‘Willow’ on Disney+ Review: An Enchanting and Irregular Ode to the ’80s Cult Classic

Once upon a time, there was an enchanting fantasy film about a hero who was small in stature but big in heart. willow – directed by Ron Howard and based on an idea by George Lucas – featured Warwick Davis as a farmer embarked on a dangerous mission to protect a little girl destined for greatness. Willow Ufgood takes up the challenge and protects little Elora Danan from the Bone Reavers and Brownies. He befriends the incorrigible thug Madmartigan (Val Kilmer), meets powerful witches, and eventually defeats the evil Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh) by a dumb fluke.

34 years later, we finally have a sequel that continues the willow saga with the heart and soul that the story deserves. The new Disney+ series willow is a messy, hilarious and utterly enchanting sequel to Lucasfilm’s cult classic. Instead of wallowing in « grimdark » images or getting lost stumbling over useless mystery boxes, willow embraces the joy of its source material. willow is a tour de force fun and fantastic frivolity.

When it debuted in 1988, willow was too quaint and quirky, too both low-fi and high-concept to appeal to the masses in the manner of Peter Jackson The Lord of the Rings would do in 2001. However, it had its indisputable charms. willow was serious in his convictions, unashamedly goofy whenever he could be, and thrilling with sensuality. (The cross-dressing, womanizing, lust-driven Madmartigan has more sexuality in one of his thin tresses than most fantasy epics.) Naturally, it would become a cult classic loved by generations of proud dorks, like the your. really.

Sorsha (Joanne Whalley) in Willow the series
Picture: Disney+

Disney+ willow takes place about 20 years after the events of the film. As Queen Sorsha (Joanne Whalley) now explains in the opening narration, our heroes thought they had won the war against evil for good. However, Willow has a nightmarish vision of an ancient evil returning to destroy the rightful Empress, Elora Danan. Sorsha decides to hide the child, keeping her identity a secret even from Elora herself.

When we catch up to the present day, Madmartigan and Sorsha’s twins, Kit (Ruby Cruz) and Airk (Dempsey Bryk), have become spoiled, feisty fleas from the old block. Kit prefers adventure to submitting to an arranged marriage with the scholar Prince Graydon (Tony Revolori) of Galladoorn and spends her days training as a warrior with her best friend Jade (Erin Kellyman). Sweet, flirty, airhead Airk, meanwhile, found himself caught up in a romance with adorable kitchen maid « Dove » (Ellie Bamber). (A future episode reveals that her name is Brunhilde, but she naturally prefers the nickname Airk.)

All seems well until evil strikes. A cadre of monstrous warriors descend on Sorsha’s castle in Tir Asleen and kidnap Prince Airk. This triggers the central quest of willow Season 1: A ragtag group of warriors, thieves, and naïve people team up to save Airk. However, they must first seek help from the world’s wisest wizard…Willow Ufgood.

Dove and Airk kiss in Willow (2022)
Picture: Disney+

As for television, willow is not high art. It doesn’t have the pathos or electricity of Disney+’s latest flagship series, Andor. However, he still rules. willow is the perfect sequel to the 1988 film. Creator and showrunner Jonathan Kasdan imbued the series with all the hallmarks of a labor of love. Scenes from the film are revisited and expanded upon. Fan-favorite characters like Kevin Pollack’s Rool return with his own daughter. Warwick Davis’ real-life daughter, Annabelle, is allowed to steal scenes as an adult version of Willow’s daughter, Mims.

The most amazing part of willow is his heart. I found myself completely charmed by this new generation of clumsy heroes and courageous heroines throwing themselves into the fight against evil. willow looks less like a streamer’s hugely expensive attempt to hunt game of thrones‘s cultural influence and more like a love letter to RPG nerds and 80s fantasy.

willow wisely avoids many mistakes made by more « prestigious » fantasy projects. Where is Prime Video The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power undermined itself with frustrating mystery boxes and pointless stories, willow goes straight to the heart of the story. Spoilers, but we learn pretty quickly what happened to Elora Danan. And because willow faces that reveal themselves early on, we see the characters sit with the emotional repercussions of that knowledge.

Kit, Jade, Boorman and Graydon on horseback in 'Willow'
Picture: Disney+

Otherwise, willow is able to honor the world of the 1988s willow while inviting new fans. When we learn more about Bavmorda’s backstory or Death Reapers culture, it’s to complicate what we know about our young heroes and what they know about themselves. And a bit like willow itself has made incremental progress for its time, the show doesn’t shy away from the way cultural mores have changed over the past three decades. (Ahem, yes, there’s explicit gay romance on this show!) As Graydon wisely tells Kit in Episode 1, « One day you and I will be in charge. And when that day comes, we won’t no longer have to do things the way our parents did. willow stays true to the 80s film while bringing a 2022 attitude to the screen.

Another of willowThe strength of is its overall distribution. Original willow Star Joanne Whalley dazzles as an older version of warrior princess Sorsha and Christian Slater fill the landscape during her end-of-season guest turn. But the real stars are the newbies in this magical world. Ellie Bamber is absolutely endearing as the muffin-making maestro who finds herself in over her head and Dempsey Bryk is perhaps the friendliest himbo since star Noah Centineo. To all the boys I’ve loved before. Amar Chadha-Patel provides great sarcastic and swaggering comic relief as the thief Boorman, while Ruby Cruz and Erin Kellyman effortlessly sell Kit and Jade’s connection as something poignant and special. And of course, Warwick Davis takes on the role of mentor beautifully.

willow It may not be the most polished fantasy series of the year, but it’s the most unabashedly joyous. Disney+ willow is a perfect storm of novelty and nostalgia, full of characters that will strike a chord with you and settings that will leave the whole family gasping.

The first two episodes of willow premiering on Disney+ Wednesday, November 30. New episodes premiere weekly on Wednesdays.


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