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This came out in 1988, and I'm sure I saw it either on TV or VHS, sometime in either the late 80s or early 90s. I finally watched it again on DVD in 2017, and while I personally think it holds up nicely (for the most part), a lot of the love I have for it is probably as much (or more) about nostalgia as it is about the actual quality of the movie. I didn't actually remember any details before re-watching it, just a few characters and the basic premise. Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis) protects a baby named Elora Danan from forced that wish her harm. He's eventually helped by a roguish swordsman named Madmartigan (Val Kilmer). The main antagonist, at first, is a warrior named Sorsha (Joanne Whalley), but later she becomes an ally. That is all (or a little bit more) than I remembered. I didn't remember how anyone even knew the baby's name, nor why exactly anyone wanted to hurt her. I didn't remember the name "Sorsha" at all, and I don't think I was ever sure whether the rogue's name was actually "Madmartigan" or "Mad Martigan" ("Mad" being a descriptive nickname... but it wasn't). There were some forgotten plot details that I remembered once I re-watched the movie, but most of what happened was as good as new to me.
So... it begins with some on-screen text that establishes that there's an evil queen named Bavmorda (Jean Marsh, whom I also know from Return to Oz, though I failed to recognize her here). There's a prophecy about a baby girl with a certain birthmark being Bavmorda's downfall, so she orders all the female babies killed. (Actually, I don't remember the prophecy mentioning a birthmark, and I'm sure not all the baby girls had it, so I'm not sure why they'd all be killed, or even if they'd all be killed. It kind of sounded that way to me, but... it's confusing.) Anyway, a woman gives birth to a baby girl who does have the birthmark, and she begs the midwife to take the child into hiding. The midwife does so, but she's chased by soldiers and some kind beasts called "death dogs" (a name I only discovered online). So finally, she sets the baby adrift on a river, while the death dogs attack and presumably kill the midwife. (And I'm left thinking about baby Moses, but I'm fairly sure that any Biblical parallels end right there.)
The baby drifts downriver, and is eventually discovered by two young children, Ranon and Mims, the son and daughter of Willow and Kiaya Ufgood. They are of a dwarfish race called Nelwyns, and when his children show him the baby, Willow immediately realizes it is a Daikini (that is, "big person"). At first he wants nothing to do with the baby, but his wife and children take to her immediately, and it's not long before Willow does, too. Anyway, he's a farmer, but he also hopes to become an apprentice sorcerer. The local wizard, or "High Aldwin," gives a test to three potentials, including Willow, but they all fail, so he doesn't choose an apprentice. However, we later learn that Willow had ignored his initial instinct, which would have been the right answer. (That bit was familiar to me.) Soon after the test, a death dog attacks the Nelwyn village, and they manage to kill it, but they know there will be others to come (and they know it was looking for a baby, though I missed how they knew that). Willow and Kiaya take the baby to the village council, and the High Aldwin declares that someone will have to take her beyond their borders, and give her to a Daikini to take care of. Willow, of course, is the one chosen to take her. But he'll be accompanied by a few warriors, including his best friend, Meegosh. And the High Aldwin assigns a businessman and village leader (and bully) named Burglekutt to lead the mission.
The first Daikini they meet is Madmartigan, who has been imprisoned in a hanging cage and left to die. The way he talks to them is a mix of begging for their help, offering to help them, and insulting them. (The latter mainly by calling them "pecks," which is a racial slur for Nelwyns. Pretty much every other Daikini we see in the movie will also use that slur.) Anyway, it's not long before Burglekutt decides they should just leave the baby and go home. Willow decides to stay behind and wait for someone else to come along, and the only one of his companions who stays with him is Meegosh. Eventually a group of soldiers passes by, on their way to battle Bavmorda's forces. The only soldier who stops is an old friend of Madmartigan's named Airk Thaughbaer, though he helps neither Madmartigan nor the Nelwyns. Meanwhile, Bavmorda has assigned a warrior named General Kael to join the search for the baby. Until then, the search had been led by Bavmorda's daughter, Sorsha, but the queen was frustrated by Sorsha's lack of success. (There's also a seer who claims to have foreseen that Sorsha will someday betray her mother, though Bavmorda doesn't believe that.)
