The Jim Henson Co.'s Federico San Martin on the magic of cult classic Labyrinth

The film starring David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly has achieved iconic status as a cult classic. The Jim Henson Co.'s VP of global consumer products, Federico San Martin discusses keeping the magic alive.
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Can you give me a history of the Labyrinth brand and its successes? 

Labyrinth is a fantastical musical adventure film directed by Jim Henson, and executive produced by George Lucas, with a screenplay by Terry Jones of Monty Python fame. 

The film stars David Bowie as the goblin king Jareth and Jennifer Connelly as sixteen year old Sarah, who must conquer the Labyrinth in order to rescue her infant brother from the goblins, a supporting cast of amazing puppets and creatures conceptualized and designed by Brain Froud and brought to life by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop.

The film was released in 1986, and although its original premier didn’t meet expectations, the film has gone on to amass fans around the world through home entertainment, DVD releases, and digital distribution. 

As it nears its 30th anniversary in 2016, Labyrinth has maintained a consistent licensing program spanning publishing (comic and manga books, novels) and all consumer goods categories including apparel, plush, bedding and collectible toys. 

It’s really astounding that each subsequent generation discovers and becomes captivated by Labyrinth. It has taken its place as a gem in the fantasy film genre– its success is in its agelessness and perpetuity.

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What is the demographic for the property and who are you targeting with the licensing programme? 

While the film appeals to all ages, we’re really focusing on its core fan base of teens to adults for the majority of the licensing program. That said, of course, we’re open to exploring new opportunities, so if someone brings us a product or concept outside that target, we’re open to discussion

How many licensees do you have on board for Labyrinth and in what categories? 

We have a vibrant licensing program that encompasses licensees such as Toy Vault, Truffle Shuffle and Ripple Junction, and, with the milestone 30th anniversary fast approaching we’re looking at building out across all categories with commemorative anniversary editions.

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What are some of the most popular licensing categories and what would you like to see the Labyrinth brand move in to? 

I’d have to say that one of the most popular licensing categories for Labyrinth has to be apparel, and that’s always a key category for all of our sci-fi and fantasy brands. 

Fans of the film love to pay homage and share their passion for the film; apparel is a fun and easy way to communicate that you’re a Labyrinth fan. It’s also handy at Halloween time, when Labyrinth parties are held around the globe. As far as where we’d like to see the brand move -- accessories, collectibles, prop replicas, those would be really fun product lines to create and fans would clamor for those type of touchstones. 

Basically, we’re just excited to be in a position to continue to build our licensing partnerships across all categories.

What do you look for in a licensing partner and how do you pick your licensees? 

We look for licensing partners who share our passion for the brand, who are excited to be involved in building not just the Labyrinth brand, but the legacy that comes with that. 

Ideally, we want partners who are fans of the movie themselves and will remain consistent and true to the brand.

What are the main challenges with managing the Labyrinth brand? 

Probably the biggest challenge with the Labyrinth brand is walking that very fine line that balances the classic, authentic nature of the film, the characters, and the storyline, while still being able to keep the brand fresh and fun and most of all relevant. 

We wouldn’t be celebrating 30 years later if it was just about the “retro” vibe.

What is the secret to maintaining the success of Labyrinth and its heritage?

Well, it isn’t a secret! The success of Labyrinth is its huge fan following. Labyrinth isn’t a trend or fad, but continues to attract new fans to its story and characters. It is a testament to the amazing world that Jim Henson and his team created over 30 years ago! 

And our fans are passionate. They watch the film over and over, they know the brand as well or perhaps even better than we do, and they will let us know in a heartbeat if we do anything that is not authentic to that brand. 

That’s why it is so very important to us that we respect the fans and their loyalty by developing and creating products that are true to the original vision of the film. 

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How different is your approach to the Labyrinth property compared to other properties in your portfolio?

At this time, The Jim Henson Company is known the world over for its preschool properties, so our sci-fi/fantasy films like Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal are speaking to a completely different sector of the global audience. 

There are myriad opportunities available for Labyrinth that just wouldn’t be appropriate for our preschool properties which is why the licensing strategy for Labyrinth is 180 degrees from many of our other brands, and which is also what makes it so fun and exciting for us.

What’s next for the Labyrinth property?

Labyrinth is a brand that we continue to nurture and find new ways to celebrate. We are grateful to the loyal fans – old and new – who continue to want to explore this fantastical, magical world and we are always on the lookout for exciting, engaging ways for them to do that.

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