Willow (1988)
April 24, 2018 7:05 PM - Subscribe

A reluctant dwarf must play a critical role in protecting a special baby from an evil queen.

Empire: Once upon a time... a powerful, bearded genius made a movie that placed a bunch of fantasy archetypes in a sci-fi setting. And lo, Star Wars did so well that George Lucas tried the trick again in 1988, this time producing Ron Howard’s fantasy flick, which both filled a large, LOTR-shaped gap (epic quest, vertically-challenged hero) and referenced Star Wars copiously (roguish hero, a beautiful princess, comedy sidekicks).

But the blocks remained unbusted, and not everyone lived happily ever after. Which isn’t to say that Willow is without its charms - the effects are more than special, the set-pieces suitably epic, and it’s still one of the most eye-catching fantasy films around. Problem is, with its 'parents’ - Star Wars and The Lord Of The Rings - currently kicking cinematic arse, Willow seems somehow smaller in stature.

Roger Ebert: “Willow” is a fearsomely ambitious movie, but it is not fearsome, and it is not wondrous, and it is about a journey too far down a road too well-traveled by other movies. It’s a fantasy about the quest of a lovable little person and his heroic newfound friend to return a lost baby to where she belongs and to outsmart a wicked queen and kill a two-headed dragon in the process. In other words, standard stuff.

What was supposed to make “Willow” special was the quality of the production. This is a sword-and-sorcery epic produced by George Lucas, whose “Star Wars” portrayed the same kind of material in outer space, and directed by Ron Howard, whose human touch made “Cocoon” one of the best recent science-fiction movies. The special effects are by Lucas’s company, Industrial Light and Magic, which has set the standard in such matters. The budget was umpteen million dollars, and Hollywood has been hoping that the Force was definitely with this film.

Alas, even the largest budgets and the most meticulous special effects are only dead weight unless they have a story to make them move. And at the story level, “Willow” is turgid and relentlessly predictable. Not much really happens, and when it does, its pace is slowed by special effects set pieces that run on too long and seem to be recycled out of earlier movies.

WaPo: If "magic is the bloodstream of the universe," as "Willow" tells us, Lucas needs gamma goblin. There's little of magic in this anemic, high-tech fantasy, no matter how well-dressed the sets or how splendidly scenic the locale. The big budget can't conceal the fact that this fiction is fallow, more rootbound than spellbound.

NYTimes: Though ''Willow'' bears many signs of the Lucas imagination (Mr. Lucas wrote the story and was the film's executive producer), it has been directed by Ron Howard, whose approach is more matter-of-fact. Mr. Howard appears to have had his hands full in simply harnessing the special effects (like the two tiny characters who scramble around the principals' ankles) and keeping the plot straight, and he doesn't bring any particular color or personality to material that supposedly had these things to spare. However, it's more problematic that the direction doesn't always keep the action in clear focus. Even the battle scenes have been made so briskly businesslike that no particular details stand out in the pandemonium. And Willow, a pleasant but bland character, doesn't often inspire much sentiment, so the film lacks an emotional center. In place of this, it relies on so much overstatement and repetition that it's possible to grow tired even of the adorable baby.


YouTube--Willow in two parts: 1, 2

Ron Howard’s Willow is still raucous and ridiculous 27 years later

Revisiting George Lucas' Forgotten Epic 'Willow'

Warwick Davis answers the Willow question that's been bothering us for 25 years
posted by MoonOrb (29 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

Was this the most charming Val Kilmer we ever got? Also, one of the loveliest James Horner scores.

