November 30, 2022 / Disney+
Warwick Davis, Erin Kellyman, Ellie Bamber, Tony Revolori, Ruby Cruz
The story began with an aspiring magician from a Nelwyn village and an infant girl destined to unite the realms, who together helped destroy an evil queen and banish the forces of darkness. Now, in a magical world where brownies, sorcerers, trolls, and other mystical creatures flourish, the adventure continues, as an unlikely group of heroes set off on a dangerous quest to places far beyond.
Written By Darren
Rating 3.5 out of 5
Willow takes audiences back to the magical world of Ron Howard’s 1988 film, delivering an exciting and visually stunning fantasy adventure that conjures up an exciting watch.
While audiences today may not have heard of the original film that this new television series acts as a sequel to, the world and characters that Ron Howard and George Lucas created in that film are ripe for a sequel. And with other streamers all having a fantasy series as part of their original programming, there is no better time for Disney to reboot Willow, filling the void for a fantasy series that is more accessible to younger audiences.
Set twenty years after the events of the original film, the series finds Elora Danan's identity kept secret, even from herself, while Madmartigan has been missing for years on a quest. But when Madmartigan’s son Prince Airk is kidnapped by a dangerous and powerful enemy, a group of misfits seek out the help of legendary sorcerer Willow Ufgood to guide them on their quest to rescue Arik. While on their quest, dark forces chase down Willow and the rest of the group, suspecting that one of them is Elora Danan in disguise and is the only one with the potential to stop the dark powers who kidnapped Arik.
The series creates a grand adventure, full of action, excitement, thrills, danger and magic, harkening back to the adventure films of the 70s and 80s, capturing the spirit that Howard and Lucas infused the original film with. It comes as no surprise that this is the tone of the series with Jonathan Kasdan as its creator, clearly echoing the work of his father Lawrence Kasdan in Star Wars. While it is a sequel to the original film, full of callbacks and characters that will have fans of the film excited to see grace their screen again, the series’s overall story is easy enough for newcomers to this world to follow and enjoy. It is certain that fans of the original film will get the most out of this series, fully digesting the mythology of the world and all the fun cameos, but there is enough to entertain the more casual viewers who have not grown up with the original film.
The mystery of which character, if any, is Elora Danan builds the mystery of the story right from the premiere episode but is revealed early on in the series, allowing the characters to grapple with this revelation and set their individual character arcs in different directions. While the series is never short on action or magic, the writing devotes time to each character to fully develop their personal journey over the course of the series, their relationships with the other characters, and their internal struggle that emotionally bonds the audience to them. The season has a clear destination it is working towards, and each episode moves our characters closer to that destination while acting as the next logical step in the story, building the audience’s anticipation for the moment for the heroes to confront the evil that they are destined to confront.
Hanging over the entire series is the absence of Val Kilmer’s Madmartigan, due to Kilmer recovering from throat cancer. But the writing ensures that Madmartigan is an important part of the story, ensuring that his character is still central to the overall story despite him not appearing on screen. While doing so, the series pays tribute to Kilmer’s wonderful performance in the original film, ensuring that his impact on this world is not forgotten by the audience or any of the characters.
Warwick Davis returns as Willow, and it's great to see him return to this role. As a more seasoned and wise Willow, Davis is magical in the mentor role as he guides this new generation of characters, while struggling internally with the information he has and is hiding from the rest of the characters. There is a sorrow to him that you can feel, while also possessing a joyful disposition that captures the fun, younger version of his character from the original film.
The younger cast members playing the main characters are all good, each of them shining when the script puts the focus on them. Erin Kellyman is fierce as Jade, finally providing her with the meaty leading role she deserves after supporting roles in Solo: A Star Wars Story, The Green Knight, and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Ellie Bamber captures the optimism and determination of Dove, creating one of my favourite characters of the series, while Ruby Cruz captures the complex internal struggle of Kit as she grapples with the absence of her father, the role her mother expects her to play, and who she truly is. While the young cast and Davis are the leads of the series, lots of actors from the original film return and reprise their roles such as Joanne Whalley, Kevin Pollak and Rick Overton, and seeing them return all these years later is great.
My favourite aspect of the film was James Horner’s majestic and energetic musical score, and while James Newton Howard’s themes are good, the overall musical score only soars while re-using Horner’s original themes.
The standout of the series is the visuals, because this is easily one of the most visually stunning films and shows I have seen all year! Shot on location in Wales, the film utilizes the natural beauty of Wales to bring to life this magical world. The production design is stunning, complementing the world with detailed sets that blend perfectly into the natural beauty of Wales and great costume design. Like the original film, the film emphasizes practical effects and makeup to bring to life the magical creatures inhabiting this world. It creates a world that the actors can interact with, allowing the magic to jump off the screen and make the audience believe this world is real. And when the show does rely on CGI, the CGI is incredible and never for a second looks fake, seamlessly combining with the stunning natural beauty of the world to create a magical experience unlike anything else. Combined with great cinematography, especially during the Shattered Sea sequence which results in some of the most stunning shots of the entire year, it has been a while since we have seen a television series that looks this incredible!
While I have still yet to see the finale, and I am eagerly awaiting to find out what happens after that cliffhanger that concluded the seventh episode, I can wholeheartedly recommend Willow to any fantasy fans out there. With gorgeous visuals to spare, this magical word and epic adventure comes to life in Disney+’s latest original series Willow, certain to put audiences under a spell over the coming weeks.