The opening scenes of ‘Willow’ haunted me. I would try so hard to pull my eyes away from it in an effort to get past it. But I never could tear away from it.
The scene is simple: a woman running through the forest carrying a basket with a baby inside. She is being chased down by what looks like a hybrid between a rabid dog and a feral pig. She quickly constructs a raft and sets the child afloat just as these beasts descend upon her and kill her.
Definitely a good way to put some fear into a child with an opening like that. It was scary because if this movie was able to kill off a mother and orphan a child in the opening credits, where would it go from there? Where it does go is quite a fantastic journey. ‘Willow’ is underrated in my opinion. It is a film that has so much creativity, fun, humor, danger, and wonder in it and it is truly a shame that it is not as remembered as it should be. Sure the story is filled with Fantasy tropes and clichés with legends foretold and mysterious lands and creatures, but what sets it apart from much of the cinematic genre really comes down to heart. And ‘Willow’ has a ton of it.
The movie, while telling a serious story with some very dramatic elements, also never forgets to have fun and be whimsical. The scenes of the little creatures called ‘brownies’ getting drunk or Willow and Madmartigan sledding down a giant hill entrapped in a giant snowball really bring a smile to your face. It may be just nostalgia blinding me but I have a lot of fond memories of watching Willow as a kid and even if it doesn’t hold up for me today, at a point in my life it really thrilled me. Being that now we are in an age where fantasy has to be deadly serious (I’m looking at you Game of Thrones), it is nice to have a film that also remembers to have some fun with fantasy. I’m not always looking for ‘Syria in Middle Earth’. Sometimes it is nice to be able to laugh and gasp all in the same breath.
There is so much going on in ‘Willow’ and it really feels like it has its own world made up of many characters. It was risky to take a brand new property and install it with it’s own lore and characters in the realm of a Tolkien saturated genre. Sure the movie is no ‘Lord of the Rings’ but it boldly attempts (and I feel achieves) a world of its own that can stand apart from LOTR.
Many of the special effects in the film are now very outdated but at the time were groundbreaking. The sets look fantastic, the use of location shoots and costume add a lot of weight to the film. There is so much attention to detail in the set pieces of ‘Willow’, the villages feel lived in; the castles inhabited. The score by James Horner is sweeping and epic and fits the perfect tone for the story it is telling. The acting in this film is just great. Some is over the top but in a good way. Val Kilmer plays Madmartigan as somewhat of a smart-ass who you can’t help but root for. Ron Howard’s decision to use all little people for ‘Willow’s’ race is a great decision and they all do a wonderful job in this movie. Warwick Davis as ‘Willow’ really is the standout of this movie. He really makes you care for his character and want to see him succeed in his journey. There are extremely touching moments in the film as the scene when Willow embarks on his journey and his wife gives him a lock of her hair to keep with him.
All of this combined makes for a really pleasurable film experience. This is a perfect movie to show younger children to get them into the fantasy genre. They won’t see the dated effects or any of the tropes that you might. What they will see is a wonderful world filled with interesting characters and monsters. They will laugh, they will hide their eyes, and they may shed a few tears by the end of it. This is not a film for snobs of cynics. This is a film for childhood wonder for the young or old.
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