I'm surprised it was nominated for a Raspberry... I always thought it was a fun, memorable movie as a kid.
posted by selfnoise at 7:28 PM on April 24, 2018 [9 favorites]

Early Val Kilmer was so much fun.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:30 PM on April 24, 2018 [8 favorites]

Been awhile, but I loved Willow at the time. (And I was just talking with a friend about it the other day, even.)
posted by mordax at 7:58 PM on April 24, 2018 [6 favorites]

That baby was ridiculously cute.
posted by mogget at 9:35 PM on April 24, 2018 [4 favorites]

Oddly enough there is a trilogy of sequels written by Chris Claremont (!??!) that I recall being absolutely fantastic--I re-read them often as a kid. Somehow I never got around to seeing the movie...
posted by hototogisu at 9:40 PM on April 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

That baby was ridiculously cute.

Literally came in here to say that.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:43 PM on April 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

The baby was cute, but Willow's twins were cuter.
posted by Brocktoon at 11:04 PM on April 24, 2018 [3 favorites]

I watched this movie hundreds of times as a kid, but all I remember is Warwick Davis and the ridiculously cute baby.
posted by Fig at 3:47 AM on April 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm with the reviewers. This movie just kind of fell flat for me. I remember almost nothing about it, except the line, "I don't love her! She kicked me in the face!"

You'd be surprised how many occasions one has to use a line like that.
posted by Naberius at 7:37 AM on April 25, 2018 [3 favorites]

My personal favorite bit of trivia from the movie is that Warwick Davis was only 17 years old when it was filming. (Since I had the original novelization, I already knew what happened to the third acorn.)

Loved this movie as a kid (saw it in the theater) and have loved it ever since. My best friend and I still frequently tell each other, "You are drunk! And when you are drunk you forget that I am in charge!"
posted by merriment at 9:18 AM on April 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

"I was your sun, your moon, and your stars, AND IT WENT AWAY????"

Two things still stick out in my mind about this movie, so many years later - those stupid Brownies (and I say that as someone who loves both Kevin Pollack and Rick Overton), and the fight against the two-headed dragon thing.
posted by hanov3r at 10:21 AM on April 25, 2018 [4 favorites]

selfnoise: Was this the most charming Val Kilmer we ever got?

No, that would be Top Secret.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:37 AM on April 25, 2018 [17 favorites]

I'm glad I'm not the only one who remembered the that sun and moon light. That one always cracks me up.

I'm particularly fond of films in which is hero is from a marginalized population. That the traditional "swashbuckler with character arc and romantic interest" is Willow's sidekick really makes this film for me. I wish there were more films out there like this.
posted by miss-lapin at 11:03 AM on April 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

I haven't seen this movie for aeons but I was charmed by it as a kid and I think we got the video fairly frequently. I loved Sorsha pretty hard, if I remember correctly. I'm frequently a sucker for feuding romances. And yeah, that was one adorable baby.
posted by PussKillian at 1:44 PM on April 25, 2018

I still love this movie.

The physical effects were good - I really miss that era of movie fantasy monsters. The costumes (and armour) were top notch, too.

Rool was probably the ideal role for a young Kevin Pollak.
posted by porpoise at 2:45 PM on April 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

miss-lapin: I always kinda imagine Joanne Whalley screaming that in Val Kilmer's face in the courtroom when she was filing for divorce in 1995.
posted by hanov3r at 3:48 PM on April 25, 2018

I'm with the reviewers. This movie just kind of fell flat for me. I remember almost nothing about it, except the line, "I don't love her! She kicked me in the face! "

The line that I have always remembered is, "I stole the baby!"
posted by ActingTheGoat at 7:05 PM on April 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

This was a sleepover standard for me, and I still love it, to the point that my sister gave me an old Willow Quaker Oatmeal bowl she found at a thrift store for Christmas (along with a bunch of quaker oatmeal and a note that said "Enjoy your Daikini breakfast!", Thanks, sis!).

It was one of my first "novelization of the movie" books I owned, when I was like 9; I read it several times.

And Arik was my first crush (talk about obscure!). I have had a thing for bearded red-heads since.

This is a classic I'm sick and I want to lay on the couch all day movie for me now.
posted by jenjenc at 7:14 PM on April 25, 2018 [9 favorites]

I also haven't seen Willow in a long while, but I also loved it to pieces. I think by far the most memorable scene is the eval sorceress turning rival soldiers into swine.

