Jim Henson die-hards are still dancing the magic dance — 32 years later.
The cult classic “Labyrinth” is headed back to select theaters on Sunday. And the film, which featured a cast of puppets alongside live actors and starred glam rocker David Bowie as Jareth the Goblin King, has more hard-core fans than ever.
They know every word in the script, sell out screenings around the world and even show up in elaborate homemade costumes.
The filmmakers can hardly believe the new “Labyrinth” love.
When it was released in 1986, the movie, in which a teen girl makes her way through a maze to rescue her baby brother from a singin’ goblin king, made a meager $12.7 million during its initial release at the box office.
Its budget was nearly double that.
“I think my father would be absolutely thrilled it’s developed the following it has,” puppeteer Cheryl Henson, daughter of Jim (who died in 1990), tells The Post. “And he would be surprised. Because when it first opened, the press and the public didn’t really know what to do with it.”
Here, puppeteer Dave Goelz (also behind the Muppet Gonzo) and Cheryl remember life in the labyrinth.
Art mirrored life
Henson modeled the main character Sarah, played by a young Jennifer Connelly, after Cheryl, who, fresh out of college, was a puppeteer on “Labyrinth” and “The Dark Crystal,” Henson’s 1982 epic.
“There are aspects of who Sarah is that are influenced by who I was around the ‘Dark Crystal’ period,” Cheryl, 56, says. “A little selfish, a little too smart for her own good, all that.”
She adds that a fan-favorite puppet, Sir Didymus, a diminutive but heroic knight, was inspired by a pooch that inhabited her living room.
“It’s my belief that Didymus was partially based on my sister Lisa’s dog, Yankee Doodle,” Cheryl says. “He was a very small dog with a big sense of responsibility for guarding and protecting his domain. So, I do believe Didymus was based on Yankee Doodle, who happened to be a peekapoo [a Pekingese-poodle mix].”
There were doubters, even on the team
Sarah’s teenage angst — the girl goes so far as to wish her baby brother would be stolen by the Goblin King — didn’t sit well with everybody, including Goelz, who was a frequent collaborator of Henson’s.
“I was in Toronto shooting ‘Fraggle Rock.’ So every now and then Jim would come by and give me a draft, or send one over,” Goelz says. “And I would read it, and I always had the same feedback. I said, ‘My concern is that we don’t like this girl. She’s bratty, she’s kind of spoiled, she doesn’t want to baby-sit her brother. And I don’t know if audiences will invest.’”
Twenty years later, Goelz, now 71, had a change of heart.
“I’ve had therapy, I now have kids, I’ve raised a daughter. And I get it! She was fine. She wasn’t being unsympathetic. She was being a teenager,” he says. “I wish I could go back and tell Jim, ‘Wait, I was wrong! Your movie was great!’ ”
The funniest day of filming
In one frightening scene, Sarah falls down a shaft covered in hundreds of still-wriggling human hands. Henson didn’t have enough stagehands at their British studio, so a call was put out for local extras. Dozens showed up with “Space Oddity” dreams — and outfits.
“The extras arrived, very excited to be working on a David Bowie film,” Cheryl says. And people were dressed glam! They were in high heels and white jeans. I remember one lady had this pink fluffy angora sweater on. And their hair was done.”
But, unlike their clothes, the process wasn’t so glam — the scene involved lying in dark, cramped quarters, with hands outstretched, for hours.
“They had to climb into bunk beds, put their hands in green, slimy gloves and stay there all day.”
The Muppets had nothing on the intricate puppets of “Dark Crystal” and “Labyrinth.” Goelz says his character, Sir Didymus, was never operated by any fewer than five people. It took a week of rehearsals, 12 hours a day, to painstakingly practice the character’s movements and spoken lines — syllable by syllable.
The quintet of puppeteers would coordinate every single mouth movement with the movement of hands, legs and even eyebrows. Goelz operated the head and the left hand. “So we’d construct — it’s almost like animation — what each of us has to do for a given syllable. And then you start practicing it and learning it line by line, so you can deliver it fluidly,” he says.
Eventually the team became so in tune that they could anticipate each other’s moves — and they’d ad-lib gags for the crew.
Bowie was beloved
“Certainly the most exciting thing was David Bowie,” Cheryl says. “I mean, to have David Bowie there writing the music, singing the music, dancing to the music. He was very kind and very present. And a really nice person to have around on the set.”
Plus, her brother John, then 20, was obsessed with the rocker.
“He thought David Bowie’s music spoke to him personally. And both before and after ‘Labyrinth,’ he always felt a really deep connection to what Bowie was about,” she says. “He would travel halfway around the world to see a David Bowie concert.”
During filming, John, a puppeteer who died in 2014, got to meet his idol several times.
Adds Goelz of the rocker: “Boy, do we miss him.”
For tickets, visit fathomevents.com/events/labyrinth
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