a critiQal film review Willow (1988)

Plot: When young Willow Ulgood (Davis) finds an abandoned baby girl, he learns she is destined to end the reign of the wicked Queen Bavmorda (Marsh). To protect the child, Willow must team up with a rogue swordsman (Kilmer) and overcome the forces of darkness in the ultimate battle of good versus evil.

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  • ...while the plot is a bit tired, and one major special effect has not aged well at all, this magical fantasy from the 80's still isn't half bad.

Disney+ has really opened up our imaginations recently. At a decent price ($6.99/mo), it may not have the original series that other streaming services have, but it does have quite a collection of films to choose from. Aside from watching all the Disney animated films – and Pixar’s library, including the new film Onward – there is quite a live-action collection to choose from as well. Whether you are into classics like The Love Bug (1969), 80’s hits like The Princess Bride (1987), newer films like Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (2019) or Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) and its sequels, there’s something for everyone. And, there is another classic 80’s film in there as well – Willow.

When I first stumbled across Willow, I jumped at the chance at re-watching this classic 80’s flick. There’s something very nostalgic about the sword and sorcery films of the 80’s, with such classics as Legend, Labyrinth (1986), The Princess Bride (1987), and of course, Willow. But, it’d been literally more than a decade since I had seen this film. Would Willow be able to stand the test of time, or would the now cheesy effects ruin the overall feel of the film?

Warwick Davis leads the cast in Willow. While this is his most well-known role, he’s popped up in numerous films since (including Marvin in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005) and as both Professor Flitwick and the voice of Griphook in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001) and its sequels). With Willow, he at first seems new to this acting thing, smiling too much (even with the situation doesn’t seem to call for it). As the film continues, however, he seems to get better in front of the camera, and the viewer will enjoy tagging along with his titular character for this journey.

Val Kilmer also plays a large role in Willow, and viewers will easily remember why they used to like him so much. While he’s beefed out in later years (and gotten a bit worse in the acting department), his character in this film is personable despite his oddities, and a welcome part of the main cast.

The rest of the cast is decent enough, although most are used to a much lesser extent than Warwick Davis and Val Kilmer. Joanne Whalley, Jean Marsh, and the rest do their parts well enough, and there is a certain chemistry between Kilmer and Whalley, which helps. Kevin Pollak is a fun (and barely recognizable) spot as a mischievous little fairy-like creature called a Brownie.

The plot itself is a bit tired, even for an 80’s sword and fantasy flick. The storyline takes bits and pieces from other classics and ties them in together decetnly enough if without any real feeling of originality. The viewer always knows how the film is going to end, and there aren’t really any surprises waiting around the corner.

The special effects are, for the most part, still working well in Willow. There is a glaring exception however, when a very fake-looking two-headed moat monster appears. Thankfully, they are able to tie it in enough with the scene (including one character actually riding on one of the heads), that it works better than it should. Aside from that, the miniaturization techniques with the Brownies, the magic spells and the rest still look pretty good. Sure, they aren’t quite up to today’s standards, but still, for an 80’s film, Willow hasn’t aged as badly as one would have expected.

With a decent cast, including a sympathetic Warwick Davis and a fun Val Kilmer, Willow is a magical fantasy the viewers will remember fondly. True, the plot is a bit tired, and at least one of the major special effects hasn’t aged well. But, with the unlikely but fun duo of Davis and Kilmer, and a surprising number of effects that have not been as hurt by the passage of time, this is still a decent (if not spectacular) magical fantasy.

Watch it again. It may not be quite as good as you remember, but it still isn’t half bad.

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