Review of 'Willow'

Using black magic the evil queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh) has enslaved the people. She is determined to kill a child who has been born with a particular birthmark which the prophecies fortell will bring about her downfall. Before she can get near the child it is taken away by the midwife who places the child on a small raft in the river. The raft is discovered by Willow (Warwick Davis), an Nelwyn who are a dwarf-like people. The Nelwyn task Willow with returning the child to the “large people” or “Daikini” to avoid the wrath of the evil queen. After setting out Willow's group come across Madmartigan (Val Kilmer), a Daikini rogue imprisoned in a metal cage, who convinces them to leave him the child. On their way back to the village Willow is attacked by a group of Brownies (small pixies) who have stolen the child from Madmartegan. Chelindrea (Maria Holvoe) tells Willow that he has been chosen to protect the baby and gives Willow a magical wand. After finding Madmartegan attempting to escape the angry husband of his latest affair in an Inn they team up to find the sorceress Razel (Patricia Hayes) for help against the evil queen. They find Razel only to discover she has been transformed into a rodent and despite Willow's efforts with his wand they are unable to transform her back into a human. When the group is captured by Sorsha (Joanne Whalley) hope of defeating Bavmorda soon vanishes…

This was the first role for Davis where he was tasked with actual acting and he does an OK job at it but by no means does it show the polish of later performances (he was, after all, only 18 years old when he made Willow). Similarly, the Nelwyn characters are played, for the most part, by amateurs which, unfortunately, shows. Indeed, for Willow the film-makers had to assemble the largest group of little people ever for a film so many had never previously acted but were selected simply for their physical characteristics. I have to say Kilmer is wonderfully over the top as Madmartigan evidently adlibbing much of his dialogue but Hayes dominates in the few scenes she is present as Razel. Marsh as the evil queen is one-dimensional but does the job admirably as she terrifies all and sundry.

To be fair, the acting here is not the point of the film but it is rather the story and heart of the film that has found so many fans over the years. The simple story and sentiment strikes a cord with many and you cannot help but be drawn to it – Perhaps naive but most definitely honest and true. You love the one-dimensional, simple, characters despite the naivety of the performances. “Willow” is a new fairy-tale story told in modern times.

“Willow” is a much-loved film from the days before the effects-heavy films of today and as such is one of the finest of the old-school method of film-making relying heavily on practical effects with several small but well executed action sequences. Also, it has to be said the grand, sweeping score by James Horner really helps to lift this film from the simple to much more of an epic fantasy adventure.

A simple film from a seemingly by-gone age of film-making that appeals to the young and young at heart. Don't expect anything more or anything less…

Rating: “Really good but I have some issues”

Review Date: 2019-08-11

Directed by: Ron Howard

Studio: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

Year: 1988

Length: 126 minutes

Genre: Fantasy

Other reviewed films by Ron Howard: