2014 interview with Portland Monthly, Froud admitted that he remembers very little about his experience on Labyrinth—except that he may have peed on Bowie the first time he met him.
12. THE GOBLINS DIDN’T SPEAK FROM THEIR MOUTHS.
Bowie was thrown off because all of the goblin words came from behind him or from the side of the set.
13. THE SHAFT OF HANDS SCENE WAS THE MOST DIFFICULT TO FILM.
Jennifer Connelly was on a harness 40 feet up, with nothing to hold on to. She was told that if she tried to touch the back of the shaft, her fingers would be chopped off by the hinges. Henson remembered having about 100 performers up a rig.
14. GEORGE LUCAS CO-EDITED THE MOVIE.
Henson did the first cut before Lucas got in there. Then Henson looked it over and did the post-production and audio. Henson said Lucas cuts dialogue tightly, whereas he is the opposite.
15. HOGGLE IS CURRENTLY IN ALABAMA.
At the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama, a worker unpacking a large wooden crate got a scare when he unexpectedly came face-to-face with Hoggle. He has remained in that unclaimed baggage museum ever since.
16. HENSON WAS "DEVASTATED" BY THE FILM'S BOX OFFICE FAILURE.
Henson's wife Jane said it felt to her husband like he was being personally rejected by audiences. But before his passing in 1990, Henson was made aware of—and very pleased about—the cult following that was forming around the movie.