Welcome to another review from Flickmuncher.com. I apologize for taking so long to write a new review but things have been absolutely crazy for me lately with a lot of moving around happening. When July hits I should be back to a more regular schedule. In the meantime, here’s a review of an old 80s classic, Willow.
To be clear, there won’t be any spoilers in this review beyond the basic plot synopsis and a few necessary details.
Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis) is a simple Nelwyn (dwarf) farmer who only wants to look out for his wife and children, even though he aspires to one day be a great sorcerer like the High Aldwin of his village. However, his life is turned upside down when his children come across a Daikini (human) baby girl in the river nearby. It turns out the baby is the key to a prophecy and will bring about the downfall of the evil Queen Bavmorda. When Bavmorda’s agents come looking for her though, Willow sets off on an adventure to bring the little girl to safety with the help of roguish warrior Madmartigan (Val Kilmer), so she can one day save the realm.
This movie does have a lot of problems. The effects are really dated, there are annoying side characters, some of whom make snap decisions without much prior build-up, and at times the movie can have a rather silly tone. With all that said, I still think that this is one of the most fun fantasy movies I’ve ever had the chance to see and a lot of that comes from the story and the world that you find yourself in when you allow yourself to just sit back and enjoy the ride.
A lot of that comes from the texture of the film. In modern movies, filmmakers seem to have a notion that in order for a movie to be classified as a fantasy it has to have unnatural and fantastic creatures that can only be created by CGI. But back in 1988 when this movie was made, the filmmakers didn’t yet have those same advantages. They had stuff like rotoscoping to make things glow (the same technique used for lightsabers) and they could make monsters seem to actually be there using animation, but for the most part they were limited to simple camera tricks and editing for their effects. This forced them to be more creative about how they built their worlds, instead relying on engaging writing and characters to draw the audience in.
Such is the case with Willow where the enjoyment and immersion come from our desire to see the humble, yet plucky hero accomplish his mission; a desire which is only possible because the character is unique and interesting. Warwick Davis, now an acting legend for his roles in such things as the Leprechaun and Harry Potter franchises, gets his first major role here as the titular hero and he makes the most of it, giving Willow Ufgood an everyman feel that many movie heroes wish they had. It’s easy to make your hero a paragon who can do no wrong but Willow feels like an actual person who has to make tough choices like leaving his family, all for an unknown purpose. This also applies to Madmartigan who starts as a rather untrustworthy character when we first meet him, but he’s not unlikeable. This makes his change into a champion of good (big surprise there) more convincing.
In addition, the Nelwyn village only engrosses you further. Compared to something like the Munchkin town from Wizard of Oz, this pulls you into the experience because of how it feels like a living, breathing community filled with real people. And while it has some of the usual stereotypes (the bully, the faithful best friend, the wise old leader) it doesn’t delve into those so much that they become boring.
This extends to the rest of the world. Even though we only see so much of this place and it’s never shown on a map, it feels like a place you could believe in with a wide variety of climates ranging from forest, to icy mountains, to the black dead land where Bavmorda’s citadel is.
Admittedly there are some things that don’t work so well. Queen Bavmorda is not really that intimidating as a villain. Jean Marsh who plays her, does a perfectly serviceable job in the part but I personally never found her to be that frightening. She has a hulking henchman who uses a skull for a mask and he is much more intimidating. I think he would have worked better as the primary villain but that’s just me. Also her daughter Sorcha, who is set up as a major secondary villain for the larger part of the film, has one of the quickest heel-turns to the side of good that I’ve ever seen. Not saying that it’s a huge problem but it is a bit head-scratching.
Now we come to the two Brownies, little mouse sized men that talk in loud squeaky voices and travel with Willow after he is given his mission to take the little girl to safety. A word of warning, if you have a hard time with sidekick characters that exist only to provide comedy, then you are going to really, really, reeeaallly hate these two. They were Jar Jar Binks before Jar Jar Binks. They add nothing to the plot, their characters never change, and every time they show up you will likely be counting the seconds until the movie cuts to the more important stuff. Fortunately, their moments don’t last long enough to ruin the movie.
Conclusion: I’d heard about this movie via my mom for a long time. She really likes it. But for whatever reason, I only just discovered it in the last few weeks. And let me tell you, it doesn’t disappoint. It’s a fun fantasy adventure with unique interesting characters and a story that provides a nice twist to the ‘chosen one’ storyline. If you like 80s fantasy, or just enjoy fun popcorn flicks with an edgier feel than Disney, I’d highly recommend giving this one a look.
For those of you who’ve already seen this movie, what did you think of it? Did you like it or were you disappointed? Let me know in the comments section below or let me know on twitter or facebook. Have a great week and as always, May the Flick be with You!