We consider them classics today, but two Jim Henson fantasy films from the 1980s were not always so beloved. Now, it will be easier for fans – both old and new – to enjoy them.
The 1982 epic "The Dark Crystal," along with the beloved 1986 musical fantasy "Labyrinth," starring late music icon David Bowie, are getting 21st-century upgrades with new digital re-releases.
The Henson family is proud of the updates as they look back at the films’ legacies and their father’s groundbreaking work.
"The Dark Crystal:" The Skeksis vs. Gelflings
Long before computer-generated characters, Jim Henson’s team pioneered the use of elaborate puppets to tell stories. His "Sesame Street" Muppets were well known by 1982, but "The Dark Crystal" was the first production to include only his puppets – no humans.
"The idea kind of came at the time we did the characters for ‘Saturday Night Live,’" Henson explained in 1982. "We did a few characters for that show that were quite unlike anything we’d done with the Muppets. They were sort of halfway between this very realistic thing we’re doing now in ‘Dark Crystal’ and a cartoon sort-of effect."
File: The Gelfling Jen shows the crystal shard to Kira and her pet Fizzgig, in a scene from the fantasy film 'The Dark Crystal', 1982. (Photo by Murray Close/Getty Images)
The film tells the tale of a lizard-like race trying to maintain power. But standing in their way is a prophecy that the Gelflings, a small elfish race, would restore the missing piece of the dark crystal, freeing their world of all evil.
File: The exiled Skeksi chamberlain in a scene from the fantasy film 'The Dark Crystal', 1982. (Photo by Murray Close/Getty Images)
At the time of its release, many critics pined for Kermit and Miss Piggy, worrying the film was too scary for kids and too boring for adults. But over time, the film found an audience and led to spinoffs and books.
In a 2021 look back, Screenrant named the film "Henson’s best" – quite a compliment, given his body of work – and it currently holds an 81% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.
"Labyrinth:" Bowie’s glam goblin
Jim Henson, Lucasfilm, and David Bowie teamed up for this 1986 summer release, described at the time as a combination "Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland."
Bowie starred as Jareth, the king of the goblins who kidnap teenage Sarah’s young brother because she complained about having to babysit him. Sarah, played by Jennifer Connelly, heads out to brave the terrible labyrinth to get him back.
File: Jim Henson and George Lucas in publicity portrait for the film 'Labyrinth', 1986. (Photo by TriStar/Getty Images)
"The effects are so well-done you’ll gasp, and it really does have that eerie quality of a dream that seems so real," WTTG-TV’s Jane Horwitz said in her movie review.
Critics were mixed on Bowie’s musical performance, but the singer became inexorably linked to Jareth in the minds of many ‘80s kids. And despite its disappointing box office numbers, the film became a success on home video and, later, DVD.
In fact, Bowie and Connelly both later remarked how young fans continued to recognize them from their "Labyrinth" role, even decades after its release.
File: Actors David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly in a scene from the movie 'Labyrinth', 1986. (Photo by Stanley Bielecki Movie Collection/Getty Images)
"Labyrinth" ended up being the last feature film Henson would produce before he died.
"The movies have become classics and they're so appreciated and lauded, and a lot of people feel very emotionally positive towards them," said Lisa Henson, the CEO of The Jim Henson Company. "But when the movies came out, it was a mixed reaction, for sure, so my father didn't live to see them become the classics that they've become."
Both movies are now being released in the 21st-century version of home video: Digital streaming. The fantasy adventures are loaded with extras for movie enthusiasts to enjoy.
"It's behind-the-scenes, it's the new trailer; the new and as well as the original trailer, the original TV spot, the commentary by Brian Froud for both movies. And then there is, as well, a lost scene," Lisa Henson continued.
The Henson family and team are excited for younger generations to discover these cinematic treasures, and they feel honored to carry on and continue to develop Jim Henson’s legacy.
"It's an open legacy that allows you always to be trying new things, but there's always a level, there's always an element of fantasy," Brian Henson offered. "We're trying to always be intelligent but irreverent."
"We keep seeing generation after generation loving and experiencing both of the movies," added Toby Froud, who starred as the baby in "Labyrinth" and went on to a career in filmmaking and special effects. "It's one of those things that have stood the test of time and keep bringing people magic and hope and belief in something that's lovely."
"Labyrinth" and "The Dark Crystal" are available for purchase or rent on most digital platforms, including Apple TV, Amazon, Google Play, YouTube, Redbox Digital, Vudu, and Microsoft.