Evil Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh) has been warned of a threat to her kingdom in the form of a soon-to-be-born baby who will usurp her. Because of this, she rounds up all the pregnant women and watches that none of the children they give birth to have the special birthmark to indicate their future. However, one infant gets away thanks to the efforts of her midwife and soon is floating down a river to escape the hounds the Queen has sent after them. Presently she is found by a family of the little folk, but the father, Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis) has reservations about keeping her, little knowing of the quest he must now embark on...
Practically the last gasp of the eighties fantasy cycle, Willow underperformed at the box office as one of the string of non-Star Wars flops from producer George Lucas. However, unlike, say, Howard the Duck, Willow was embraced by plenty of fantasy fans, even after Peter Jackson offered up The Lord of the Rings as a better version of similar material. That material was deliberately Tolkien-esque in its approach, as the story Bob Donlan's script was based upon was thought up by Lucas on one of his "concentrating on the mythic archetypes" days.
So echoes of legends gone by are seen in the way the baby is sought, Herod or Pharaoh-style, by the wicked monarch, and like Moses is set adrift among the bullrushes in the hope she will be adopted by a sympathetic family. Fair enough, but if even before the main plotline has begun your film is looking hackneyed, homage or not, then you see why it wasn't the success it might have been with audiences. By replacing a magic ring with a baby, Lucas might have held off strong comparisons with Tolkien but that's who you will be thinking of watching this, and how he could handle this stuff better.
When the demon dogs arrive in the little persons' village, looking like a Munchkinland we're supposed to take deadly seriously, their leader (Billy Barty) decides that the child should be escorted out of the area to safety. Pausing only to set up the point that Willow is a budding wizard (isn't Willow a girl's name, though?), the quest can begin, a journey that is meant to harken back to classic Celtic myths. In effect, this means a film that looks disappointingly drab and grey, and freezing into the bargain despite the sun shining in at least, ooh, three scenes.
There is humour to the film, but it's the humour of the humourless with lame, faux-hearty gags substituting for true wit. Perhaps the adventure will be better, then? Well, you can certainly see where the money has been spent, with Willow meeting up with brownies and faeries, and conjuring up a huge double-headed dragon more by accident than design. Along the way a smug hero in the more traditional mould joins the gang (now down to two people) in the shape of Madmartigan (Val Kilmer), but on the whole the film is lifeless. The effects may include groundbreaking morphing techniques, used here for the first time, but what use are they when everything else falls so resolutely flat? Willow is less the original Star Wars trilogy and more the mechanical prequels. Music by James Horner.