Australian Council on Children and the Media

Labyrinth

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Not suitable under 8; parental guidance to 11 (scary scenes, mild violence and adult themes)

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This topic contains:

  • overall comments and recommendations
  • details of classification and consumer advice lines for Labyrinth
  • a review of Labyrinth completed by the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) on 16 July 2020.

Overall comments and recommendations

Children under 8 Not suitable due to scary visual images and adult themes.
Children aged 8–11 Parental guidance recommended due to scary scenes and adult themes.
Children over the age of 11 Ok for this age group but some children may have questions about the adult themes in this film.

About the movie

This section contains details about the movie, including its classification by the Australian Government Classification Board and the associated consumer advice lines.

Name of movie: Labyrinth
Classification: PG
Consumer advice lines: Mild fantasy themes
Length 102 minutes

ACCM review

This review of the movie contains the following information:

A synopsis of the story

Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) is a petulant and whiny teenager, lost in her own fantasy world and reluctant to grow up. She is annoyed when her dad and stepmother ask her to stay at home and babysit her baby brother Toby (Toby Froud). Toby won’t stop crying and Sarah is so frustrated that she wishes the Goblin King would come and steal him away. Suddenly the house becomes silent and Sarah realises with horror that her wish has been granted and Toby has been taken. In moments, the Goblin King (David Bowie) himself appears mysteriously in her bedroom. He has whisked the baby away to his Kingdom and if Sarah wants him back she has only 13 hours to solve the labyrinth that surrounds the castle and rescue the baby. If she can’t make it, Toby will become a goblin and be lost forever. Sarah bravely enters The Labyrinth, meeting many strange creatures and discovering that nothing is quite how it seems.

Themesinfo

Children and adolescents may react adversely at different ages to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, death or separation from a parent, animal distress or cruelty to animals, children as victims, natural disasters and racism. Occasionally reviews may also signal themes that some parents may simply wish to know about.

Fantasy; Supernatural; Magic; Kidnapping; Coming of Age; Loss of Innocence; Puppets.

Use of violenceinfo

Research shows that children are at risk of learning that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution when violence is glamourised, performed by an attractive hero, successful, has few real life consequences, is set in a comic context and / or is mostly perpetrated by male characters with female victims, or by one race against another.

Repeated exposure to violent content can reinforce the message that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution. Repeated exposure also increases the risks that children will become desensitised to the use of violence in real life or develop an exaggerated view about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world.

There is some violence in this movie including:

  • The Goblin King kidnaps the baby.
  • Goblins hit and shove each other.
  • Sarah and her friends must battle with the Goblins in the kingdom. There is use of weapons, kicking, hitting, shooting, bashing.
  • A large creature has been trapped and is strung up by its legs in a tree whilst a group of goblins hit it with sticks.
  • Some dancing creatures in the swamp have removable heads and body parts – but they threaten to remove Sarah’s head and try to get it off her body. She retaliates by taking their heads and throwing them as far as she can.
  • There is significant psychological manipulation used by Jareth the Goblin King to try and entice and coerce Sarah to become his queen.
  • Jareth asks Hoggle to give Sarah a poisoned peach.

Material that may scare or disturb children

Under fiveinfo

Children under five are most likely to be frightened by scary visual images, such as monsters, physical transformations.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children under the age of five, including the following:

  • Within the first ten minutes of the film is the scariest scene. Sarah is frustrated that she has to stay home and babysit her little baby brother. She is holding him up whilst he cries and is trying to find the right words or ‘spell’ to make the goblins come and take him away. It is dark, there is lightning and a thunderstorm outside and very eerie, spooky music is playing. Every time Sarah utters a word there are creepy little monster faces that appear, listening and urging her to finish the spell. She lays her baby brother (who is crying hysterically) down in the cot and leaves the room – saying exactly the right words as she walks out of the room. There is a sudden and frightening silence – the crying has stopped – and Sarah runs back into the room to discover the cot is empty! It is a very tense and dramatic scene which is more like a horror film. Thankfully, the film gets less scary from this point.
  • In the labyrinth there are many creepy creatures, goblins and gremlins – nearly all with grotesque features. Some children will love them, and others may find them very frightening. Although they look scary, there are not many characters that are very dangerous or very cruel, only mildly menacing. Some are also friendly, and some are very comical. They are like ‘Muppets from the dark side’!
  • The labyrinth has many hidden perils within its walls. Some are very frightening. For example, Sarah falls down a deep, narrow and dark tunnel that is lined with thousands of disembodied hands. The hands can hold and stroke Sarah and ‘help’ her back up the tunnel, or they can let go and Sarah will fall to her death. The hands join up to make the shapes of faces, talking to her in the darkness. Another example is ‘the cleaner’ which is a large rolling spiky ball which speeds along the narrow tunnels and destroys anything in its path.
  • In a dream, Sarah sees herself at a masked ball, dressed like a queen. All the other guests are wearing very ugly and grotesque masks over their faces, many with horns or other strange protrusions. It is quite nightmare-like.
  • When Sarah finds herself in a large rubbish dump, there is a little old goblin lady with lots of pieces of old junk on her back – she is weighed down by all these possessions and she starts piling Sarah’s own ‘stuff’ (items from Sarah’s real-life bedroom) onto Sarah’s back in a manic fashion.
  • There is a scene inside the Goblin castle where it becomes like an optical illusion from an Escher drawing, with staircases leading to nowhere and hanging upside down. The Goblin King is walking along and teasing Sarah by walking up walls the wrong way and flipping upside down in a ghost-like manner. It is disorientating and a little scary. He then brings the baby in and the baby is seen crawling precariously along the staircases above a big precipice. Children may be afraid that the baby will fall, just like Sarah is.

Aged five to eightinfo

Children aged five to eight will also be frightened by scary visual images and will also be disturbed by depictions of the death of a parent, a child abandoned or separated from parents, children or animals being hurt or threatened and / or natural disasters.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes and scary visual images, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children aged five to eight, including the following:

  • Children in this age group are also likely to be affected by the scary scenes described above but may also be more disturbed by the psychological aspects of this film. For example, Sarah’s distress when she realises the baby has been stolen.
  • The Goblin King is a charismatic, manipulative character who is very threatening and menacing. He holds a lot of power over the creatures in the labyrinth and gets them to obey him by using threats of physical violence. Some children might find his character very scary.

Aged eight to thirteeninfo

Children aged eight to thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic threats and dangers, violence or threat of violence and / or stories in which children are hurt or threatened.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children aged eight to thirteen, including the following:

  • Younger children in this bracket may find many of the above-mentioned scenes scary. In particular the very first scene when the baby disappears.
  • Older children in this age bracket may notice the romantic tension between Jareth and Sarah and find it either odd or quite disturbing. Please read below for more details.

Over thirteeninfo

Children over the age of thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic physical harm or threats, molestation or sexual assault and / or threats from aliens or the occult.

  • Children in this age bracket are unlikely to find this film scary, however they may find the relationship between Sarah and the Goblin King slightly disturbing and it may warrant a conversation about the acceptability of this as a plot line, particularly in a modern, post ‘me too’ context. It should be noted, that the story line ultimately gives complete power to Sarah and she realises that she doesn’t need to be a ‘slave’ to anyone, which is empowering. Sarah is in no way portrayed as a victim.

Product placement

  • None noted.

Sexual references

There are some sexual references in this movie, including:

  • There are divided opinions on the sexual references in this film, so it is important to mention that some viewers find that there is a romantic tension (bordering on sexual) between David Bowie’s character Jareth the Goblin King and Sarah. He is certainly trying to manipulate her and coerce her to become his wife. Given that he is a mature man and she is a young teenager, there are some uncomfortable implications to this relationship, i.e... that it represents abusive ‘grooming behaviour’. Whilst this may be obvious to adult viewers, it is unlikely to register for younger children as it is very much presented as a ‘fairy-tale’ with the Goblin King playing the villain. Some teens may pick up on this however.

Nudity and sexual activity

There is some nudity and sexual activity in this movie, including:

  • Jareth the Goblin King wears very revealing leggings.

Use of substances

There is some use of substances in this movie, including:

  • Jareth the Goblin King gives Sarah a poisoned peach which causes her to become intoxicated and unconscious - he meets her in a dreamlike fantasy.
  • The Goblins drink something that looks like Ale.

Coarse language

There is some mild coarse language and crude humour in this movie, including:

  • “Shut up”, “Stupid”, “Hell”, “Damn”.
  • Hoggle is seen from the back urinating into a pond and then zipping his pants up.
  • The bog of eternal stench makes comic farting noises.

In a nutshell

Even if it was originally a box office flop, the quirky 1986 film, Labyrinth, is now a cult classic. It does pull together some exceptional talent: Jim Henson’s (Sesame Street and The Muppets) incredible, pre-CGI, puppetry skills, Terry Jones’ (of Monty Python fame) writing, and of course, an 80s rock soundtrack by David Bowie. For younger audiences it is a dark fairy-tale quest, epic, full of thrills and crazy characters. For other, slightly older viewers, it could be a coming-of-age film full of symbolism; an allegory of a young girl leaving her childhood, shedding her innocence and realising her power. Although a little dated now, it is still a very entertaining film for children in the 8-10 age bracket (with parental guidance), and a bit of a laugh for the adults or anyone who enjoys watching David Bowie swagger about in revealing leggings and a feathered mullet.

The main messages from this movie are that childhood is like a labyrinth – it can be a dark and dangerous place, full of uncertainty where things are not as they seem. With persistence and good friends to guide us, we can find a way through and resist evil and temptations. Sarah is a good positive role model. Even though she is a bit petulant and whiny to start with, she shows courage, persistence and kindness on her journey.

Values in this movie that parents may wish to reinforce with their children include:

  • The importance of friendship and honesty amongst friends.
  • Resisting seduction and temptation.
  • Bravery in the face of danger and evil.
  • Material possessions don’t have to hold power over you.

This movie could also give parents the opportunity to discuss with their children attitudes and behaviours, and their real-life consequences, such as:

  • Parents should be aware that the film portrays an older man trying to coerce, manipulate and poison a young teenager in an effort to make her his ‘slave’ and become his bride (David Bowie was 39 and Jennifer Connelly was 15 when this was filmed). Even though it is in a very stylised ‘fairy-tale’ context, in a post ‘me too’ era this narrative seems questionable, particularly given that offscreen, David Bowie was allegedly accused of the statutory rape of two teenage girls.
    • Although this is unlikely to register at all with younger children, some parents may not wish to expose their children to this storyline, or otherwise appreciate the opportunity to talk about the implications.

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