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Film / Willow

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Willow is a 1988 Heroic Fantasy film directed by Ron Howard and written by Bob Dolman, from a story by George Lucas (who also produced it) with a soundtrack by James Horner. The story is about a young farmer named Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis), one of a Hobbit-like short race of people called Nelwynns, who is drawn away from his sheltered home to save Elora Danan, a baby girl with a destiny, from the evil queen sorceress Bavmorda (Jean Marsh), who would see her destroyed.

Willow is aided by the disillusioned swordsman Madmartigan (Val Kilmer), who has turned to a life of roguery, sorceress Fin Raziel (Patricia Hayes), who has been turned into a possum by Bavmorda, as well as two diminutive brownies Franjean and Rool (Rick Overton and Kevin Pollak). They are initially thwarted, but later joined, by the queen's daughter Sorsha (Joanne Whalley). As their journey continues, they face troubles and hardships beyond what any of them had imagined. Through it all, they find love, friendship, and wisdom. In the end, we learn that the people we would never suspect are sometimes the bravest of all.

Notable for many reasons, including the use of dwarf actors as major characters, as well as being one of the breakout films for Val Kilmer (who played the Jerk with a Heart of Gold Madmartigan).

This film has had three game adaptations: one in 1988 by Mindscape for the Amiga, Atari ST and DOS; two in 1989 by Capcom for the Arcade and NES. The arcade game is a side-scrolling platform/action game where the player switches between Willow and Madmartigan, while the NES game is more of an Action RPG in the vein of The Legend of Zelda. The computer game is a collection of five minigames, all of them horrible.

There is also Chronicles Of The Shadow War, a trilogy of sequel novels by George Lucas and Chris Claremont. They provide a great deal of additional Character Development, as well as Worldbuilding that the movie lacked.

The movie is also the namesake of Willow Management, an agency founded by Warwick Davis (along with his father-in-law, Peter Burroughs, who appears in this film as a Nelwyn extra) that provides representation for actors with dwarfism or gigantism, and help connect them with casting opportunities.

In May 2019, a sequel in the form of a series was confirmed to be in development for release on Disney+, and was formally announced in December 2020. Titled Willow just like the film, it premiered on November 30, 2022 — and was removed from public availability on May 26, 2023, less than six months after its debut.

This film provides examples of:

  • Action Girl: Sorsha, although she starts off as a Dark Action Girl before her Heel–Face Turn. She's a skilled swordswoman who defeats several soldiers in hand to hand combat. Throughout the film she also carries a bow along with a quiver on her back, but never uses them in the film. However it obviously indicates that she's an archer too.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Sorsha's opinion of Madmartigan begins to change only after she sees how badass a Master Swordsman he is.
  • All There in the Script: The earlier drafts of the screenplay contained more background information on the characters Madmartigan and Sorsha. Madmartigan was originally a knight of the kingdom of Galladorn (the kingdom that General Kael mentions having destroyed to Queen Bavmorda) and that the character Airk was the only real friend he had, but Madmartigan's recklessness got him into trouble, as did his love affair with an Eastern beauty that tainted the family name. Madmartigan had a chance to regain his honor in battle, but he ruined the chance by deserting; this explained some of the bitter antagonism between Madmartigan and Airk. Sorsha was originally the daughter of the king of Tir Asleen, who was a good man (he is in fact the regal old man seen at the end after the fall of Bavmorda and Tir Asleen is restored, and can be briefly seen in stone), which suggested that Sorsha had the capability to be good; during the battle at Tir Asleen between Bavmorda's troops, Madmartigan, and the monster, Sorsha encountered her father and he struggled through the stone to ask her for help, which prompted Sorsha to switch alliances from her evil mother to the good side. All of this was lost in the final film but does appear in the novelization as well as the comic book mini-series by Marvel.
  • All Swords Are the Same: Inverted when Madmartigan tries to use Airk's sword to avenge his friend's death against Kael. Airk's sword is kind of armored gauntlet with a long swordblade coming out of it called a pata, and initially Kael kicks Madmartigan's ass while trying to rely solely on it, up to and including breaking the sword's blade in half. Once Madmartigan started Dual Wielding the weapon with a regular sword though, he really started to kick some ass.note 
  • All Trolls Are Different: Trolls are hairy, unintelligent ape-things approximately Willow's own size. They also lack the traditional weakness to sunlight.
  • Ambiguously Absent Parent:
    • Bavmorda orders Elora's mother killed offscreen. We hear nothing of her father though.
    • Sorsha's father is not mentioned either in the film, although the Deleted Scenes and novelization show him. An entire subplot was cut for time where Sorsha learns he's the king of Tir Asleen, who had been turned to stone by her mother along with his court. Learning this helps cement her turn against Bavmorda, and he still appears in a cameo at the end (he's the older man with long white hair standing behind Sorsha), but the audience won't know without watching the Deleted Scenes or reading the book who that is.
  • Ambiguously Human: The Nelwyn. They refer to the taller people as "Daikini" or "giants", rather than "humans", suggesting that they might see themselves as human also.
  • And I'm the Queen of Sheba: When Willow tells Madmartigan that Elora Danan is a princess:
  • Animate Inanimate Object: In the last battle a stray bolt of magic turns an urn on legs into a moving creature that Willow briefly fights.
  • April Fools' Day: In 2006 announced that Willow was going to be Canon Welded into the Star Wars universe. Being set on a primitive planet with no space travel and that magic was actually an aspect of The Force. Sadly this turned out to be an April Fools joke.
  • Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy: Madmartigan. "I'm the greatest swordsman who ever lived!" He may well be, too.
  • Attack! Attack... Retreat! Retreat!: Inverted. Madmartigan and Bavmorda's army run away from the two-headed dragon. Then Madmartigan realizes he's with the wrong army. Then he runs back inside the castle where the dragon is, with the army chasing after him.
  • Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: The monstrous two-headed Eborsisk.
  • "Awkward Silence" Entrance: When Willow heads into a tavern, he's greeted by dirty stares from some shady cutthroats within. Things do go silent when he asks for milk for his infant charge, Elora Danan. He gets met with angry shouting, forcing him to flee.
  • Back-to-Back Badasses: Kael gets a glimpse of Madmartigan and Sorsha fighting like this, tipping him off as to the latter's defection.
  • Bad Boss: Bavmorda treats her underlings like shit, chastising them at every failure and never commending them when they actually succeed in following her orders.
  • Bad Liar: Willow sounds incredibly unconvincing every time he tells someone he's a "powerful sorcerer," and he fools no one until the very end.
  • Battle in the Rain: The Final Battle between the forces of Galadoorn and Nockmaar takes place during a thunderstorm.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Whereas we see in graphic detail Madmartigan and the male soldiers in his army being transformed into pigs, with Sorsha all we get is her falling to the ground and clutching her stomach, with her absence from the subsequent crowd shots being the only thing that implies she was transformed as well.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: When Airk leaves Madmartigan behind, presumably to die in his cage, after Madmartigan offers to help him with his war against Bavmorda, probably figuring the wily swordsman would just run off on his own again as he is implied to have done before, Madmartigan angrily yells "I'll be around long after you're dead!" During the climax, Madmartigan can only watch in horror as Airk dies fighting General Kael - leading him on a brief but violent Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
  • Berserk Button: Played for laughs when Llug discovers Madmartigan's true gender.
    Llug: Not a woman!
    Madmartigan: Gentlemen, meet Llug. [ducks Llug's drunken swing, brawl ensues]
    • Llug then spends the entire barfight continuing his rant. Hilarious.
  • Big Damn Heroes: When Rool & Fanjean return with Airk and his army to even the odds.
  • The Big Damn Kiss: Madmartigan and Sorsha share two positively epic ones: The first in Sorsha's tent as it collapses around them with Madmartigan being the instigator. Later at Tir Asleen Sorsha returns the favor after Madmartigan single-handedly slays the giant two-headed dragon.
  • Birthmark of Destiny: The movie introduction details this trope right off the bat, telling of a child with a rune birthmark who will overthrow the evil Queen Bavmorda.
