- Directed by Ron Howard
- May 20, 1988
A young farmer must undertake a journey to help a baby destined to overthrow an evil queen.
Willow is a bit of 80s action-adventure fantasy that didn’t blow people away when it first came out but instead developed a strong following and built from there. What we get is an entertaining story about responsibility and duty and stepping up to the challenge. These are deeper things which explain why this film has had staying power despite not being a raging success when it first came out.
Our hero Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis), a Nelwyn (dwarf) farmer and aspiring sorcerer, is not some 6-foot-tall strapping and dashing young man but rather is short of stature. He is nothing special amongst his people but instead rather average with dreams of his own.
Warwick Davis is a fine actor that unfortunately because of the time he came up in never quite got the parts or the recognition he deserved. He may have got his big break playing a space teddy bear in Return of the Jedi, but in Willow he really got to shine. Anybody can put on a costume and walk around with a stick. Here Davis actually crafts an entertaining character who is as strong a personality as anyone else on the screen. Willow is real. He has doubts and fears and concerns.
Willow is paired in his adventure with a boastful and touch arrogant mercenary swordsman named Madmartigan (Val Kilmer) who goes on a bit of a journey on his own in the movie. He starts out as a criminal just looking out for himself but by the end has learned that there are things worth fighting for beyond just himself.
The cause of all the ills in Willow is the evil Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh) who is the ruler of the kingdom of Nockmaar. She seeks to prevent a prophecy concerning a child with a rune birthmark that will cause her downfall. She plans to use a magic spell and some such to whisk infant Princess Elora Danan (Kate and Ruth Greenfield and then Rebecca Bearman) away. Seems like a great deal of extra work when murder (in secret if necessary) would work just as well.
Added to the mix is Bavmorda’s warrior daughter Sorsha (Joanne Whalley) who is probably a weak character in the story. She switches sides because she really does not like mom and kinda falls for Val Kilmer. Not much else.
Willow is a lighthearted adventure. It’s not overly brutal or bloody. In fact there is no blood and the violence that could occur on screen (a battle scene that was implied to be coming when we first meet Madmartigan) is never actually shown but rather the aftermath is discussed. This is a very family friendly film. It’s entertaining enough for children as well as adults. Kids will enjoy the cool visuals and adults will find something worthwhile in the themes of growth and responsibility.
James Horner was behind the score for this film. He is in my humble opinion one of the musical greats of film. Something though is missing here. It’s just not one of his better works. It lacks the grand adventure feel that this movie is supposed to have. His work for Krull is far superior to this and fits the story here. I’m not sure what went wrong.
The costuming in Willow is great and far better than what many fantasy films achieved then or now. It didn’t go for generic fantasy but rather tried to create something unique unto itself. The clothing is not cheap nor does it look like pricier stuff purchased at a costume shop. It looks plausible as if somebody might wear it.
Despite being from the mind of George Lucas with an interesting story with deeper themes and innovative (for the time) special effects, it never rises to greatness right from the start. I think that lies largely at the feet of director Ron Howard. In full confession he is not one of my favorite directors. His work is consistently serviceable but nothing that ever blows you away. What was the first or last Ron Howard movie that made you go “He knocked that out of the park!” after it was over?
I won’t call Willow a general classic, but it is a family classic. It’s safe enough for the kids and enjoyable enough for the adults. You will not feel as if you wasted your time.