Labyrinth is Alice in Wonderland on David Bowie, in the 80's. The movie loves David Bowie, and it's hard not to love him as well, as he is so freaking mystical and magical. In a formal dance scene he is in fact the love interest, as evidenced by the music and camera angles, he is Cinderella. Bowie actually confirms the fact that there is life from somewhere beyond Earth. He transcends mortality and becomes something else. David Bowie as the Goblin King is the 80's, everything it stands for, everything good and bad and insane. Every other movie that seeks to encapsulate the decade is really just lying to itself.
The movie is in fact a perfect example of the hero's journey archetype, also exemplified by Star Wars. Though it is missing a few steps, as most adaptations are, it still shows it off so well that it could be taught as an example of Joseph Campbell's philosophies. Not only is a great example of the journey but it is also a great example of a mythical world that is created through fanastical imagery. However like many other films from the 80's the world is nowhere near perfect, it shows a rude and ugly world that is still magical. Interestingly some parts of the film look similar to the end of Hellraiser 2, another film with a labyrinth.
One of the main reasons these movies still have so much charm is there use of puppets for the creatures therein, as well as the matte paintings for the incredible backgrounds. This was before an era of crappy CGI and when movies tend to be creative in their designs, especially the fantasy films. Like the Neverending Story and some more surreal films like Brazil the imagery in the film is simply so out of this world that it draws the viewer into the fantasy and makes it seem real. The superb work on the visuals also helps, as puppeteers where in high demand and had high skill.
Bowie is the Cheshire Cat and is the real star of the film. Though the main female protagonist is determined she does not have much character. She has many generic protagonist traits, helping individuals in trouble, being forgiving, and determined on her task but has nothing to make her really stand out, no flaws really as she constantly resists the lures of giving up and going home. However Bowie is simply a much more entertaining character to watch because of his performance, he is so in love with himself. He also has a goal much like hers, to steal the baby forever, and it's easy to admire someone with such a determined work ethic.
Now the main difference between this film and something like Wonderland is the end goal. There is a time limit and a task that needs to be accomplished so no aimless wandering is allowed. This creates a wholly different feel and attitude towards the characters therein. The allies she meets and the party she creates form a very different story as well, , with an obvious Tolkien like progression of adventure and grandeur. Her task can not be accomplished by only one person.
Of course the music is also fantastic and add times adds some urgency or mysticism to a scene. All the songs that are sung are even better and given how odd the movie can be it doesn't seem out of place at all. At one point the film simply becomes an M.C. Esther painting with no real explanation aside from the fact that the castle is freaking weird. There are often scenes like that with so many different creatures and environments it's difficult to list them all, but some like the well of hands that form faces stand out as something that very few minds could think of, and very few decades could handle so well.
Overall it still holds up as an incredible visual and musical masterpiece, with David Bowie standing out as such an amazing actor that every scene he has he just devours, as if it were a large ham. His crotch is also a fine secondary character. Finally as the Red Queen and villain he is great, as a temptress and a seducer, no matter the sex he could do it, just like Tim Curry in the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Of course in the end she devolves into madness and embraces the insanity of the fantasy world, though absent a certain eccentric musician.