  • Body Horror:
    • We are treated to simply delightful shots of an entire army being painfully transformed into pigs... and not instantly - it takes several minutes to complete.
    • Willow tries a magic spell on a troll...and then all of its flesh melts off, leaving a grotesque, bloody, pulsing lump. If that weren't enough, the lump then sprouts two disgusting little heads that are absolutely horrifying. It's by far the most disturbing sequence in the film.
  • Bond Villain Stupidity:
    • Justified. Elora is just a baby, and is born in captivity. They don't just kill her because she'll be reborn elsewhere. Instead, Bavmorda plans to use the Ritual of Obliteration to banish her soul from the world permanently.
    • Additionally, Bavmorda left a loose end untied when she merely subjected Fin Raziel to a cruel Forced Transformation instead of killing her outright, thus providing the forces of good with a powerful and angry sorceress ally when they free her from the curse.
  • Born-Again Immortality: The reason why Queen Bavmorda can't just have Elora Danan killed; the baby's soul would only reincarnate in a new body, thus Bavmorda's need for the ritual (see also the Deader than Dead entry).
  • Butt-Monkey: Poor Willow was one when the movie began. Bullied by Burglekutt, a failure with even the simplest magic tricks, and after he rescuses Elora Danan, he is made a convenient scapegoat. As the journey progresses, the Butt-Monkey status slowly shifts to Burglekutt... and all of it funny as hell.
  • Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": Nelwyns call humans "Daikini". Humans return the favor by calling Nelwyns "pecks". The first term seems to just be the Nelwyn word for larger humans, but "peck" is clearly a Fantasic Slur.
  • The Cassandra: Bavmorda has a soothsayer advisor who has visions predicting that Sorsha will betray her; Bavmorda scoffs, telling him she trusts Sorsha's loyalty more than she trusts his. His prediction ends up coming true.
  • The Cavalry: Just as Madmartigan and Willow are reaching the limits of their endurance at Tir Asleen, Airk and his army arrive to give them a Heroic Second Wind.
  • The Cavalry Arrives Late: Shortly after Bavmorda has been banished to the Netherworld, Madmartigan bursts through the doors to the chamber... only to miss what happened.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Subverted in the magic acorns; although Willow tries to use them in several situations, and they work, he is unlucky and misses against everything but the Big Bad, who is powerful enough to shake off the effect (a deleted scene had him use them successfully, see the relevant entry on the Trivia page).
  • Chekhov's Skill: The pig trick. Willow actually screws it up when he tries to perform it for his fellow Nelwyns at a festival, but later succeeds when it's a matter of life and death. (To be fair, his first attempt did work, but the pig itself gives the trick away.)invoked
  • The Chosen One: Elora Danan is prophesied to bring about Bavmorda's end. However, see the Prophecy Twist entry below.
  • Comic-Book Adaptation: There was a three-issue adaptation by Marvel Comics. Written by Mary Jo Duffy and drawn by Bob Hall.
  • Dawn Attack: Arik informs Willow that the Galadoorn army will attack Nockmaar at dawn.
  • Deader than Dead: The point with the Ritual of Obliteration. The film flip-flops whether it involves Cessation of Existence or merely being banished to a realm of no return (since we can hear Bavmorda's faint scream as her body and soul is being banished, that would imply it's the latter).
  • Defecting for Love: Sorsha falls in love with Madmartigan, partially because he comes on to her (under influence of a Love Potion) and partially because she admires his fighting skills. Eventually, she defects to the heroes' side to be with him.
  • Defiant to the End: Elora's birth mother, exhausted and terrified and no doubt having been treated roughly while in captivity, still has enough courage to send her newborn daughter away and talks smack to Queen Bavmorda to her face. She likely knew she was going to die either way, but this lady's got guts.
  • Determinator:
    • Willow of all people. He continues to push on throughout the entire film despite insurmountable odds placed in his way. This is never better illustrated than during the battle at the castle, where he defends Elora from three trolls, a dragon, and two soldiers, and only loses her when Kael rides in on his horse. And not only did Willow survive his fight with Kael, he's dragging his wounded body after Kael, weapon in hand, ready to try and get Elora back.
    • Fin Raziel. During the film, she harps on about how young and beautiful she is, and when she discovers she's an old woman, she has the briefest of Heroic BSoD, but then shakes it off and shows a look of determination on her face that leaves no doubt that she also embodies the trope.
    • Madmartigan becomes one as the film progresses.
  • Disguised in Drag: Madmartigan, in a hasty attempt to avoid the wrath of his paramour's husband. The trope is furthered by the husband's sudden lust for Madmartigan.
    Llug: Wanna breed?
    Madmartigan: Tempting, but... no.
  • Dispel Magic: Bavmorda with the acorn.
  • Dissonant Laughter: When Fin Raziel gets the better of Bavmorda during their fight at the end, she gives a laugh that's downright creepy.
  • Distracted by the Sexy:
    • Madmartigan. In his defense he was under the effects of a powerful love spell. And Sorsha was looking very hot at the time...
    • Later the roles are reversed when Sorsha is very much taken by Madmartigan's battle prowess.
    • The husband of one of Madmartigan's paramours who becomes smitten by him in drag, until he finds out otherwise...
  • Do Not Go Gentle: Villainous example. General Kael ends up run through with a sword by Madmartigan. He reacts by punching him and getting very close to strangle the swordsman, despite being continously stabbed.
  • Do You Want to Copulate?: Madmartigan gets propositioned by his lover's husband when disguised as a woman with the following line: "Wanna breed?"
  • Dual Wielding: Madmartigan at several points in the film, most notably during his Unstoppable Rage.
  • Epic Fail: Willow's attempts at magic don't work the way he intends, but the one case that fits this trope is his attempt to use Cherlindrea's wand on one of the trolls - it turns into a two-headed dragon!
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Though it doesn't stop her from trying to kill her later, Bavmorda is initially distraught by the news that Sorsha has turned on her. In fact, when a Druid warns her that a betrayal is imminent, Bavmorda retorts: "I trust her loyalty more than I trust yours."
