I was fortunate enough to have a filmophiliac for an older sister who, while growing up, took me to see all the films she wanted to see and sometimes, though I’m seven years younger than her, they would catch my heart as well as hers. Willow was one of the films she and I watched, and it became a favourite, along with The NeverEnding Story, The Princess Bride and Bröderna Lejonhjärta (see the resemblance?). Back in 1988, when Willow was released, I was three years old while she was ten, so the tale of Willow grabbed her way more than me. But as any healthy filmophiliac, she watched it a lot of times so I too watched it over and over.
And then I forgot what it was called. I just remembered a highly grotesque film where soldiers were transformed to pigs and when seeing the poster for Delicatessen decided that must have been the film my sister was so fond of.
I haven’t seen Delicatessen, it’s one of those on my “must watch” list. However, I have now revisited Willow, god knows how many years later. A foggy memory of a petrifying story with horrible villains and a lot of blood has now been changed. A little.
As a kid in the 90s you saw a lot of “awesome stunts and visual thrills” that today make your younger siblings cry with laughter. Rewatching Willow you do cringe a tiny bit over the green-screen stuff and the look of the lightnings and things like that, but the story does hold up. Were I to decide today whether it was suitable for three year olds, I’d say no, but maybe that’s being overprotective. You see, another thing that came with being a child in the 90s was not worrying too much about that stuff. Well, I tell you now, older sister, I have been scarred. I still think the pigs-scene in this film is one of the most lingering moments of horror in my psyche among with the voodoo-doll scene in The Witches of Eastwick. But it’s easy to be wise after the fact.
Back to the story. I would simply but it this way: A Lord of the Rings/Snow-White saga. A grim(m) one at that. It is a hero’s journey, closely followed, step by step with nice nods to adventures’ backlog of stories. It is, in essence, classic, and therefore it holds up.
So we have nelwyns who are essentially hobbits, trolls, brownies, a fire-spewing double-headed dragon-like thingamabob, a swordsman reluctant to fulfill his destiny, an unlikely romance, sorcery, an evil queen, an epic horse carriage chase scene – anything a young mind could dream up to fill a magical land far far away.
However, this magical land is far darker than the lands of The Princess Bride and not as magical as the lands of The NeverEnding Story. The violence is senseless and all-surrounding, women and children are slaughtered and even when the enemy is wounded or slain you do not cheer, for this is done in a very graphic manner considering the material. The Brothers Grimm would have approved.
The creatures of the world are inspired and capture the essence of childlike fantasy. The eerie shadows of the trolls still manage to make you wonder “what the f**k is that?” and what later transforms into the fire-spewing beast is still (many horror films later) a gruesome sight. The brownies, however, are not made for adult audiences for their entertainment value is limited, to say the least. The sight of Val Kilmer‘s bare chest explains my sister’s obsession a bit (the effect of which was wasted on kid me) but the look of the decaying queen as the last battle is held is just as frightening as the effects made to age Michelle Pfeiffer in Stardust. Sometimes computer-generated trickery isn’t better at all. All in all, all the things that scared the bejeezus out of me as a kid still manage to shake me.
But would they shake someone watching it for the first time today? That is hard to answer. The films we learned to love as kids somehow seem to hold deeper meaning for us than others. For instance, watching E.T. with my husband, me for the billionth time, he for the first, I found myself defensive of its flaws. It was perfect to my child self, therefore it will always be perfect. Watching Willow I long for simpler times with my sister, so much that the film becomes more relevant as a gateway to that than a form of entertainment or art. So the question one should ask is not whether it would have an impact on someone watching it today, but whether it could have an impact on children watching today. I say yes. Just don’t show it to them when they are too young. So not three years old.
This article is written with undying love for my sister, without whose efforts I would not have become the filmophiliac I am today. Thank you.