“You just have to belie-eee-eee-ve!” bleats an elderly sorceress who has been inadvertently turned into a goat by wannabe wizard Willow, in the 1988 movie starring Warwick Davis as the titular underdog.
Magic, it seemed, worked out of self-belief more than mastery of technique. 2022 sees Disney return to the world of Andowyne to revisit a land boiling over with a belief surplus, underdogs be damned.
The original Willow movie was a fun adventure romp that made no qualms of using Tolkien-esque trappings to tell a dashing story of magic, battles, daring rescue, and that very George Lucas style of thigh-slapping daring-do.
The apprentice defeats the big bad villain, friends are made along the way, and the plot important baby is rescued and prophesised to do vague goodness in years to come.
What Is Willow About?
Here, we return to the world of Willow 17 years later where the next generation are young yet laden with confidence incarnate.
Willow has become a recluse along with his dwarven Nelwyn community after visions of oncoming doom. The brave Madmartigan has disappeared in search of a mythical wotsit (sadly, Val Kilmer was unable to take part in the production) leaving behind children who need to marry well.
Perhaps it is time for the long hidden and grown up Elora Danan to return and put that magical baby power to good use?
Good characters can pull through a struggling plot but rarely the other way around. Willow sets up solid threat, decent mystery, some tantalising threads, and drapes them all in a cloak of enticing magical adventure. Sadly, our guides through this world are more irritants than companions.
New young ‘uns Ruby Cruz (Princess Kit) and Ellie Bamber (Dove / Brünhilde) are modernity personified. The former’s Gen Z irony slips too far into entitled to be sympathetic and the need to use her fighting skills to rescue her brother (plus avoid an arranged marriage) don’t make up for her woe-is-me selfishness.
Bamber’s wide-eyed stubbornness as she tags along to rescue her lover (Princess Kit’s brother) tries to make her both comic foil and emotive core but achieves neither.
Most painful though is the lack of a solid central performance. Warwick Davis, as the lead, seems to have lost the bubble that buoyed over so well in the original film. Sure, he is loaded down with some clunky expositional dialogue, but what he has to say is delivered so flat it’s almost as if he has the script in his hand off camera and is reading it as he speaks.
The series can’t decide if he is still underdog or flawed master, but regardless Davis’ dialogue delivery dampens down even the energy from his overly perky young cast members.
Willow Official Trailer
Is Willow Worth Watching?
Fantasy dialogue is tricky. Too arch and full of multi-syllable places and people then you risk excluding the casual viewer. Too modern and you risk breaking the fantasy entirely. Willow stuffs its cast with strutting sarcasm wielders who roll eyes and doll out petulant quips at the scenarios that Big Fantasy lays out before them, to its detriment.
Struggling to get out from under the heavy central weight of the show are some promising points. Amar Chadha-Patel as captured treasure hunter Thraxus Boorman acts as our Val Kilmer / Madmartigan stand in and delivers almost all of the genuinely funny lines of dialogue along with a teasing mystery (i.e. what happened to Madmartigan).
And knight in training Jade (Erin Kellyman, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier) has a gravitas sorely lacking from those around her. She imbues a fresh honesty to a rare front-and-centre Disney gay romance with grace and power, even if it is a struggle to believe her attraction to the petulant Princess Kit.
Watching Willow is like watching what seemed like an endless amount of scenes in the 80s involving quicksand: it alternates between making good progress and fighting to not be dragged down by the quagmire beneath it.
When both cast and dialogue is sucking at your feet it can seem that the best thing to do is fight back and pull yourself free. However, there may be something magical on the horizon if you stop struggling and let Willow simply run its course.
Words by Mike Record
Disney Plus offers a large collection of movies and TV shows from Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, and National Geographic. You can watch classic Disney films, as well as new releases and original content created specifically for the platform.
Stream on up to four screens at once on compatible devices.
For a limited time, customers who purchase the annual subscription can save 16%.