  • Evil Sorcerer: Bavmorda is one and has a few others in her service, helping her with evil rituals and the like.
  • Evil Wears Black: Bavmorda and her minions wear black. Also, evil armies only use black horses, whereas the good guys have a mix of brown and white ones.
  • Exact Words: When selecting an apprentice the High Nelwyn holds up his hand in front of the hopefuls and asks "the power to control the world is in which finger?" The correct answer is the prospective apprentice's own finger.
  • Expy:
    • The movie is clearly influenced by The Lord of the Rings (and released thirteen years before the film series). Willow is a little person protagonist who has Frodo's Chosen One status and Sam's courage, Madmartigan is a darker, more jerk|With A Heart Of Gold}}ass and goofier version of Strider/Aragon, and Raziel is a female Gandalf.
    • Arguably, the film has an even closer influence: Lucas's own Star Wars saga. Virtually all the major characters in Willow have a clear counterpart in the first Star Wars trilogy: Willow is Luke, Madmartigan is Han, Sorsha is Leia (a bit of Vader too), Airk is Lando, High Aldwin is Obi-Wan Kenobi, Fin Raziel is Yoda, Bavmorda is Palpatine, Kael is Vader,note  and the brownies are the droids.
    • A lot of the film's visuals echo the Ewok Adventures films in particular, with the Nockmaar hounds looking like smaller versions of the giant boarwolf and the fairy queen Cherlindrea's introduction very much resembling the appearance of the fairy-like wisties. Additionally, Willow is Wicket (both played by Warwick Davis, of course), High Aldwin is Logray, and Elora Danan is a de-aged Cindel Towani. Queen Bavmorda and General Kael resemble Charal and Terak, albeit with their roles of Big Bad and The Dragon reversed.
  • Face Palm: Madmartigan, under influence of the love spell, tries for a second time to wake up Sorsha rather than fetch the baby. When this happens, Willow, Rool and Franjean all facepalm.
  • The Fair Folk: Cherlindrea and her fairies.
  • Fake Wizardry: Willow is seen early on doing conjuring tricks for his friends. During the climactic confrontation with the evil sorceress Bavmorda, Willow claims to have magic powers beyond her comprehension and makes the MacGuffin disappear with one of his conjuring tricks.
  • Fanfare: The bombastic and heroic leitmotif of Madmartigan.
  • Fantastic Slurs: "Peck" is a common insult aimed at Nelwyns. Poor Willow is on the receiving end of a number of them throughout the film, including several in rapid succession by a birdcaged Madmartigan when they first meet.
  • Flynning: Notably averted in Madmatigan's first fight scene, where Madmartigan kills each of the various Nockmar soldiers with a single strike, or deflects a blow and then counters with a killing strike.
  • Fiery Redhead: Sorsha. The novelization notes that this trait was inherited from Sorsha's father, the rightful king of Tir Asleen, and, in her mother's eyes, a constant reminder of the man she used to gain power and then abandoned (Bavmorda's claim to royalty was only via marriage). Bavmorda was said to have constantly tried to change Sorsha's hair via magic to any color other than red, only for Sorsha's natural color to grow back in; it took Sorsha standing up to her mother for the first (and, prior to the films, possibly the only) time and refusing a change to get Bavmorda to stop.
  • Forced Transformation:
    • Fin Raziel has fallen victim to this. She changes shape several times over the course of the film.
    • This is pulled on the good guys' entire army near the climax.
      Bavmorda: You're all pigs!
  • Genre Savvy: Kael displays some hints of this. He never at any point sneers "They'll never get away" and instead always charges full speed in pursuit of the heroes, when he rides out with a small force thinking he's just going to slaughter a couple of people and finds himself confronted by an army he instantly calls a retreat instead of smugging that he's invincible, and when Madmartigan gets through his defenses and smacks him to the ground he plays dead and waits for Madmartigan to go charging heroically off so that he can then get up and attack him from behind. He basically averts many of the most major Scary Evil General tropes despite being such an over-the-top representation of them. (Not that it helps.)
  • Good Princess, Evil Queen: The film has Queen Bavmorda, the Evil Overlord of Nockmaar who wants to Take Over the World. Her daughter Sorsha, whom she's abusive towards, is initially on her side but later commits a Heel–Face Turn and joins the heroes.
  • Good Witch Versus Bad Witch: Good Fin Raziel versus evil Queen Bavmorda, complete with an epic Wizard Duel (and cackling) at the movie's climax.
  • Guile Hero: Willow ultimately saves the day not with awesome magical power, but with a sleight of hand.
  • Hair Memento: The eponymous character's wife gives him a braid of her hair before Willow sets out on his adventure.
  • Half the Man He Used to Be: One of the trolls is grabbed by both the Eborsisk's heads and ripped in half.
  • Heel–Face Turn:
    • Sorsha. One of the queen's druids predicted that her daughter would betray her, but she wouldn't believe it.
    • Interestingly, both the novelization and Marvel Comics adaptation include a scene where Sorsha comes across her long-lost father, who had been cursed by Bavmorda years ago. This causes enchanted blocks Bavmorda had placed on her daughter's memories to melt away, justifying her defection further beyond her experiences with Madmartigan.
  • Hero of Another Story: Not revealed in the film is Vohnkar's backstory involving going to war and distinguishing himself despite it being against primarily Daikini soldiers. Burglekutt wasn't kidding when he said Vohnkar was their best warrior... in a more straight-up action fantasy movie he probably would have been the protagonist.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Ethna, the midwife who saved Elora from certain execution after she was born, and who eventually lost her life protecting the child. All this despite owing neither her mother nor the child any loyalty at all.
  • He's Got a Weapon!: Played for Laughs, when Willow threatens Madmartigan early on:
    Madmartigan: There's a peck here with an acorn pointed at me!
  • Hobbits: The Nelwyn are basically halflings with the serial numbers filed off, being a collection of homebodies who live in burrows and tend to be shorter than humans. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, mind you. The novels, perhaps actually inspired by the look of the actors, actually describes them with traits more often used in association with fantasy dwarves than hobbits/halflings: stocky, broad, and with impressive upper-body strength. In fact the village is presented as something of a cultural outlier there, with the mainstream Nelwyn culture being miners and smiths living in underground cities built into mountains.
