Willow (1988)

Director: Ron Howard
Writer: George Lucas, Bob Dolman
Cast: Warwick Davis, Val Kilmer, Joanne Whalley, Jean Marsh, Patricia Hayes, Billy Barty, Pat Roach, Gavan O’Herlihy, David Steinberg, Phil Fondacaro, Tony Cox, Robert Gillibrand
Seen on: 16.12.2022

Willow (Warwick Davis) is a young farmer who dreams of becoming a magician. But those dreams have to take a back seat when his children find a human baby girl. Dark forces are looking for that girl and Willow knows that they can’t protect her. She needs to be brought back to other humans. So he and a few others set off to find another human they can leave the baby with. They do find one – Madmartigan (Val Kilmer) who is anything but trustworthy. Nevertheless Willow leaves the baby with him. But their paths soon cross again.

If you had asked me two months ago, I would have sworn that I had seen Willow when I was a kid. But having watched it now, I know I never actually did. And that is a damn shame because it is a very lovely fantasy adventure.

The film poster showing drawings of the main characters arranged one on top of the other.

I was actually surprised that Warwick Davis’ character is the one called Willow – I thought it was the baby. But that he is the protagonist of the film definitely was a pleasant surprise – he should be the protagonist more often. Even though his baby-faced self was hard to take as a father of two not-that-small-anymore children. I actually did a quick search as I watched the film and he was not even 18 yet when they shot it. Whoever decided to look past that and cast him as a settled family dad anyway: chapeau. I am not sure I would have had the courage to do that, but I applaud it.

In any case, he does an excellent job and Willow’s yearning for adventure and magic is certainly relatable, although the way he goes on an adventure and leaves the wife with the kids at home felt pretty “male fantasy” to me. I would have wished Kaiya (Julie Peters) her own adventure. Equally male in perspective was the romance, if you can even call it that, between Madmartigan and Sorsha (Joanne Whalley) that hinges on Val Kilmer being basically so hot as to overpower everything she held dear up until then. And I am afraid that is a slight overestimation of his sex appeal.

Willow (Warwick Davis) applying to be a magician's apprentice.

The special effects still stand the test of time. They look great, especially the practical ones, and are executed with a lot of creativity and choosing the right moments. The production design is generally really nice and transports us to this world with ease. I loved that the movie starts with the little people, even though the “kind, unadventurous farmers” might be stolen a little too much from the hobbits.

Willow definitely has charm in spades – so much so that one rushes past the parts that don’t work that much (like a very uncomfortable “Madmartigan tries to get out of trouble by crossdressing” scene. I had a very good time with it overall and am glad that I finally caught up with it – only about 35 years late.

Madmartigan (Val Kilmer) and Willow (Warwick Davis) huddled together in a cage.

Summarizing: a lot of fun.

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