Sunday, February 26, 2017

JRO's #99: Willow (Ron Howard)

"And at the story level, “Willow” is turgid and relentlessly predictable. Not much really happens, and when it does, its pace is slowed by special effects set pieces that run on too long and seem to be recycled out of earlier movies." -Roger Ebert reviewing my 99th favorite movie of all time

Willow was the closing film at the 1988 Cannes Film Festival.

Mike Clark wrote in USA Today, “..any 6-13-year-old who sees this may be bitten by the “movie bug” for life.” Oh, so true.

I have read a lot of negative reviews of Willow. Ebert’s is my favorite because he gripes about all the baby reaction shots (which I love). I think that I get the negative. I do. But then I watch Willow again and I do not care what anyone else says. The movie is magic.

Ebert asks in his review if children will like the film. I did. I DO.

The whole film is satisfying to me from start to finish, but I've always especially loved the beginning that introduces us to the halfling village. I’ve seen the film countless times. I’ve fallen asleep to this beginning section countless more times.

I re-watched Willow last night. Watching it again convinced me that I’m an idiot for putting it this low on my list (can’t wait for next year’s revised list!). It is a perfect action adventure film for young boys (at heart). It is perhaps one of the greatest films about what it means to be a MAN.

Willow (Warwick Davis gives an amazing performance) himself is a good man and this is key. He is a good friend. He is a good husband. He is a good father. When called upon to be even better than he is, he stands his ground and does the right thing every time at great personal cost to himself. There are strong men all around Willow, but very few good ones. Contrary to many narratives about masculinity, Willow shows that integrity and humility are more important virtues than raw power.

Madmartigan (Val Kilmer at his best) is the lovable rogue. There is real pleasure in seeing his character arc as he is humbled and learns to be a good man. Also, the romantic subplot, while unbelievable and sure to enrage some, is one of my favorite parts of the film. Watching a hardened warrior woman melt at poetic love-spouting is a joy. Joanne Whalley plays Sorsha perfectly. It comes as no surprise that Kilmer and Whalley were married not long after this film (and sadly not much of a surprise that they divorced later as each continued their separate acting careers apart from one another).

It may be unrealistic, but it’s inspiring to a young boy to believe that maybe with a little luck, a little love potion, and a little poetry, he can win the beautiful woman. That pretty much explains how I caught and settled down with my lovely bride. Not so unrealistic after all!

I didn’t look up the baby’s name, but the baby is perfect. Ebert is wrong.

The Brownies? Eh, I think they're goofy fun. 

Finally, the score is so great. James Horner managed to craft a sound that stirred emotions without being sentimental or stupid. I really think that it’s up there in any list of great film scores.

So, two films in and I’ve featured two films in which George Lucas had a heavy hand? Is Lucas the auteur that shaped my childhood? Am I due for a re-evaluation of Phantom Menace? Is The Force Awakens #1 on this list of 100 films? Stay tuned to find out!


  1. I grew up watching Willow but for whatever reason, it didn't become a favorite of mine. Maybe I watched it at too young of an age and didn't understand a lot of it. I don't think I've seen it since the late 80s-early 90s, but I remember little flashes of scenes. I'll check it out again soon.

    1. Also, we all know your #1 is Attack of the Clones. The jig is up.

  2. Agreed Chris, if John hadn't listed it i probably wouldn't have even thought about it for this list and I really did enjoy it as a kid

  3. I would love to watch this again. It's funny - when you posted Labyrinth at 100, I started thinking about all the classic 80s kids movies that my parent's never showed me as a kid and had to shamefully discover as an adult (Labyrinth, the Goonies, the Princess Bride, etc.). The one movie that popped into my head that I felt fortunate to see as a kid and remember loving was Willow. And here it is now as your #99. Coincidence? I think not.

  4. After re-watching it, I do wish that I had ranked it higher (and will remedy that whenever I revise the list). It holds up even better than I thought.

    But maybe I've just got a big ol' soft spot for it.

    As a teenager with my own tv and vcr, there would be nights when I didn't feel like watching anything new and didn't feel like watching late night television. Usually what would happen is that I'd fall asleep to either Empire Strikes Back or Willow. I've fallen asleep to those two movies more times than I can count.