  • Hoist by Her Own Petard: Bavmorda. When Willow successfully tricks her, she's so alarmed and distraught that she accidentally walks into the middle of her own ritual, which promptly banishes her body and soul into the same nether-realm she was plotting to send Elora into.
  • Home Sweet Home: Willow gains a hero's welcome when he returns to his village and runs straight into his loving family's arms.
  • Humans by Any Other Name: Daikini, which may or may not be a racial slur. The Making of... says that Daikini is a Nelwyn word meaning "tall person", implying that humans might call themselves human.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Llug is jealous when it comes to his wife, but has no problem with adultery, as Madmartigan finds.
    • Also Burglekutt, when Vonkar volunteers to go on the quest with Willow.
      Burglekutt: Not Vonkar! He's the best warrior in our village! We need him here. Vonkar, step back!
      Alwyn: All the quest needs is a leader. And the bones show it should, Burglekutt!
  • Inept Mage: In a fashion, the High Aldwin. He admits to Willow that the bones he uses for prediction purposes are really useless except for tricking his superstitious village members into following his judgements. When he demonstrates real magic, transforming a rock into a bird, the bird misbehaves and comedically undercuts the effect he's trying to achieve. However, he does supply Willow with genuine magical artifacts that work as intended.
  • Indy Ploy: Right at the climax, Bavmorda has Willow and Elora cornered. The only thing Willow can think of is to try and protect Elora using the same sleight-of-hand trick that brought him ridicule at the beginning of the film. This time, it saves the day.
  • In Love with Your Carnage: Without the additional context from the deleted scene dealing with Sorsha finding her father had been cursed and imprisoned by her mother, she appears to fall for Madmartigan solely by watching him slaughter her men.
  • I Work Alone: Madmartigan states "I serve no one". He gets better at being a team player later in the story, finally declaring "I serve the Nelwyn".
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Madmartigan. Though he could easily have run off on his own once Willow freed him from his cage, he willingly takes Elora Danan with him as he promised. And then later, after escaping Bavmorda's soldiers, he chooses to drag Willow and the infant along with him and keeps them under his protection, despite the danger to himself. For a man supposedly only loyal to himself, Madmartigan seems extremely faithful to his word and honor.
  • Least Is First: The first and one of the only Nelwyns to volunteer to accompany the titular Willow on his quest is Meegosh. Vohnkar, the best warrior in the village, wasn't far behind though.
  • Lilliputians: Brownies, complete with a direct Gulliver's Travels Shout-Out when they tie up Willow and Meegosh.
  • Magical Incantation: Most magic which doesn't make use of some kind of object is of this type, and Willow is usually channeling it through Chelindria's wand. Strangely, it includes various ritual chants in its own language as well as English.
  • Magicians Are Wizards: Invoking this trope is Willow's main goal throughout the movie, struggling to transition from performing stage magic to real magic. Then he subverts it by using his stage magic to trick real witch Bavmorda. This allows him to then play it completely straight as he becomes a true sorcerer in the ending.
  • Master Swordsman: Madmartigan. Kael. Airk. Makes for some epic fight scenes.
  • Meaningful Echo:
    • Madmartigan claims he serves "no one". Later, he says he serves "the Nelwyn", which sounds very similar to "no one".
    • When Madmartigan is trying to persuade Airk to let him out of the cage, he tells him, "give me a sword and I'll win this war for you". Later, when they end up on the same side in the fight against Bavmorda and Airk gets fatally wounded by Kael, Airk tells Madmartigan "win this war for me" and gives him his own sword.
  • Mêlée à Trois: The Battle at Tir Asleen becomes this, as Willow and Madmartigan are trying to protect Elora and take out the Eborsisk, the Nockmaar army (led by General Kael) is trying to capture Elora and kill the Eborsisk, and the Eborsisk just wants to eat everyone.
  • Men of Sherwood:
    • Vohnkar and his fellow village warriors slay a Death Dog that's much bigger than them and is menacing their village and then provide The Hero and the Living MacGuffin with an escort for a while before going home.
    • The Galladoorn army starts out as a Red Shirt Army and is slaughtered offscreen, but in the final act, the few dozen survivors and lots of village volunteers prove to be an effective fighting force with a good life expectancy.
  • Mistaken Age: We are told that Fin Raziel is a young beautiful woman after Madmartigan asks her what she actually looks like. However it seems exile in her animal form has made her grasp of the years gone by tragically wrong. They should have picked up on it instantly - Bavmorda and Fin Raziel were contemporaries.
  • Moses in the Bulrushes: Elora Danan very literally— she is sent down the river in a basket and found in the rushes by Willow's children.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Madmartigan runs around with his shirt open.
  • Never Work with Children or Animals: In-Universe, the pig Willow uses for his "disappearing" trick ruins it by (literally) squealing, then wiggling its way out of the hiding spot, and Madmartigan doesn't think much of Willow (who is child-sized) carting around Elora Danon (a baby).
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: When Willow tries to fight off a troll using the magic wand, he accidentally turns it into a gigantic, two-headed dragon.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Herod: Queen Bavmorda isn't really in for a children massacre, she's only looking for a baby with a specific mark, and doesn't kill any other baby. Still, by trying to Screw Destiny, she got defeated by Elora Danan, with the help of Willow and Madmartigan.
  • Noodle Incident: We never know why Madmartigan is in a crow-cage at the beginning, nor why Airk thinks he's a thief. The novelization doesn't go into great detail, but notes that after Madmartigan's initial fall from grace, Airk gave his friend a second chance in the Galadoorn army, only for Madmartigan to desert his post when he was needed.
  • No Ontological Inertia: The spell on Tir Asleen is broken by Bavmorda's death.
