Attention children of the 1980s… an iconic movie is getting a reboot!
In 1988, movie-goers flocked to theaters to see “Willow,” a dark fantasy adventure directed by Ron Howard, executive produced by George Lucas, and starring Val Kilmer and Warwick Davis. The film, which earned two Academy Award nominations, didn’t exactly break box office records. But, thanks to home viewing options (i.e. remember VHS tapes?!?), the film grew to become a beloved cult classic.
The original flick centers on the heroism of Willow Ufgood, a farmer and aspiring sorcerer of the Nelwyn village. But after discovering an abandoned baby, named Elora Danan, he’s unexpectedly tasked with protecting the youngster, who is destined to bring about the downfall of the evil sorceress.
With just a few prior acting credits to his name (Star Wars, Ewoks and Labyrinth), then 18-year-old Davis landed the lead in “Willow.” Other actors who identify as little people or members of the disability community were also cast, including Tony Cox, Phil Fondacaro, Mark Northover, David Steinberg and Billy Barty, who founded the Little People of America in 1957. In addition to Kilmer, Joanne Whalley and Jean Marsh each filled non-disabled parts.
Diversity Became the Reality of Fantasy
Davis, a native of England, was born with spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia congenita, the condition that caused his dwarfism. According to John Hopkins Medicine, spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia congenita is a rare genetic disorder that involves spinal and epiphyseal enlargement (enlargement of the area at the end of the long bones). Classified as a type 2 collagen defect, it affects a structure of connective tissue (collagen) that supports many parts of the body.
There are over 200 different types of dwarfism. Unlike Davis, most people with dwarfism have a condition called achondroplasia, which occurs in about one in every 40,000 births, according to John Hopkins Medicine. In fact, Davis’ wife, Samantha, has achondroplasia; and their two children, Annabelle and Harrison, have spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia congenita. The whole family has been involved in film projects!
Fast-Forward to More Fantasy
Beyond the original production of “Willow,” Davis has enjoyed a lengthy career in the entertainment industry, including gigs in film series such as “Leprechaun” and “Harry Potter,” among many other supporting roles in both television and film.
Now in post-production, “Willow” is rebooting as a television series with Davis reprising his signature character. Eager fans recently got a glimpse at what’s to come in the fantasy sequel thanks to a trailer teaser released by Lucas Films.
The rebooted cast will also star newcomers Ellie Bamber, Erin Kellyman and Tony Revolori, among others. The plot resumes twenty years after the original adventure. Can fans expect to learn what’s become of Elora Danan? We’ll have to watch to see when the premiere drops on November 20, 2022, on Disney+.
Jonathan Kasdan, a writer and executive producer of the “Willow” sequel, did confirm that Kilmer did not travel from the U.S. to Wales to reprise his role of Madmartigan. Perhaps just unfortunate timing, Kasdan eluded that Kilmer’s absence was due to travel limitations associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. This is disappointing as Kilmer recently reprised his role as Tom ‘Iceman’ Kazansky in “Top Gun: Maverick,” a 2022 sequel to the 1986’s “Top Gun.”
Kilmer also became a member of the disability community when, in 2017, he lost his voice after battling throat cancer and various tracheotomies. Still, 36 years later, Kilmer was able to reunite with co-star Tom Cruise for “Top Gun: Maverick” thanks to artificial intelligence voice work. His daughter shared during a New York Post interview that a company called Sonantic developed the specific AI that mimicked Kilmer’s iconic voice.
“They were able to dub him with his own voice, which is amazing,” Mercedes Kilmer explained in the interview. “It’s such a technical feat, being able to engineer his voice that way, that it’s an extension of the technical feat of the film.”
Kilmer’s condition was written into the “Top Gun” sequel, however. The character of Iceman has a communication disability, yet Kilmer’s AI-generated voice asserts to Cruise’s character, “The Navy needs you, Maverick!”
Ohhh, and AmeriDisability assumes that “Willow” fans similarly need Madmartigan back too! Perhaps a second season of “Willow” will bring Kilmer back to the fantasy adventure.
In addition to acting, Davis, now 52, has dabbled in writing, directing, producing and other behind-the-scene roles. He also co-founded Little People UK, a charity “dedicated to improving the quality of life for people with dwarfism while celebrating with great pride little people’s contribution to social diversity.”
Additionally, in partnership with his father-in-law, Peter Burroughs, Davis established Willow Personal Management. This talent agency represents people with height differences. The company initially focused on advancing opportunities for entertainers that primarily identify as little people, but has grown to also represent very tall professionals on the other end of the height spectrum.