Hollywood is gathering its goblins as the planned Labyrinth sequel just took a giant leap forward. Jim Henson’s puppet-packed 1986 movie has officially bagged Doctor Strange’s Scott Derrickson as its director and is set to usher in a new era of the franchise for a whole new generation.
Instead of being a shot-for-shot remake, TriStar has promised the movie will be a sequel to Labyrinth - which should help ease some of those fears it’s going to be another Ghostbusters: Answer The Call (which, whether you liked it or not, was a box office bomb).
The idea of a Labyrinth sequel is nothing new. Back in 2014, The Jim Henson Co. denied reports that a sequel was in development. With some questionable timing, it was announced two weeks after Bowie’s death in 2016 that Guardians of the Galaxy co-writer Nicole Perlman was writing the script. Once upon a time, a presumably very different version of Labyrinth 2 was in the works with Evil Dead’s Fede Álvarez being attached to direct. As Derrickson promises to put his own spin on the story, what can fans expect?
First and foremost, it’s time to address the Bowie-shaped elephant in the room. Although a young Jennifer Connelly was the lead of the original and could easily return as Sarah Williams, Bowie got star billing as Jareth the Goblin King. The news that a sequel was in the works so fans on social media start throwing up suggestions for who could step into the role (Janelle Monae? Lady Gaga?), but could any new Jareth ever hope to match the fan adoration for Bowie's portrayal?
In terms of where Labyrinth 2 should aim for, Derrickson would be wise to rewatch Jake Kasdan’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. The 2017 movie was met with similar critiques when Sony announced it planned to develop a spiritual successor to the family favourite from 1995. Similar to Bowie, lead actor Robin Williams had tragically passed away, meaning there was a big question mark over the character of Alan Parrish before Welcome to the Jungle hit cinemas.
Instead of being a cash-grab that simply stuck the Jumanji name on itself, Welcome to the Jungle was a clever reimagining of its predecessor that brought in a new cast of A-list stars – but that didn’t mean Joe Johnston’s movie was completely thrown out the window. It was only subtle, but Kasdan had a touching tribute to Williams with a wooden post marked: "Alan Parrish was here." There’s any number of ways Labyrinth 2 can honour Jareth through returning characters, a return to his expansive castle, or even a fleeting glimpse of a white barn owl.
More than just teaching Derrickson how to homage Bowie, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle also shows what long-awaited sequels can really deliver. Despite its critics, the movie went on to become Sony’s highest-grossing movie of all time. This led to the release of Jumanji: The Next Level, another box office hit, with the 2019 action-adventure tying even further to the original Jumanji with the return of Bebe Neuwirth as Nora Shepherd.
It’s easy to imagine someone just as enigmatic as Bowie taking a similar role to the Goblin King as the new lead of Labyrinth 2. Tilda Swinton has always been a huge Bowie fan and spoken of their "cosmic connection". Given her work with Derrickson on Doctor Strange, she could also re-team with the director for the next Labyrinth.
A lack of Bowie on the soundtrack is perhaps a bigger problem. As well as his starring turn as the Goblin King, he provided a toe-tapping soundtrack for Labyrinth and recorded five original songs, performing four in the movie, and a true sequel would need an equally iconic musical backing – a tall order.
Still, just as Netflix’s The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance premiered to rave reviews (with Jim Henson's daughter Lisa taking up the reins from her late father), so Labyrinth 2 has all the potential to match or even surpass 1986’s cult classic if the right talent is attached and, most importantly, if the right approach is taken.
It'd only be right and proper to pay tribute to Bowie's Goblin King, but to directly replace him is unthinkable.
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