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Wayback Wednesday: Willow (1988)

Without this movie I would have never been born. 

On this day 31 years ago, my parents were married! Knowing that their wedding anniversary was going to fall on a Wednesday this year, it was obvious to me which movie I needed to review for this week’s Wayback. The movie my dad took my mom to see on their very first date: Willow (1988)! I love that this was the first movie my parents saw together. An endearing little fantasy-adventure filled with heart and humour? It’s like they KNEW one day they’d have a son who would grow to love those kinds of movies! Turns out, Willow isn’t just a cute movie to see on a first date in 1988. It’s also a solid choice for a family movie night in 2020. Or any movie night, really. If you have the time, that is. Willow is cute, but damn, it’s long.

Screen Shot 2020-07-23 at 8.06.24 PM
Credit: / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Willow tells the story of the titular character, a farmer and aspiring sorcerer who comes across Elora Danan, an infant prophesied to be the downfall of the evil Queen Bavmorda. Together with the gruff swordsman Madmartigan, Willow sets out an an epic quest to keep the baby safe and thwart Bavmorda’s plans for world domination.

I absolutely LOVE fantasy movies. I’ve been obsessed with them for as long as I can remember. While they’re all inherently fun and full of wonder, I have very specific criteria for what makes the perfect fantasy movie. I’m very picky. I’m looking for things like, heaps of dazzling magic, stunning practical sets, unique costumes, exciting action, and a high-stakes story that challenges the protagonist and forces them to grow. Willow possesses all of those elements, but at their most basic level. Nothing about Willow is as particularly memorable, timeless, or iconic as say, the Lord of the Rings movies (2001 – 2003) or The Princess Bride (1987). By the way, check out my review for that movie, here. As average as it may be, there’s still plenty of spirited enjoyment to be found in Willow, especially if you’re as big a fan of fantasy as I am. Or even just a fan of silly, delightful 80s movies!

Willow is cheesy. Cheesy in the best, most enjoyable way possible. The costumes all look like they’re straight from the racks of Party City, and the special effects are…well, exactly what’d you’d expect special effects to look like in a fantasy movie from 1988. Surprisingly though, the effects, makeup, and even the generic costumes, hold up pretty well by today’s standards. I was shocked! The production put into Willow is great because it effectively draws you into this magical world. There were many times when I was watching the movie that I genuinely felt transported to another time and place. Any movie that can make me believe I’m not actually in my living room gets a round of applause from me.

Of course, what makes Willow such an astounding movie are the breathtaking filming locations and practical sets. You guys, I can’t tell you how sick I am of movies these days relying on green stages. I totally get that using them opens up a world of possibilities for the production, but in my opinion, nothing transports me into a magical world more than real-life settings and intricately-designed set pieces. Filmed on location in Wales and New Zealand, this movie is positively gorgeous to look at. Even moreso when accompanied by director Ron Howard’s amazing cinematography. Filming-wise, utilizing practical effects and sets is the best thing any fantasy movie can do, in my opinion. It adds a physical layer of reality (and magic) that a green stage just can’t compare with. I mean, look at Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001). THAT is excellent fantasy production design!

Very much a product of its time, Willow is a prime example of the pure, lighthearted, straightforward, adventure stories that make 80s movies so much fun. It’s an easy-breezy, low-stakes, romp that you can’t help but smile along with. How could you not smile when Warwick Davis is in your movie? As the title character, Davis is an enchanting lead whose bubbly charisma is one of the movie’s highlights. It’s certainly not the runtime, FYI. Seriously. Willow‘s an amusing movie, but considering how basic the story is, two hours and six minutes is pushing it. It’s about 15-20 minutes too long. There’s almost too much story which again, is saying something when you realize how thin the plot actually is.

Though throughly enjoyable, the writing and action in Willow are pretty generic. Often it feels like the movie is spinning its wheels, unable to advance the story in a quick way, or just completely repeats a scene we saw 10 minutes ago. In fact, much of the focus of the movie is put on the action rather than character or story, which is a problem for me. Props to the movie because the action is handled well-enough, but a movie needs substance as well as style. Look, I know that The Princess Bride is lightning in a bottle, but that’s really the bar that every fantasy movie should aspire to. It’s a perfect balance that is just…*chef’s kiss.

If you haven’t seen Willow, I really encourage you to. It’s currently streaming on Disney+, so get into it. At the very ;east, watch it just to witness Val Kilmer’s discount Han Solo impression. I’m really thankful that it means more people will have the opportunity to check it out. Everyone deserves to see the movie that I owe my entire existence to. Lol, a tad dramatic? Maybe. But hello, are you new here?

Have you seen Willow?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!


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