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October 23, 2014

Labyrinth 2: Are Henson Movie Sequels Really Necessary?

Filed under: Commentary,Feature — Tags: , , , — Joe Hennes @ 10:27 am

bowie_labyrinthLast week, the internet had a nervous breakdown after Variety, a usually reliable source of entertainment news, uttered two words in close proximity to each other: “Labyrinth” and “sequel”.

The reactions we heard ran the entire gamut of panic.  There were the fans who could give their left arms for a continuation of the film.  There were the Henson purists who would give their right arms to leave well enough alone.  There were the Bowie fanatics who would picket if the glam prince wasn’t involved.  There were the people who had never seen Labyrinth and couldn’t be bothered to voice an opinion.  And then there’s me, who is more confused and lost than anything.

Four days after the news hit, The Jim Henson Company recanted part of that statement.  There’s another Labyrinth film in the early stages of development, but it’s not a sequel.  So some of us can calm down, but we probably shouldn’t.

EmmetotterAnd that’s not the only thing that was teased at the end of that Variety article.  They also mentioned the Fraggle Rock movie that’s been in development for the last few years, a sequel to The Dark Crystal, and, most puzzling, a movie based on Emmet Otter.

So the question is raised: Do we need any of these films?  Or, more accurately, do we want any of these films?

I’m hesitant to give a resounding “Heck no!” right off the bat.  From a business perspective, The Jim Henson Company seems to make the bulk of their money (as well as their name recognition) from the popular properties they haven’t sold to Disney or Sesame Workshop: Fraggle Rock, Labyrinth, and Dark Crystal.  They also bank a lot on Jim’s name and his influence.  That’s not a complaint, just a fact of life.  The Henson Company could conceivably be bankrupt or obsolete if they didn’t keep trying to find new ways to profit off of those properties.  And without Jim himself to help run the company, it’s difficult to rely on any original properties to help pay the cookie bills.  Therefore: Sequels.

I’d like to take a look at each of these mini-announcements one by one to really dive deep and analyze the sequel potential for each of these movies.  Y’know, as if ToughPigs would have any say in the matter.  Let’s go!

BooberFraggle Rock sequel

Ryan already wrote a pretty lengthy article about why there shouldn’t be a Fraggle movie, and there’s not a whole lot more to say about it than that.  And what he wrote back in 2012 is still true today: The original performers, writers, and songwriters would not be involved; the series already had a perfect ending; movies based on old children’s TV shows are generally horrible.  Does Fraggle Rock even have the name recognition to compete with the various chipmunks and Smurfs and lasagna-loving cats out there?  We all saw what happened with Muppets Most Wanted and Mr. Peabody, and nobody even airs Rocky and Bullwinkle anymore.

Okay, So Why Not?  Other than the reasons listed above, there’s just no way to improve upon what’s already been done.  Sure, you could have the characters enter the real world or save the planet from a mad scientist or search for King Solomon’s gold mine, or any number of scenarios that would “up the ante”, but that’s so far from what the show was actually about that it would be doomed to fail.  What made Fraggle Rock an exceptional series was how profound it could be in moments of quiet, or how the power of music unites us all.  The perfect story with those elements and the characters we love was created several times over in the series, and without Jim Henson and Jerry Juhl and the talented performers, they’d just be chasing that unattainable dream.

Yeah, But Maybe?  Just because I think it wouldn’t hold up to the series doesn’t mean it wouldn’t do well.  With the right promotion, enough parents would still want to introduce their kids to the world of Fraggle Rock to make it a success.  Jim Henson dreamed that Fraggle Rock would bring peace to the world, and an internationally distributed film could help do just that.  They could make a film that promotes inter-connectivity, the power of song, and a message that tells kids (and their adults) that nothing is more important than friendship, and then they could make sure that movie is seen by as many eyes around the world as possible.  It would certainly be a nice alternative to the Michael Bay films that are targeted toward those same kids.  A Fraggle Rock movie would almost certainly have fewer explosions.

If They Had To, What Would It Be?  It’s pretty hard to think of a story for a potentially not-awful Fraggle Rock movie.  The script that was in development years ago took the Fraggles into the so-obvious-that-every-kids-movie-did-it territory of “the real world”, which is fine.  Obviously not groundbreaking, and not even original to the world of Fraggle Rock, thanks to Traveling Matt.  I’d rather see a story that takes the Fraggles in the other direction, deeper into Fraggle Rock.  Let them meet new species and civilizations, and then create something beautiful by teaming up with the Gorgs, Doozers, and all their new friends.  Sure, it’s something that would’ve been done in 22 minutes on the TV show, but that’s a lot more optimistic than trying to force the Fraggles into Hollywood.

the-dark-crystal-originalDark Crystal sequel

The world of Thra is massive.  You get the idea that there’s a lot going on that has nothing to do with the Skeksis and Mystics or their giant broken rock.  There’s a lot of potential for expanding the world (and maybe the story too).  But is that what made The Dark Crystal a classic?  Or was it the technical aspect, which would be difficult to reproduce or expand upon.