  • No-Sell: When Willow throws a magic acorn at Bavmorda, she catches it in her hand. Her hand gets turned to stine, but then she's able to revert the effect.
    Bavmorda: Is that the extent of your powers, little one?
  • Not Using the Zed Word: Dwarves/hobbits are called Nelwyn.
  • Novelization: Wayland Drew novelized the movie with deleted scenes re-added and backstories explained.
  • Oh, Crap!: Willow kills a couple of soldiers to protect Elora Danan despite his small stature. And then he looks up to see Kael ride in, and gets this look on his face.
  • One-Book Author: Kate and Ruth Greenfield never acted in any other films or TV shows afterwards. Kate Greenfield went to De Montfort University to study Forensic Science and it is not known what Ruth Greenfield has done since.
  • One-Winged Angel: The Eborsisk used to be a troll until Willow used magic on him, and then...
  • One-Word Title: First name of Protagonist title.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Willow's accent varies between London and Brooklyn.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: The Eborsisk has two heads which look like a demonic Brachiosaurus, with a nose reminiscent of an elephant seal. We also never see its lower body.
  • Our Fairies Are Different: Cherlindrea and the Brownies are much more helpful to the heroes than your average Fair Folk.
  • Our Monsters Are Different: The Devil Dogs look like a cross between a giant rat and a wolf.
  • Papa Wolf: Willow is very protective of his children and Elora Danan.
  • Parental Abandonment:
    • Elora Danan's mother was murdered shortly after she's born, while her father wasn't even mentioned.
    • It's not made clear what became of Sorsha's father onscreen, though some deleted scenes and the novelization establish that he was the king of Tir Asleen, who her mother had turned to stone along with his court so she could usurp his throne. Her mother Bavmorda also dies at the end.
  • Prophecy Twist: Elora Danan is prophesied to bring about Bavmorda's end. However her defeat comes by the hands of those protecting the infant princess, and Bavmorda ends up placing herself in a vulnerable position in her efforts to stop the prophecy; Elora Danan is the catalyst who brings about Bavmorda's end, not herself the agent of it.
  • Protagonist Title: First name of protagonist.
  • The Quest: Willow goes on what looks at first to be a relatively minor one to return the infant Daikini to it's own kind. What he doesn't realize is that she's The Chosen One, and he is walking into an epic adventure.
  • Rage Helm: General Kael's skull-faced helmet.
  • Rasputinian Death: General Kael. Madmartigan smashes his skull-mask, and Kael chases Madmartigan up a flight of stairs. Madmartigan stabs him in the chest; Kael responds by punching Madmartigan in the face and trying to strangle him. Madmartigan slashes Kael's belly, then twists the blade still in his chest. Kael does not appear to notice. Madmartigan impales him on his own sword. Kael is still on his feet when Madmartigan finally shoves him off the walkway. Even then he's still moving so Madmartigan throws a dagger into him just for good measure.
  • Real Men Wear Pink: The first time we actually see Madmartigan in action, he is driving a carriage at high speed and fights off the soldiers that follow them, while still wearing the pink dress from his Paper-Thin Disguise.
  • Road Apples: A variation - Madmartigan ends up stepping in troll dung.
  • Scared of What's Behind You: In Tir Asleen, Madmartigan prepares to make a Last Stand against the Evil Army, only for them to suddenly run away. Madmartigan gets a goofy, happy smile on his face... until he notices the giant, two headed dragon that had risen up out of the moat.
  • Scary Impractical Armor: Kael's Death's Head mask may be intimidating, but it shatters rather easily when Madmartigan strikes it with his sword.
  • Secret Test of Character: How the High Aldwin picks his apprentices. They're lined up in a row, and one by one, they're told to pick which of his upraised fingers has the power to control the world. Even Willow fails the test after noticably hesitating to make his selection, and before he leaves with Elora Danan, he confides that his first impulse was to pick his own finger, which turns out to be the correct answer.
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Bavmorda finds out the hard way that messing with The Chosen One and her protectors is a bad idea.
  • Sexual Karma:
    Llug: Wanna breed?
    Madmartigan: Tempting, but... no.
  • Shield Surf: In the snow chase sequence Willow, Madmartigan and Elora Danan escape using a shield as a sled.
  • Shout-Out: That Bavmorda specifically choses to turn Airk's army into pigs is clearly a nod to The Odyssey and the story of Circe magically transforming Odysseus's men into pigs.
  • Shovel Strike: During the chase scene where Sorsha's soldiers are trying to capture Elora Danan, Madmartigan fights several of them off with a shovel as he still hasn't found a sword for himself.
  • Skeletons in the Coat Closet: General Kael's helmet whose face-plate is a human skull.
  • Slashed Throat: Arik cuts the throat of the boiling oil operator during the climax.
  • Sleight of Handiness: Willow's stage magic act comes in handy at the end of the movie, when he uses his sleight of hand trick to make Bavmorda believe he's sent Elora to another realm.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: The midwife, who is dead by the time the opening credits wrap up, but is instrumental in getting Elora Danan to safety — first in secreting her out of the dungeon in a basket of laundry, then carrying her across miles of mountainous terrain, and finally pulling a Heroic Sacrifice by fighting off the Death Dogs so that Elora has enough time to drift to safety down the river. Without this nameless midwife, the story would have ended within the first minute of the film.
  • Sorcerous Overlord: Queen Bavmorda, who's not only a conquering ruler but also a powerful sorceress.
  • Spell My Name With An S:
    • One could be forgiven if, when you were young, you thought his name was Martigan and everyone was just really conscientious of using his nickname.
    • Airk's name is basically pronounced as "Eric", or close enough to mistake for it.
  • Spikes of Villainy: General Kael sometimes has a few on his helmet to show how evil he is (as if the skeleton mask was not enough). Some random mooks have spiked/horned helmets too. Bavmorda has a few twisted spikes on her crowns. Also, much of the bad guys weaponry (from Sorsha's sword to crossbows) has plenty of unnecessary barbs and spikes. Even Bavmorda's fortress has some kind of small pyramidal spikes everywhere on it.