Finally, Willow decides to release Madmartigan from his cage, and let him take the baby. Then, Willow and Meegosh begin their journey home, but before they've gotten far, a bird flies by, carrying the baby. The bird is being flown by a brownie, and the Nelwyns give chase. But they're soon captured by brownies (which are much smaller than them, rather like Lilliputians). However, there are also fairies about, most of which are also very small, but the fairy queen, Cherlindrea (who is at least human size), appears and orders the brownies to release them. It's she who tells them the baby's name is Elora Danan, and that she's a princess, and that Elora has chosen Willow as her protector. (The baby doesn't talk, of course, but Cherlindrea is apparently able to communicate with her by some unspecified means.) She also gives Willow her magic wand, which he is to take to an island where a sorceress named Fin Raziel had been imprisoned by Bavmorda. After that, Willow sends Meegosh home, deciding to go to the island himself. But Cherlindrea assigns a pair of brownies named Franjean and Rool (Kevin Pollak) to guide him to the island. (The two of them are basically comic relief.) Willow and the brownies later happen upon Madmartigan, who joins them until they reach the shore and find a boat, which Willow takes to the island.
Beyond this point, I really want to avoid spoiling too much of the plot. I've only really said this much just to introduce all the important characters. (And it really surprises me how many there are that I'd completely forgotten about.) Still, I do feel the need to mention that at one point, Madmartigan accidentally gets dosed with a love potion that one of the brownies had been carrying, and it makes him fall in love with Sorsha. And while at first the way he acts toward her, while under the spell, seems to confuse and annoy her. But before long, for no apparent reason, she seems to like it, and returns his affection. But by then, the spell has worn off. Even before the spell, we knew Madmortigan found Sorsha attractive, but also that he hated her. Yet when it wears off, he seems confused, and I was, too. I mean, I wasn't sure if he had some lingering effects from the spell, or just thought he might really like her for no other reason than finding her attractive. But what's even weirder to me is that the entire reason Sorsha ends up eventually betraying her mother is because of her own attraction to Madmortigan. (Well, there is the fact that her mother never treated her very well, but that didn't seem to faze her, before. And she did admire Madmartigan's skill in battle. But she also hated him. Then maybe one should say she didn't agree with her mother's plan to kill the baby, but that never fazed her before, either. Although maybe it's because Bavmorda just wanted to perform a ritual that would make the baby... not dangerous to her, somehow. Maybe Sorsha didn't realize the ritual would kill the baby, too. I just don't know about any of this.)
But despite the fact that the potential relationship between Sorsha and Madmartigan made so little sense to me that I am not even able to use my normally high threshold for suspension of disbelief when it comes to unbelievable romances in fiction, and my failure to understand her sudden decision to join her enemies (or for that matter, some of her former enemies' allies' complete lack of questioning why they're suddenly supposed to trust the queen's daughter), in general I did like the character. I mean, here it is, 1988, and we have a movie with a respected female warrior and leader, who dresses just like any of the male warriors she commands, which is to say in battle-appropriate armor which is not at all revealing. (Which is more than I can say about pretty much any female warrior I've seen in any movie up to the present, this year's "Wonder Woman" included.) Heck, even in the one scene where she's in her nightgown, it's not at all revealing. So... you know... I'm just saying, that's pretty cool. (Although, TBH, one of the few things I did remember about this movie was that I found Sorsha beautiful.)
Of course there is finally a battle of good against evil, and of course good wins. Although I must say, the prophecy about Elora was rather misleading. (Then again, when aren't prophecies misleading?) Anyway, I dunno what else to tell you. It's not really a great movie, but it's definitely a good one. I mean... it probably doesn't merit as much love as I and others who are prone to nostalgia have for it, but on the other hand, it definitely doesn't deserve as much disdain as some people might have for it. Also, I might like to read the novelization someday (which I guess provides some more detail than the movie does, which might very well answer some of my lingering questions), as well as some novels that are set after the movie.
Followed by the 2022 web series of the same name