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WILLOW

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Feb. 15, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: ‘Willow’ has always felt like a Disney film but it was actually produced by Lucasfilm and released by MGM back in 1988. Now, however, as it is given a 30th anniversary Blu-ray facelift (that includes all the special features from previous DVD/Blu-ray releases), the family fantasy is on the Disney video label … because Disney now owns Lucasfilm. Ah, symbiosis. Here’s my review, published in the Deseret News on May 20, 1988.

George Lucas’ “Willow” is a long way from “Star Wars” originality (in execution if not entirely in concept), but it’s also satisfying enough to redeem him from the eggs laid by “Howard the Duck” and “Labyrinth.”

A fantasy film set in a medieval world with magic abounding, and fairies and brownies and trolls as taken-for-granted characters, “Willow” is filled with pilfered ides from other tales. In fact, you can tick of the yarns that provide this picture’s inspirations as they roll by: “Gulliver’s Travels,” “Peter Pan,” “Lord of the Rings,” “Stagecoach,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “He-Man,” the story of Patty Hearst (in reverse) and Lucas’ own “Star Wars” films. Not to mention the Bible.

But then, most quest fantasies feed off of each other — even the best. So once you’ve forgiven that and accepted the special effects-laden landscape here, “Willow” is generally quite a lot of fun.

     

                           Warwick Davis, 'Willow'

The star is Warwick Davis as the title character, a dwarf living peacefully in his own land with his own people, wishing he could be a great sorcerer but managing just variations of parlor tricks for the moment.

Then his children discover a baby that has been set adrift on the river, and he and his wife try to care for it. But they soon discover that the evil queen (Jean Marsh, of TV’s “Upstairs Downstairs”) has sent her army to capture the infant, to perform a ritual that will keep the child from destroying her evil power, as has been prophesied.

Willow takes the babe and heads for the hills, hoping to enlist the aid of a good sorceress, and along the way taking up with petty thief Madmartigan (Val Kilmer, the Iceman in “Top Gun”).

But story is secondary to a picture like this, and Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic folk provide the real impetus, with all kinds of creatures and monsters and wild effects.

     

Director Ron Howard (“Cocoon,” “Splash”) keeps things moving and brings out a wonderful performance from Davis. He’s the charmer that holds it all together.

Howard has also taken a lesson from “Raising Arizona,” using close-ups of the baby here to show that amid all the mayhem and violence, the child is grinning and cooing and having a great time.

But Howard spends far too much time with those chaotic battles, and after a while one more fight is just one fight too many.

Overall, however, the dry spell that has had fantasy fans very thirsty is over. For the most part, “Willow” delivers the goods.

“Willow” is rated PG for violence and some mildly vulgar humor, but a PG-13 would have been more appropriate considering how gory some of the violence is.