  • Spiteful Spit: When Airk gets fatally stabbed by Kael, he lives long enough to spit in the general's face.
  • Stock Scream: The Wilhelm, twice in ten minutes.
  • Storming the Castle: The climax has the heroes to attack and capture the evil witch Bavmorda's fortress.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome:
    • The High Aldwin combines his magic with a lot of showmanship in order to get the desired results from the superstitious Nelwynn village. The thing is, showmanship sometimes doesn't work out as well as simply telling them what to do would. For example, when Willow and company are about to set forth from the village, the High Aldwin dramatically transforms a rock into a bird, then proclaims that the party should travel in the same direction the bird flies. The bird starts flying back towards the Nelwyn village, leaving the exasperated Aldwin to tell them to ignore the bird and follow the course of the river.
    • After Airk is killed by Kael, Madmartigan dramatically takes up Airk's sword, (which is a different type of sword than he normally uses) and charges directly at Kael so he can avenge Airk with Airk's own blade. Kael immediately parries the blow, breaks the blade, and almost kills Madmartigan before he can recover. It turns out that using an unfamiliar weapon in the middle of a pitched battle, especially against an opponent as capable as Kael, is a very bad idea. (Although later in the duel Madmartigan delivers one of the many, many, wounds that contribute to Kael's death with the broken blade of Airk's sword, so the symbolism and karma is still there.)
    • The visor of Kael's helmet is a demonic skull. Great for intimidation, not so great for actual protection. When Madmartigan lands a blow against the helmet with his sword, part of the helmet breaks off quite easily and Kael gets a nasty wound on his face, something that likely wouldn't have happened with a proper helmet.
  • Taken for Granite: Willow's magic acorns can turn whatever touches them to stone. Also, Willow and Madmartigan are instructed by Fin Raziel to take Elora Danan to Tir Asleen to be cared for. Unfortunately, Bavmorda got there first, and encased all the residents in translucent crystal long ago.
  • Take That, Critics!:
    • George Lucas named General Kael after Pauline Kael, the New Yorker film critic who famously gave Star Wars a bad review.
    • The two-headed dragon goes unnamed in the film, but is referred to as the "Eborsisk", after film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill:
    • Not content with simply killing baby Elora to ensure she cannot bring about her end, Bavmorda intends to banish her very soul into oblivion in the process. Apparently just in case her soul is reborn in a new body. (According to the novelization, that's exactly what would happen, and is why Bavmorda sees the need to go to such lengths to prevent the prophecy from coming to pass.)
    • After Madmartigan runs Kael through with Airk's pata, he props up Kael's own sword by his foot on the hilt, and skewers him again with it! Kael is still not dead until he falls off the ledge and Madmartigan STILL throws a knife into him just to make sure.
  • Third Time's The Charm: Raziel makes three attempts to coach Willow through turning her back from a possum to a human. He gets interrupted by the Brownies the first time, which turns Raziel into a crow; the second time, the approaching army of Nockmaar breaks his concentration, and she shifts to a goat; the third time, Willow forces himself to stay focused, and while this time is longer and far more painful than his first two attempts, he eventually succeeds and Raziel is human once more.
  • This Cannot Be!: After Willow pulls off his sleight-of-hand with Elora, Bavmorda gasps in astonishment, yells out "Immmm...POSS-I-BULLLLLLL!!!!", trips over her ritual paraphernalia and ends up triggering her own banishment spell on herself.
  • This Is Gonna Suck: When Fin Raziel sees Bavmorda the night before the battle, she orders Willow to use a shelter spell to protect himself from Bavmorda's pig spell.
  • Those Two Guys: Rool and Franjean, played by comedians Kevin Pollack and Rick Overton.
  • The Unfettered: Villainous General Kael is utterly unfazed in the face of not only facing an arriving enemy army but a monstrous two-headed dragon. They are simply obstacles to destroy.
    General Kael: Destroy the beast! Find the baby!
  • Unholy Nuke: Bavmorda wants to use a ritual whose end is to wipe the victim out of existence. The novelization shows that this is actually completely necessary, as just killing Elora outright wouldn't work, she'd just reincarnate in a new body.
  • Unseen Evil: Bavmorda seems to follow orders from an unknown entity (Bavmorda and Raziel were both servants of the spirits, Bavmorda just let her power go to her head).
  • Unstoppable Rage: Madmartigan towards Kael after Kael kills Airk. He casually kills several foes in the way with barely a glance and hardly breaking his stride on the way to his target.
  • We Need a Distraction: While Willow and his allies are hiding under the floorboards of a house, Elora begins to cry. Before it becomes too distinctive, Raziel (currently in raven-form) flies into the room above, loudly cawing.
  • Well Done Daughter Girl: Sorsha often seems desperate to impress her mother, who constantly insults and berates her.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Madmartigan calls this on Airk after the latter greets him eagerly when they find him in a tough situation, after Airk rather smirkingly leaves Madmartigan to die horribly in a cage.
  • Where's the Fun in That?
    Rool: We'll never catch up with those horses!
    Franjean: Then we will have to track them.
    Rool: That would take forever. Besides, even if we find them, they'd only capture us, stick us in cages, torture us and finally devour us!
    Franjean: Are you suggesting we go home?
    Rool: Nah, this is more fun.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Before his adventure begins Willow expresses a deep fear of trolls. Lo and behold he ends up in a fortress crawling with them.
  • Wizard Duel: Between Fin Raziel and Bavmorda. Willow very briefly tries, but Bavmorda obviously is too powerful to combat. So he thinks outside the box and hides Elora under the guise of a magic teleportation spell.
  • Your Head A-Splode: The result of Madmartigan putting a sword through one head of a two-headed fire-breathing dragon, pinning its mouth shut.
  • You Were Trying Too Hard: High Aldwin realizes Willow doesn't go with his first instinct in the test (which would have been correct), telling him to have more self-confidence before he leaves.

