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‘Willow’ (PG)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 20, 1988

Producer-for-Life George Lucas puts his awesome creative machinery to work in "Willow," a would-be adventure of little people, big people, good guys and bad. But the fantasy wheels grind to a halt, bogged down in Lucas' flat, derivative story, and not helped in the least by director Ron Howard's clumsy steering.

The supposedly weird and wonderful characters are, at best, wan and wearing. Warwick Davis, selected as the dwarfish lead more for his physical attributes than acting prowess, stumbles and mugs worse than Uncle Lennie did in Super 8 -- his central character often dramatically overshadowed by the beautiful British and New Zealand landscapes surrounding him. He becomes even tinier against Lucas' overdrawn, meandering story, compelled as it is to incorporate every myth or legend from Moses to Tolkien's "The Hobbit."

As briefly as convolution allows: Willow, farmer and dwarf, finds infant Elora (babies Ruth and Kate Greenfield as "Willow's" most believable performers) abandoned at the river's edge -- she's being hidden from wicked Queen Bavmorda. Willow's mission (other than inducing listlessness) is to deliver babe to the good castle of Tir Asleen, where she can fulfill her destiny to bring about Queen Bav's downfall. Willow gets help from two Lilliputian-sized Brownies (Kevin Pollak and Rick Overton), less-willing help from cranky swordsman Madmartigan (an enthusiastic but unoriginal Val Kilmer) and resistance from Bavmorda's Nockmaar army. Of course a big finale with Queen B. breweth.

But it taketh forever.

Howard, who needed to move things along and put some punch in the performances, seems spellbound by the imposing scale -- though he does connect comically with the Brownies, two sarcastic nippers who insult passersby in Monty Pythonesque French accents. That nine-inch-tall duo comes through Lucas'special effects shop, Industrial Light and Magic, which turns out its usual made-to-order excellence -- including a magnificent two-headed dragon, a shimmering Tinkerbell-type fairy and a host of suitably nasty trolls.

Though children will mostly be enthralled by the spectacles (including a castle-storming finale), even they might notice the weak story protruding through the industrial magic; and certainly the violent killings that occur at the beginning. Rob Reiner's similar fairytale adventure "The Princess Bride" (which "Willow" cinematographer Adrian Biddle also shot) managed to evoke volumes more without razzle-dazzle. It's a sad thing to be faulting Lucas, maker of the "Star Wars" trilogy and "Raiders of the Lost Ark," for forgetting the tricks of entertainment.

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