Are you a Harry Potter buff? I know I’m not! However, even if one’s impartial to a fantasy series where the main characters are issued more Get-Out-of-Jail-Free cards than Jean Grey, some of the franchise’s characters end up endearing themselves to you. (I know, I know, this is not supposed to be a review for Harry Potter and the Plot Device, but hang in there.) One of my favorite supporting characters in the Potter franchise happens to be, in this movie at least, the title character, Willow Ufgood. That’s right; one of the good old Potter professors ( “Swish and Flick!”) had a pre-Hogwarts career in the 1988 George Lucas/Ron Howard fantasy flick: Willow.
Willow begins, like many fantasy flicks, with an over-reaching evil royal person who is bent on taking over the fantasy-verse by misusing magic. In this case, the evil royal is Queen Baymorda. She’s busy slaughtering all the babies in her domain, since it’s been prophesized that one will someday defeat her. The only baby to escape Baymorda’s baby-killing spree is Elora Danon, who, directly after being born, is spirited away by a midwife. Bavmorda, understandably displeased, releases the hounds. Some time and a devoured-by-dogs midwife later, Elora is sent to the Nelwyn Village on a bed of rushes.
Nelwyn are NOT Dwarves, nor are they (God forbid) Hobbits. Nelwyn are Nelwyn: short humanoids who farm and, sometimes, show an aptitude for sorcery. Once in Nelwyn Village, Elora meets Willow and, against his better sense, Willow takes her in. However, this causes problems for the village (remember those man-eating dogs?) and Willow is ordered to give Elora back to the Daikini. For you bestiary-nuts out there, Daikini are what pass as humans in this universe.
Much adventuring, battling, magicking, and castle-storming later, we have a colorful cast including Madmartigan (played by Val Kilmer; my heart throbs just to think of him), Franjean and Rool (our comedic relief brownies – no, not the eating kind, the faerie kind; think itsy-bitsty French-sounding native peoples), Fin Raziel (a sorceress – the Glinda to Bavmorda’s Wicked), and Sorsha (Bavmorda’s face-heel-turn daughter and Madmartigan’s love interest).
I’ll lay this down now: typical of George Lucas, viewers have to take the movie’s word for its back-story. There’s no demonstration, just a couple of sentences of exposition. And there’s no way of telling where in the name of mighty Zeus Willow takes place. Would it have been that hard to commission a fantasy map and impose the exposition onto it?
While the scenery is lovely (you haven’t experienced an evil lair until you’ve seen Bavmorda’s throne room) the action scenes are few and far between. I get the feeling that Lucas and Howard underplayed the sheer awesomeness of Willow in favor of copy-catting a more famous franchise’s well known walking scenes.
However, Willow more than makes up for its boring bits with a medieval car-chase, many magic casting scenes, a two-headed dragon, two castle sieges, hideous trolls (aren’t they always?), sorceress cat-fights, Val Kilmer’s smile, and some good ol’ swordplay. Above all else, Willow has a realism that I haven’t seen in any other fantasy movie of its time.
So now you know: before he was a charms professor, Flitwick was a Nelwyn. All has been revealed. I only wonder one thing, though: I know that Willow eventually became a sorcerer, but where did he get his teaching degree?
Galen Russell is an aspiring biologist with a sweet spot for the audiovisual. Currently living in Portland, OR he’s surrounded by loving friends and family who offer him inspiration every day…on a gold filigree platter. It’s hard to reach down from his pedestal, but he manages.