The video game adaptations contain examples of:

  • Adaptation Expansion: The NES game adds quite a bit to the story, as well as giving the title character a much greater focus since he's the only playable one.
  • Canis Major: The first boss of the Arcade game is a Devil Dog scaled up (and given Fire Breath) by Bavmorda's magic.
  • Cap: The NES game has a level cap at 16.
  • Controllable Helplessness: The NES game has Kael trap Willow in a jail cell after defeating Eborsisk at Tir Asleen Castle and entering the door it was guarding, and for good measure he steals the Crest of the Spirits before leaving Willow to rot there with Madmartigan. One would be forgiven for thinking they triggered a trap, but it turns out that Franjean and Rool will bust you out through a tunnel they dug; to trigger it you need to touch a specific tile on the south wall.
  • Escape Rope: The NES game has the Fleet spell to get out of caves.
  • Luck-Based Mission: The NES game's version of Willow releasing Madmartigan from his prison cage. In the game, you have two blank cages: one random cage contains Madmartigan, the other contains Death (yours). Heads you proceed, tails you lose a life.
  • Warp Whistle: The NES game has the magic ocarina which summons Po to fly you to any previously visited place.

The sequel novels contain examples of:


Video Example(s):


Sun, moon, starlit sky...

While escaping from Sorsha's army encampment, Madmartigan gets a snootful of the Dust of Broken Hearts and finds himself recaptured, heart and soul, by Sorsha herself. He proves to have quite an eloquent turn of phrase and his former captor seems almost ready to give in...

How well does it match the trope?

5 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / WarriorPoet

Media sources: