Original blog post here.
First things first, take a gander/listen at the video for well-selling Canadian Synth-Pop band Men Without Hats‘ 1982 hit ‘The Safety Dance’ — which as per Wikipedia “was also a massive success in South Africa, reaching No. 1 on the Springbok charts.”
Despite being otherwise unrelated to Willow (and predating by six whole years), it captures the style and overall feel of my next recommendation shockingly well…
Directed by Ron Howard —
— and produced and based on a story concept by George Lucas, Willow (much like the video for ‘Safety Dance’) is a weird movie.
It’s not necessarily a good movie, but watching it for the first time, I couldn’t help but feel it was a very endearing one. To be fair, it’s not even a bad movie, either. Mostly, it’s a very outlandish Fantasy movie that doesn’t quite manage to live up to its own ambitions.
It’s definitely worth watching once, at least.
Willow could be ungenerously described as a poor man’s The Hobbit, especially because both centre on a diminutive rustic going on an epic adventure. Though, to be fair, that’s pretty much where the similarities end.
In Willow‘s further defence, plenty of Fantasy stories can be considered a poor man’s Tolkien, given that Tolkien looms so large over the genre and there’s a lot of trashy, derivative, downright bad Fantasy stories out there — I’m looking at you, Most Dungeons & Dragons Books.
In The Hobbit, Bilbo is basically just along for the ride. In Willow, despite Willow’s overall Hobbit-ness, he is not a very Bilbo-esque hero. For one thing, he’s very much the main hero of the film and has a lot more direct influence on the plot and overall consequence than Bilbo ever does in The Hobbit.
And, if anything, Willow is less a Generic Fantasy, Dungeons & Dragons–style Hobbit (well, technically, “Halfling“; TSR got IP-lawyer’d back in the day) and given his propensity for magic, he’s really of a Gnome, if we’re trying to describe him in D&D terms.
Which is, admittedly, neither here or there.
If Willow absolutely has to be compared to another movie, it’s probably Star Wars — and not just because they’re both the brainchildren of George Lucas. Star Wars is pretty much a Fairy Tale in space, and Willow is just straight-up a Fairy Tale. Both stories rely on the same archetypal and traditional character styles and plot devices. Not surprising, given that George Lucas is a big fan of Joseph Campbell‘s theory of myth and storytelling.
Basically, Willow is Star Wars if you replaced “space” with “Fantasy world” and “Death Star plans” with “magic baby”. The overarching story’s not very original, but it’s at least entirely adequate and a lot of the particulars of the world-building, set design, and art direction are all pretty unique and well-done.
Or just plain weird enough to be memorable.
Even if you think you don’t know who Warwick Davis is, you’ve probably watched at least one movie with him in it.
He was the main Ewok in Return of the Jedi and has had cameos in most of the subsequent Star Wars movies; he was in cult classic Labyrinth; he was in some of the Harry Potters, apparently (according to Wikipedia, he was something called a “Professor Flitwick” — yeah, I don’t know, either); he was in one of the Narnia movies.
Val Kilmer’s there, too, and is absolutely delightful as a character that’s pretty much a manic, hyperactive, unwashed barbarian version of Aragorn.
The funny thing is, I never actually saw Willow until I learned that Disney owns it now and went looking for it on Disney Plus. My first exposure to it was actually when my Mom read me the novelisation when I was a kid.
Full disclosure, I don’t actually remember much about it, though I do remember that I really liked it.
To the point where, as I recall, I started writing my own book that was literally just Willow with some of the details and names changed. I, uh, did that a lot as I kid.
I’d suggest you also check out the novelisation after (or even before) you watch the movie.
I’m as close to absolute certainty as is humanly possible that it’s out of print, but I was able to find some used copies of it online with minimal effort.
Again, I don’t remember much of the details, but as I recall, it does flesh out the characters, their backstories, and their motives in addition to containing scenes that didn’t make it into the final version of the film.
So, yeah, watch Willow, read Willow and keep your eyes open for J.B. Norman’s 12000% original novel Will O.
Or, you know, we could just all do the Safety Dance again:
Copyright 2022 J.B. Norman.
Adapted from a post originally written 2021.
The rest of my recommendations are here.
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