Willow (1988)

Posted by on Jan 2, 2012 in My Childhood | 0 comments

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Disclaimer: Some ripe language and scenes of extended violence.

The two most exhausted formulas for children’s flicks are cutesy animal movies and fantasy/adventure. Thus, these are also the most bashed and most acclaimed genres of family films (after all, they wouldn’t keep making them if they didn’t work).

Willow is one of those films that the public initially Willow2dismissed while other fantasy films (such as Star Wars, the Indiana Jones series, and Lord of the Rings) rode the waves of critical and box office success. The critical response was as mixed as it gets, with two Academy Award nominations (sound effects and visual effects) and two Razzie nominations (Billy Barty and screenplay). In the decades that followed it would enjoy some cult success (especially in my household), but the plain truth is Willow is one of those polarizing movies you’ll either love or hate.

The plot is pure epic fantasy. An evil queen named Bavmorda (Jean Marsh), rules over the film’s fictitious lands and the only hope for its citizens is a prophecy (very Narnia, I know). The prophecy says an infant child will one day replace her. In an effort to stymie the prophecy, the queen orders all the babies to be screened for a birthmark, which will give her away. When Elora Dannon (a.k.a the prophecy) finally arrives, a mid-wife steals her and sends her in a makeshift raft down a river. Elora finds herself in a village of Nelwins (little people) and a poor farmer/sorcerer named Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis, of Leprechaun fame) takes her in.

With the help of an eccentric warrior named Mad Martigan (Val Kilmer), a species-shifting sorceress named Fin Raziel (Patricia Hayes), and some fairy-sized misfits called Brownies, Willow attempts to escort Elora to the castle of Tir Asleen (very Lord of the Rings, I know). As you can imagine, they run into enemies along the way, including General Kael (named for film critic Pauline Kael) and a two-headed dragon named for Siskel & Ebert.

The most striking moments of the willow3film came through revolutionary morphing technology from Industrial Light & Magic, which allowed Raziel to change species. This Ron Howard-directed film began an interesting relationship between Kilmer and Davis, which gave us some of the film’s funnier moments of argument (“Peck, peck, peck, peck, peck”) and still holds strong today. Kilmer reportedly improvised many of his lines, and plays the hilarious action-adventure alpha male with the best of them. I know it’s hard – what with his recent string of cameos in straight-to-TV trash – but you have to remember that this was at the height of The Era of Kilmer (right after The Era of Kurt Russell). A magical time that followed Real Genius and Top Gun, but preceded The Doors. He was “it” – the proverbial Lizard King, if lizards were swarms of women hoping to see him topless and kings were the sort happy to oblige.

While it’s not likely to hold as much insight or morals as Star Wars or Lord of the Rings, Willow is an entertaining and delightful film for all ages. The youngest kiddies will no doubt love the goofy Brownies, while growing boys study the sword fighting action sequences, and adults embrace kitsch at its finest. George Lucas, who wrote the story, saw the returns at the box office and opted, maybe fortunately for us, to continue Willow’s journeys on paper and not on celluloid.

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