Welcome to Infinite IP, our ongoing series detailing the pros and cons of resurrecting a franchise years after its original endpoint. Some call them Reboots. Others call them Legasequels. Hollywood calls them an infinitely recyclable resource.
There’s a reason why The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance caused such a stir when it premiered last year. No, it was not the product of simple nostalgia. Observe your surroundings. Simply nothing else looks or feels like that show.
The combination of Brian Froud’s designs and the puppet wizardry of The Jim Henson Company elevated the series above typical sci-fi and fantasy fare. What made The Dark Crystal unique in 1982 still makes it unique in 2020. To attempt a continuation in the medium of traditional animation or CGI would rob the franchise of its power.
With such a successful legacy sequel under their belt, why not go for another? Talk of Labyrinth 2 has circulated for quite some time — basically since the original stormed our dreams and nightmares in 1986 — but, for a variety of reasons, the follow-up never materialized. Fans had to settle for tangential comic books, novels, and video games instead. These close-but-no-cigar offerings tantalized, but never satiated our hunger.
More than thirty years after the original hit theaters, the sequel will finally land before our eyes, and it’s being overseen by an unlikely yet perfect director. According to Deadline, Scott Derrickson nabbed the gig. The demented innovator of nightmares who scored numerous frights on the cheap in Sinister and embraced and miraculously replicated Steve Ditko’s psychedelic panels in Doctor Strange will no doubt lean hard into his Jim Henson fandom to pull off an impossible reinvention.
Derrickson was not originally meant to helm Labyrinth 2. He was kneedeep in pre-production on Doctor Strange: In the Multiverse of Madness when, suddenly, he and Marvel Studios parted ways over those pesky “creative differences.” Add it to the long list of woeful Hollywood fallings-out that we will never fully understand, but rather than focus on what-could-have-been, let’s celebrate the opportunity this disintegration created.
On the one hand, Labyrinth is a whimsical musical fantasy draped in gorgeous production design as a means to meet its mystical array of puppet characters. On the other hand, it’s a very real assault on our most childish and selfish desires. Jennifer Connelly plays Sarah Williams, a teenager condemned to babysit her baby brother Toby. When the brat dares to claim her precious teddy bear as his own, she wishes him away, and David Bowie‘s very real Goblin King stakes his claim on the chubby infant.
Sarah chases the Goblin King into the labyrinth, where she has thirteen hours to solve the maze and retrieve her sibling. As wondrous as the film is, it is equally horrendous and fraught with beasts, trolls, and creatures who pluck their eyes from their heads. We all look fondly upon our memory of the film, but we don’t forget the nightmares it spawned as well.
A sequel could go in numerous directions. The film could pick up the tale decades later with an adult Sarah struggling as a parent of bratty children. There would be a pleasant cameo by Connelly before her kids take over the narrative, plunging into the prison of walls she nearly lost her brother to so many years prior. Or, the sequel could simply find a new family to terrorize.
In the original theatrical trailer for Labyrinth, the film was marketed as an unprecedented collaboration between three geniuses: Jim Henson, George Lucas, and David Bowie. While the Henson brand is maintained through his producer children, Lisa Henson and Brian Henson, all three original creators are absent from the sequel (two of them being deceased, the other retired). How do you preserve their vision now that they’re gone or uninvolved?
As Derrickson proved on Doctor Strange, through careful study, respect of the material, and adhering to the original process of creation. The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance did not deny itself the techniques of today, using CGI and greenscreen to mask the existence of puppeteers. No, the series looked as it should, as a modern telling born from Jim Henson’s raw materials.
Puppetry is not a dusty craft. With the passing of so many years, tremendous advancements have been made thanks to folks like The Jim Henson Company. It may seem like we have given up on the art form, but they have been moving forever forward, tinkering, and improving on what the senior Henson gifted to us in the past. Attempt a side-by-side comparison of both Dark Crystals, and you will discover a helluva facelift.
Labyrinth 2 must do the same, and in doing so, keep the medium in front of our eyes. That’s as essential as anything else. Puppetry is a valid artistic offering, but we’ve turned our backs on it of late. Embrace what The Jim Henson Company is doing and encourage other artists to follow in their footsteps. Why settle for the Pixar house-style?
The sequel’s greatest challenge will be invoking the spirit of Bowie without his physical presence. How about a jukebox musical? Bowie may not be there, but his songs and his voice can still exist. The sound of the Goblin King should echo through the long corridors and dark dungeons of the maze.
Legacy is obviously important within legacy sequels, but the sequel side of things is even more so. There has to be a point beyond nostalgia for a Part 2 to work. Why are we here? What more is there to say? The story necessitates continuation and not the other way around. It’s on Derrickson and his crew to prove the story’s worth.