Fanta-Flix, Issue #2: Willow (1988)

Written by CaptainAmeriDave


First conceived of in the early 70’s, Willow is a late 80’s fantasy film with a strong identity. Hot off the heels of his mega-hits, Star Wars and Indiana Jones, George Lucas tries his hand at a more traditional medieval fantasy film. The result is a delightful tale that didn’t impress the critics but wormed its way into the hearts of a generation.

Willow (1988) | Tom Simpson | Flickr


In the Mother World, in the land of Nockmaar, a prophecy speaks of a child born with a birthmark that will overthrow the evil Queen Bavmorda. The child is Elora Danan, a Daikini (or human) child. Fearing for her safety, her Mother convinces a midwife to escape with the baby. She’s only able to send the baby downriver, but luckily Elora finds her way to the Nelwyn (a dwarf-like people) and the home of Willow Ufgood.

Willow is a humble farmer and aspiring magician who can’t seem to catch a break. Willow is reluctant to help the baby for fear of the trouble that the Daikini will bring to their village. However, his good heart wins out and with a little encouragement from his family and friends, Willow soon sets out to return the baby to her people and find someone who can take care of her.

The Nelwyn are clearly out of their element as they leave their village. When they reach the Crossroads, they meet a Daikini prisoner by the name of Madmartigan. Madmartigan is arrogant and brash, but offers to take care of the baby in exchange for his freedom. Willow is reluctant, but ultimately agrees and heads back to his village.

It’s on his way home that Willow discovers the baby was kidnapped by a couple of Brownies. The Brownies are a rather annoying yet brave tiny race. They stole the baby from Madmartigan. Willow learns of Elora’s true identity and her ultimate destiny. He then agrees to be Elora’s protector.

As his journey continues, Willow meets back up with Madmartigan and joins the likes of the sorceress Raziel and even Queen Bavmorda’s own daughter, Sorsha. They attempt to take the baby to Tir Asleen, Elora’s future kingdom. However, they are pursued by the evil General Kael.

Queen Bavmorda’s forces are able to lure the heroes back to her kingdom. And in one final push, Willow and his friends attempt to rescue Elora and defeat Bavmorda once and for all.

What’s Good About It…and What’s Not:

It’s hard to put into words exactly what it is that makes Willow special, but it really has a charm all its own. In many ways it’s kind of the Lord of the Rings of its time as it’s probably the best family medieval fantasy of that generation. An extremely well produced heartfelt adventure, Willow has a fantastic score and costume design. And its cast is top-notch across the board.

Warwick Davis is charming throughout and you can’t help but root for him the entire movie. Val Kilmer as Madmartigan is charasmatic as ever in his smug portrayal of the hero. And Jean Marsh is wickedly frightening as Bavmorda. Joanne Whaley also stars as Sorsha. It’s worth noting that Joanne and Val actually met and married while filming Willow. They later divorced but they are still a blast to watch on screen together.

As far as criticisms, the special effects (there aren’t a ton) don’t hold up super well. Although, I will say that I am quite fond of the Ray Harryhausen-esque monsters. Probably, the biggest criticism is that there are other movies now that just do a lot of what Willow does better. LOTR is better produced and just grander as a fantasy film in general. And something like Harry Potter is more iconic and does a better job at world-building. It also came out at a time where the genre wasn’t incredibly popular, and therefore didn’t manage to build on itself well.


Willow does all the right things. It establishes an intriguing fantastic world and pulls you into it. It introduces us to the highest of goods and darkest of evils with charismatic characters throughout. However, it just doesn’t manage to be the best at any particular thing that it does. For that reason, it probably won’t be many people’s favorite fantasy movie. But it will always occupy a charming little corner of the fantasy genre and our hearts.

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