Willow

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Okay, here we are again. This time the old movie getting a legacy sequel is Ron Howard and George Lucas’s 1988 fantasy lite adventure Willow. The only slight difference here is that this one is running as a streaming series not a cinema release, just like The Dark Crystal (which is a film that has lots in common with Willow) did on Netflix. This bit is not a surprise as Disney have already done this switch from film to TV with a handful of their animated movies, including The Lion King, Big Hero 6 and Lilo & Stitch, and the Disney/Marvel shows have this as their whole M.O. Willow wasn’t a Disney property before but it is now, maybe it got thrown in when George Lucas sold them Star Wars.

Thus far we don’t really know what to expect from the Willow series. All we’ve had is a slightly laboured but endearing clip of returning lead actor Warwick Davis introducing the new cast, which you can see on Disney+, which suggests that, unlike the darker Shadow Moon follow up novels that Lucas and Chris Claremont put out in the 90s, it is going to follow the same broadly comedic tone of the original.

This isn’t to say that Willow is a particularly funny film; it’s just that it’s not very serious. Willow definitely feels like a kid’s movie with little beyond some small nostalgic value for adults. It has none of the wit or sophistication of The Princess Bride, the charm of Labyrinth or the dark edge of the aforementioned The Dark Crystal or Return to Oz. It actually shares an antagonist with this last movie in the shape of Jean Marsh, who is essentially playing the same role, but her witch character is more silly than scary in this context. The whole movie has what I would describe as a child’s logic. Much happens in the story that any grown up would question, like when Willow is shot into the air and he lands comfortably sitting on a branch, when bad guys swing at redeemed swordsman Madmartigan but conveniently miss and when the baby they are trying to save is suffering some horrible ritual in the castle yet it is okay for them to delay their rescue to morning as time seems to be passing differently inside and outside the castle walls.

The script is also a little corny and while Davis has been unfairly criticised for his acting, his line delivery of said dialogue does sometimes feel a little off. Somehow every time he says ‘Madmartigan’ it seems like he is mispronouncing it even though he isn’t and it doesn’t do anything to steer away from the silliness of that name. Val Kilmer is having fun in said role, mind you.

To be fair Willow does have this going for it. The diminutive Hobbity underdog hero on a mission to save an infant princess from marauding armies, ape like trolls and evil magic is quite fun. There are brownies (the elf kind not the cakes), fairies and a sorceress possum/crow/goat who we meet along the way and they all contribute to the loose but effective sense of adventure. The film also has some surprises, including in particular a truly wtf two headed dragon that is apparently based on a discarded Ralph McQuarrie design for Return of the Jedi but looks like something from a really bad cheese dream. Believe me, it sticks with you like nothing else in the movie and possibly the whole decade. I can see why it was rejected if the story is true; if Luke had been faced with this rather than the Rancor he’d have puked or cried or something but either way he’d have struggled to retain his developing Jedi composure. The evil commander has a cool skull mask too but is the perfect example of why such intimidating facial wear should never be taken off.

If you enjoyed Willow as a kid then you might enjoy watching it again prior to the upcoming show but if you are new to this then I’d say watch the series first and then see if you feel the need to be a completist. It is a well meaning movie but it isn’t really a classic. Prime Video has got The Goonies so maybe give that a go instead.
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The Ripley Factor:

Joanne Whalley’s Sorsha is one of the best characters at the start of this film. She is the formidable leader of the witch’s armed forces and takes no crap from Tom ‘Iceman’ Kazansky or anyone. Sadly this is all undermined when some dude kisses her and puts on some shiny armour. While this causes her to turn instantly from a baby snatching psycho to ideal mother material, it also makes her almost entirely mute and passive. If there is any part of the film that needed to be better written, is this bit.

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