Sarah Williams (Jennifer Connolly) is a 16-year-old fantasy nerd who loves to play pretend in the park with her dog. Angry at the idea of babysitting her baby brother Toby (Toby Froud) one night, she impulsively wishes for goblins to take him away. Unbeknownst to her, Jareth the Goblin King (David Bowie) eavesdrops and happily grants her wish, sending his team to snatch the child. Regretting his words instantly, she refuses an offer from Jareth for the baby, so he gives her 13 hours to navigate his vast maze and retrieve Toby before he is permanently turned into a goblin.
Magically finding herself outside the intimidating walls of the maze, Sarah initially struggles to find her way before a talkative worm shows her that all is not what it seems. Sarah finds her way to Jareth’s castle hampered by magic, strange creatures, puzzles, and very smelly traps. As if that weren’t enough, Jareth doesn’t want to play fair, bullying his dwarven guide, Hoggle, into giving him a poisonous peach that will make him forget all about his little brother. Will she make it and get there in time?
Sarah isn’t the friendliest protagonist, and some things with Jareth seducing her are a bit uncomfortable, but putting humans alongside puppets is a good fit, grounding the story in some kind of reality. Bowie is having fun in a role that has won a passionate following, but the main attraction is Henson’s team’s wild array of creatures. Returning to friendlier territory after “The Dark Crystal,” the creatures Sarah encounters are much more humorous. Yet any film in which a valiant talking fox rides a Dulux dog steed agrees with me.