Today: February 26, 2024


In 1988, after waiting over ten years for visual technology to be advanced enough, executive producer/writer George Lucas (Star Wars, Indiana Jones) brought his magical tale of fantasy and adventure, Willow to the big screen with Ron Howard (Cocoon, Apollo 13) as director.

In 1988,
after waiting over ten years for visual technology to be advanced enough, executive
producer/writer George Lucas (Star Wars, Indiana Jones) brought his magical
tale of fantasy and adventure, Willow to the big screen with Ron Howard
(Cocoon, Apollo 13) as director.

In a mythical realm during ‘a time of dread,’ baby Elora
Danan is born in the depths of a castle dungeon. There is a prophecy that Elora is destined to lead to the
downfall of wicked sorceress Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh) and so she seeks to kill her. Realising the intentions of the evil queen, a nursemaid
smuggles Elora from the castle, but the queen’s pack of angry death dogs is hot
on her heels and soon track her down.
Meanwhile halfling Willow Ufgood (Warwick
) lives a modest life in a small village with his family and fellow Nelwyns,
farming his small section of land and getting endless grief from greedy local
Burglekutt (Mark Northover). Practising magic tricks, he dreams of
becoming the apprentice of Nelwyn magician, High Aldwin (Bill Barty). When his
children find human baby, Elora in a basket by a nearby river and the death
dogs rampage the village, it is decided that she must be returned to fellow
humans and Willow sets out with Elora to find someone who will care for
her. However this venture soon
turns in to a quest to protect the baby from the relentless clutches of
Bavmorda and her faithful daughter Sorsha (Joanne
) who hunts her. With
the help of goofy human swordsman Madmartigan (Val Kilmer) and a couple of trouble-making brownies (Kevin Pollak and Rick Overton), Willow seeks good witch Fin Raziel (Patricia Hayes) to help defeat Bavmorda
and save the life of this special baby who will change the fate of the kingdom.

Filmed in Elstree
, but also on location in New Zealand and Wales, the film’s action
is set against a backdrop of waterfalls and snowy plains, ending in a rainy
conclusion at a dark, foreboding castle.
Couple this with a thrilling score composed by the legend that is James Horner (Braveheart, Avatar) and
a cast of top actors and you have the recipe for a great adventure movie. Following an Ewok role in Star Wars Episode VI:
Return of the Jedi
, eighteen year old Davis (Harry Potter films) plays a genuine and loveable unlikely hero. Marsh plays a convincing evil sorceress (similar to
her character of Princess Mombi in Return
To Oz
), her body wrapped in bandages, donning a hooded cloak and jagged
metal crown and becoming more haggard and sinister as the film progresses. Kilmer and Whalley (married soon after
meeting on the Willow set) make a sexy couple as the wild and dangerous Sorsha
and crazed mercenary Madmartigan.
Post-Top Gun Kilmer is not
unlike Pirates of the Caribbean’s Jack Sparrow, with his matted, braided raven
hair, single earring and black eyeliner, brandishing his sword with ease and
providing the majority of the film’s humour. There are plenty of laughs for the kids, mostly from the
slapstick antics of the Tom-Thumb-sized brownies. Small but tough little folk, they are full of
one-liners: ‘Who are you calling a
lizard? Your mother was a
lizard.’ There is some comedy in
there for the adults too, particularly from Madmartigan when disguised as a
woman and lunged at by a local meathead:
‘Wanna breed?’ ‘Uh . . .
tempting, but no.’

It cannot be denied that the story of Willow as a whole is remiscent
of JRR Tolkien’s epic tale The Lord of the Rings: the reluctant hero halfling who goes on
a quest to save the kingdom; the sword-wielding wing-man and the ‘white lady’ enchantress
who resides in the woods. It may
lean heavily on this concept but all in all it is a film filled with classic
elements of fantasy. Willow is a product
of its time, another film in a long line of 80s fantasy movies that remain cult
films today, with influences from the likes of Legend, The NeverEnding
, Labyrinth, The Princess Bride
and Ladyhawke: a fairy-tale world of mythical
creatures with witches, fairies, trolls and two-headed dragons. As Howard states in the DVD/Blu-ray extras,
in terms of sword and sorcery films there had been Excalibur and Legend but nothing had broken through quite yet with
new concepts – and Willow did just that.
Watching Willow now, the visual effects seem poor and laughable, with
the use of puppets, stop motion and blue screen. However Lucas and Howard used all the special effects tools
available to them at that time: a
time before CGI. In fact it was
during the production of Willow that Digital Effects Supervisor, Dennis Muren and his team pioneered the
technique of ‘morphing,’ mainly using it to show Fin Raziel’s transformation
from various species of animal back in to a woman. The Harry Potter world of wands, magic and mythical
creatures and the on-going popularity of retro fantasy films like Labyrinth
mean that despite the visual effects, Willow will still be popular with kids

Willow is a little long for a kids’ movie but several sub
plots were already removed, including one particularly elaborate one with
overly challenging special effects.
This is explained on the abundance of extras on the Blu-ray,
including: Deleted Scenes – With Ron Howard; The Making of an Adventure – with Ron Howard; From Morf to Morphing with Dennis Muren (including documentary The Dawn of Digital Film-making) and Willow: An Unlikely Hero – Personal Video Diary of Warwick Davis.

Willow is definitely a piece of 80s fantasy nostalgia to own
that will reawaken your childhood imagination and sense of adventure. As long as you appreciate the movie in
the time it was created, it is a thrilling ride.

Misha Wallace - Social Media Editor

From the age of 4, Misha Wallace became transfixed by movies like Halloween and The Birds from behind the couch, unbeknownst to her family. This has developed in to an obsession with fantasy and horror films (and a considerable number of cheesy 80s and 90s flicks – but she will not be judged). If she was a character in a film she'd be the girl at the end of a horror movie, doused in blood but grinning victorious. Email: or find her any time of the day or night on FilmJuice social media.

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