I wonder if Willow’s lack of popularity has anything to do with the protagonist not fitting the regular sci-fi and fantasy and magic standard. Not because Warwick Davis is a dwarf, but because his character is so non-traditional. He’s not an idealistic youth, or a hidden prince… he’s a farmer with a wife, two kids and money problems. He’s some normal guy. It (along with the physical characteristics) block some of the idealizing.
Unrelated, Willow’s not very good. There’s a lot of blame to go around and, if the film weren’t from George Lucas’s conception, the responsibility would fall on screenwriter Bob Dolman. The dialogue is bad and he doesn’t have many good characters (only three, in fact). He doesn’t have any good villains—actually, they’re all quiet bad—and the action is poorly spread out. The biggest action sequence comes before the finale.
However, it’s a Lucas production (and he’s credited with the story), so I imagine many of those problems are Lucas’s fault.
But director Ron Howard isn’t without reproach. His composition is okay, but his direction of actors is terrible. He’s lucky to have Val Kilmer (in the Han Solo part) because Kilmer’s at least able to have fun without direction. Joanne Whalley is good (before she disappears) and Jean Marsh is an effective villain. But the acting’s otherwise mediocre or lame.
Another problem is the special effects. They’re too ambitious for composite shots, even with masterful stop motion.
Still, Willow’s not an abject failure.
Directed by Ron Howard; screenplay by Bob Dolman, based on a story by George Lucas; director of photography, Adrian Biddle; edited by Daniel P. Hanley, Mike Hill and Richard Hiscott; music by James Horner; production designer, Allan Cameron; produced by Nigel Wooll; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Starring Warwick Davis (Willow Ufgood), Val Kilmer (Madmartigan), Joanne Whalley (Sorsha), Jean Marsh (Queen Bavmorda), Patricia Hayes (Fin Raziel), Billy Barty (High Aldwin), Pat Roach (Gen. Kael), Gavan O’Herlihy (Airk Thaughbaer), Kevin Pollak (Rool), Rick Overton (Franjean), David Steinberg (Meegosh), Mark Northover (Burglekutt), Phil Fondacaro (Vohnkar) and Julie Peters (Kiaya Ufgood).