When I rewatch the things I really loved as a child it is easy to see how I grew up to be an adult with weird taste. When I was tiny I really loved the 80’s Flash Gordon reboot, although now that I have a basic understanding of military strategy Flash’s army made up of football quarterbacks, whip wielding Robin Hoods and winged hawkmen makes absolutely no sense. I was also fixated on the Adventures of Pete and Pete, with it’s world where superheroes and suburbia commingled, but totally bored by straight up suburban shows like Saved by the Bell. And when I was younger I watched Labyrinth enough that it’s burned into my brain on some basic level, and boy howdy is it strange to reconsider with adult eyes.
Most Jim Henson productions had a touch of the absurd to them – like how in the Muppets’ world pigs can mate with frogs and everyone just accepted that Gonzo was a thing – but Labyrinth really pushes the weirdness a lot farther. The script is by former Monty Python member Terry Jones, and I missed the Python-esque touches when I was younger (probably because I didn’t know that Python was a thing.) As an adult, however, I can see how the looseness of the framework resembles, say, Holy Grail, where there’s a bunch of weird characters and vignettes connected by a central conceit and not much else. Also, there are times when Labyrinth definitely feels like surrealism for beginners, pushing the boundaries past silliness into subversiveness, which is another Python-esque touch.
Most of the characters in the Labyrinth are put there to be obstacles in Sarah’s way as she tries to make her way to the center of the maze where the Goblin King has stolen her brother. While some of her blockers resort to simple trickery (like reversing her direction markers), a lot of them use mental trickery to disorient her. They engage her in philosophical arguments about whether up is better than down, or challenge her with the liar paradox. There's a lot of tonal juxtaposition, as she almost falls into a swamp that is eternally farting (which is just goofy), but she's also threatened by flamingo-legged demons who want to rip her head off and dance with it (which is just weird), and she also meets an old woman who asks you if material possessions are all you need to be content (which is oddly poignant). This combination made sense to me as a kid, but as an adult it’s kind of a bizarre mishmash.
Then again, it might be less odd that it sounds because Alice in Wonderland follows a very similar playbook. Some of the creatures that were trying to bedevil Alice spoke in riddles, but others were just absurd sketches. But Alice in Wonderland is another story that weird kids get fixated on more than normal kids do, and it’s another tale that’s more subversive when you understand more about the symbolism and subtext. When you hear that Tim Burton was into Alice in Wonderland as a child you have to go, “oh, that makes sense”, and when you hear that a guy who writes a cat-centric blog about movies was into Labyrinth you have to go “yeah, I can see that.”