Willow – Forget All You Know Or Think You Know, Or Some Old Bollocks…

When I signed up for Disney+ earlier in the year I was surprised to see that the film Willow was on there, but then it is the bastard child of George Lucas, trying to reproduce the success of Star Wars and Indiana Jones. I think I became aware of the film originally through adverts in comics like Masters of the Universe and Transformers in the UK, then through little polystyrene figures and bases in cereal boxes, so asked my mom to take me to see it. Her was along the lines of “Really? Alright…”.

It’s been 32 years since I last saw the film. I’m going to be honest, it’s probably going to be longer than that until the next time…

The film: So, a child is born that could bring the reign of terror of the evil Queen Bavmorda to an end. A midwife smuggles the baby out, but is chased by weird boar-dogs. Before she is mauled to death by them she constructs a small raft of grass and branches and sends the baby downriver, where she is found by farmer and would-be magician Willow Ufgood, played by Warwick Davis, who now hosts an afternoon quiz show in the UK called Tenable. He’s a Nelwyn, which basically means a dwarf, and he has to get the baby to the Daikinis, who are average-sized people, before Bavmorda and her forces get the baby and kill it.

So many things, so little time! Let’s start with the lead character, Willow, who’s only really inspiring because he’s short. Warwick Davis seems like an incredibly nice and affable guy and has a pretty good career for a guy who would normally have been waved away with “We’ve not got work for guys your size until Christmas” comments, but he’s playing a father figure to young children when he’s still in his teens himself and has one of the worst American accents you will ever hear. I’m surprised every other line for him wasn’t “Hey MAAAN!”. But, he is a nice guy.

Someone who probably wasn’t a nice guy, and plays someone who wasn’t a nice guy, is Val Kilmer, as rogue swordsman Madmartigan. He starts off in a hanging cell with some obvious stuck-on dirt over his teeth and matted hair, by the end he’s got beautiful gnashers and looks like he could’ve been in a Duran Duran video eight years earlier. I feel very sorry for Kilmer as he is a good, but difficult, actor and has really gone through the wringer with throat cancer, which NOBODY deserves. We saw one of the worst cases of it with the great Bobby Heenan. In this film, he’s pretty much here to have the attitude Willow can’t have and do the fights and stunts Warwick Davis can’t do.

His big gain from this movie was doubtless meeting Joanne Whalley, who in retrospect just wasn’t as hot as I remembered her being back in 1988. She plays Bavmorda’s daughter Sorsha, who a soothsayer is commenting, as soon as she’s left her first scene, will betray her mother. And wouldn’t you Adam-and-Eve it, she does! Also goes from a bad haircut to a better one to match her heel/face turn.

Willow is also accompanied, whether he likes it or not, by some Lilliputian figures called the Brownies. Apropos, because they’re absolute shit. The superimposition of them onto scenes is really terrible stuff, and it looks like in some scenes they just use little models in their places that have about the articulation and mobility of a tin soldier. Also intended to be comic relief, in a time where you couldn’t just do a film and have someone have a bit of a sense of humour, they had to be clowns. Down the shitter you go.

I’ll devote no more than a sentence to commenting on the veteran actress Patricia Hayes slumming it as good witch Fin Raziel because at least most of her work was done in ADR over different animals, but I could’ve done without her in wet clothes at the end.

What the film does have going for it is two good villains in the aforementioned Bavmorda and her most vicious warrior, General Kael. Jean Marsh has the same kind of look, but older, that Meg Foster had as Evil-Lyn, very pronounced cheekbones, thin features, powerful eyes, and a good evil presence. Cool outfit too as the witch queen, with something that resembles a nun crossed with a demon queen.

Kael, played by Pat Roach, looks a bit different that usual, with weird mutton chop sideburns and thick eyebrows, and very thin upper lip facial hair, but he gives it a good go with a gruff voice, barely disguising his Birmingham accent, and he’s got a cool skull helmet that by the end is half-broken and revealing some of his face. Roach was, of course, a wrestler first, but because he was bigger than the average British wrestler bar Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks he had a good career as a friendly powerhouse and forged quite a successful film and television career. When I watched this film as a kid, Willow and Madmartigan might’ve been who I was supposed to like, but I was enjoying the scenes with Bomber from Auf Wiedersehen, Pet more.

The Bottom Line: It’s a bad movie. Don’t bother with it. I’m sure there’s a good comic adaptation or novelisation of it out there. Read one of those instead on a train journey or something and look up some good production pictures of Marsh and Roach in their roles and imagine a far better story with them sacrificing villagers to the dark gods and chopping off heads of unruly soldiers. But I am interested to HEAR what ideas they have for the proposed Disney+ followup.