Okay, So Why Not?  I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not The Dark Crystal’s biggest fan.  It’s one of the most stunningly beautiful movies I’ve ever seen, but the story bores me to tears.  I wouldn’t want to see a prequel about the Podlings being enslaved, nor would I want a sequel about the UrSkeks’ new lot in life.  Jen and Kira’s story is pretty much over, and I have doubts that Fizzgig can carry his own film.

Yeah, But Maybe?  This could be The Jim Henson Company’s chance to showcase the one thing they do better than any other company in the world: Innovative puppetry.  The Creature Shop is still the ideal for the greatest advanced puppetry and animatronics, and if they get a good story, they could spotlight that aspect of the company and blow all of those CGI-heavy fantasy films out of the water.

If They Had To, What Would It Be?  I’d like to see the return of Aughra, now without a prophecy to help fulfill, make an attempt at guiding a new hero.  The UrSkek aren’t completely good (remember, they’re half Skeksis), and Thra is pretty much in disarray.  Jen and Kira saved their world from evil, but they didn’t necessarily bring about peace.  Someone’s going to take control of what the Skeksis once had, and someone else might feel the need to stop it.  (Then again, this sounds very much like a metaphor for the development of The Dark Crystal sequel itself…)

jarethLabyrinth sequel

Ah, the one that started this whole conversation!  A Labyrinth sequel (or additional in-universe story) has been teased, rumored, or otherwise hinted at for years now.  It’s such a huge and colorful sandbox for another filmmaker to play in, but the story is pretty well self-contained, and we probably wouldn’t want to mess with perfection.  Even prolific author Neil Gaiman tried his hand at a Labyrinth sequel, but eventually decided that there’s too much baggage in trying to expand that story, so his idea transformed into Mirrormask.  It’s pretty daunting, especially considering that Jim Henson can’t be involved in the creative process.

Okay, So Why Not?  Ever see that photo of Jim Henson, David Bowie, and George Lucas?  That’s why not.  Jim isn’t around anymore, I can’t imagine David Bowie donning his Tina Turner wig and tights again, and George Lucas is a pale shadow of what he once was.  It’s creatives like those three that originally made Labyrinth so groundbreaking, along with more talents like Jennifer Connelly, Monty Python’s Terry Jones, all of the amazing puppeteers, and Brian and Wendy Froud.  Now, there will always be brilliant writers and puppeteers, and maybe they could cull the Frouds back, but whoever ends up working on this film would just be playing catch-up to the original.  Plus, it would potentially undo the question of whether or not the entire story was happening in Sarah’s imagination, which is a pretty key theme to the film.

Yeah, But Maybe? Let’s play the “What if…” game!  What if David Bowie was actually willing to reprise his role as Jareth?  What if Terry Jones came back to give his input on the script?  What if the script was good enough to bring Jennifer Connelly or Toby Froud or his parents back into the fold?  What if a director was chosen who could really recapture Jim Henson’s original vision?  That’s definitely a lot of What ifs to make the stars align and make a potential Labyrinth sequel worth it.

If They Had To, What Would It Be?  The Jim Henson Company already said that their Labyrinth movie isn’t a sequel.  So that leaves three options: A prequel, a shared universe, or a reboot.  If the quality was up to par, I’d be interested in a prequel about Jareth’s beginnings as the Goblin King.  A shared universe would give us another story from elsewhere in the world of Labyrinth, with all new creatures and crises.  A reboot is a horrible, terrible idea, and let’s never mention it again.

emmetEmmet Otter movie

This is the most bizarre inclusion on the list.  The Variety article lists it as “a movie based on the Emmet Otter character”, so does that mean it’s a sequel to Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas?  Are the plopping Emmet into an all-new, unrelated story?  Are they (Frog forbid) remaking the classic film??

Okay, So Why Not?  Do we really have to get into that?  Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas is perfect in its quaintness.  It’s a tiny little TV special with wiggling dollies, wonderful music, and a universal message.  What could adding a continuing storyline or retelling the entire story benefit any of us?

Yeah, But Maybe?  One disappointing footnote in recent Henson history is that the Emmet Otter stage show only lasted two seasons before being shelved.  It would’ve been a great show to tour or franchise out during the holiday season, and it’s a damn shame that most Muppet fans never got a chance to see it.  Maybe a new Emmet Otter project would bring enough attention to the musical to bring it back?  Or maybe the musical is the new project!  Or something!  That makes no sense!

If They Had To, What Would It Be?  A documentary about how awesome Emmet Otter is.  Or a DVD of the uncut version, with the Kermit scenes and some awesome bonus features.  I would not accept anything else.  Just… please… leave Emmet alone, Henson Company.

If Pa were alive, he’d let Emmet Otter stay just the way he is.

Click here to develop a sequel to the ToughPigs forum!

by Joe Hennes – Joe@ToughPigs.com



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