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Two years after the failure of Howard The Duck, Executive Producer George Lucas redeemed himself with Willow, a fantasy film from 1988 directed by Ron Howard. It starred Warwick Davis in the title role with a young Val Kilmer supporting.

After sorceress Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh) orders the death of children in the kingdom due to a prophecy stating that a female child will, one day, orchestrate her downfall, a chain of events is set into motion when a midwife decides to save one baby. The latter ends up in the hands of kindhearted Nelwyn farmer Willow but, when it becomes apparent that keeping the baby poses a threat to his village, he is sent to bring the child back to where she came from, but in safe hands. He first encounters disgraced warrior Madmartigan (Val Kilmer) and soon entrusts the child to him but that backfires almost instantly. What follows is an epic yet relatively intimate adventure involving fairies, "brownies" (tiny people), magic, trolls and monsters. In the vein of something like Ladyhawke, Willow manages to sell its swords and sorcery world without too much artifice as the special effects are only used only when necessary, most of which have dated rather well, surprisingly. The cast is great with Jean Marsh delivering another over-the-top/terrifying performance after giving us all nightmares in Return To Oz, Val Kilmer on top form as the comic-relief anti-hero and, of course, Warwick Davis proving he can most definitely carry a whole film as the lead.

What really makes this such an enjoyable film is, not only the imagination involved, but the sheer likability of the main characters. As heroic as they can be, they are extremely flawed: Willow is a terrible sorcerer, Madmartigan is a goofy womaniser and the latter's love interest Sorsha (Joanne Whalley) happens to be Bavmorda's daughter so not exactly trustworthy. You want to see these characters evolve and succeed in what they're trying to do throughout so it's very rewarding when they finally get something right. Although the whole plot follows a prophecy, the film never gets fully predictable as Willow keeps misusing his magic and the bad guys pop up randomly. The idea that the biggest challenge these characters have to face isn't so much the enemy as it is themselves is an interesting one and it makes the film far more relatable than many in that genre. Just to nitpick a little, it's kind of a shame that the sorceress is taken down the way she is in the film because you keep expecting an increasingly epic fight but that doesn't really happen. The ending is still good, though, and the film's minor flaws are never distracting.

Willow is not the show-off blockbuster most films in that genre try to be. Instead, it's a relatively low-key fantasy film that genuinely cares about its characters and tells a simple yet charming story very well with plenty of action and lots of humour.


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