"This is not an army. You dare to challenge me?? You're not warriors! You're pigs."

Delivered as though she could transform them by sheer force of contempt. I love it.
posted by Phobos the Space Potato at 4:27 PM on April 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

Willow and Labyrinth, two films I will always have time for. Kids films aren't made for grownup critics, thank goodness.
posted by glasseyes at 8:31 PM on April 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

The result of that Ricky Gervais show is I can't help but imagine Warrick Davis bumping into Ron Howard on the set of Han Solo and having an interaction with him like he did with Liam Neeson, saying, hey, we did a movie together and Howard not responding, and then him saying I starred in Willow, and Ron Howard saying That's nice.

And because of the Simspons, I imagine Ron Howard then drinking a Vodka Wheatgrass juice.
posted by maxsparber at 8:38 AM on April 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

I recently had a "lets be 12" themed birthday were are ate a lot of sugar and watched 80s movies. Willow was the crown of the event and we played a willow drinking game.

I don't remember the exact rules, but you had to drink when certain things we're said. And my god was that a bad Idea. Because anything you remember being said in willow is said FAR more than you might think. Babmorda was one, and my god they say that name like 100 god damn times.

We suspended the game about 1/3 of the way through for fear of death.
posted by French Fry at 8:45 AM on April 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

"Out of the way, peck" is still our family go-to when someone is in your way.
posted by Paragon at 4:30 PM on April 29, 2018

I was oddly obsessed with collecting the trading cards for the movie, and I can't really remember why. Probably Val Kilmer.
posted by tavella at 8:26 PM on April 29, 2018

French Fry I just want to thank you for the most brilliant birthday part idea of all time. I am SO doing this.
posted by miss-lapin at 8:38 PM on April 30, 2018

I think this is the drinking game in question. And, wow. This is a recipe for dying, fo shizz.
posted by hanov3r at 9:31 AM on May 1, 2018

"I have stolen zee baby! Hah hah!" In the worst French Canadian accent ever.

This is all you need to know about this movie. It's no kidding great. No, you also need to know about Val Kilmer dual weilding hand and a half great swords. In the snow. While ensourcelled. He kicks ass.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:57 PM on April 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

I saw this last night because my SO had never seen it.

It's workmanlike but it's not very inspired. It's watchable. I'd forgotten the Madmartigan snow cylinder lol. I wish it didn't have quite so many bad gags.

One thing I didn't remember, or maybe never realized, is that Bavmorda sacrifices herself at the end. I think when I was young I just thought the lightning killed her and it made moral sense because she tried to use Chelindrea's wand. But she spills the blood and is touching the sacrificial vessel so it seems more like she sacc'd herself which is very funny. Have fun in the dimension of the thirteenth nightmare or whatever.

I do like Bavmorda and Fin Raziel comparing their power levels in the final scene. The fights in general have a decent sensibility to them.

Whalley and Kilmer's romance is kind of cute, maybe the part I liked most on rewatch, though Sorsha fades into the background disgracefully after it's sealed. Whalley has the rare kind of face that looks good with a helmet. Not sure about that four-arrow quiver thing she's wearing.

I really like Fin Raziel's voice as various animals, but especially the possum/muskrat, and I think my delight at a cute little possum teaching magic is more childlike than it was in 1988.

I saw Jean Marsh recently in Frenzy and she's having so much fun as Bavmorda, she makes the absolute most of her screentime. Her mummy undergarments are a nice touch.
posted by fleacircus at 12:35 PM on January 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

I rewatched it myself a few weeks ago, and yup, Jean Marsh is fabulous, having more fun than anyone else in the movie. Willow's stubborn decency and endurance is also very touching, I'm assuming the Hobbits must have been somewhat of an inspiration for the script.
posted by tavella at 3:12 PM on January 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

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