February 3, 2023
WILLOW Disney Plus Series Premiere Review

“Willow is a triumph. Jon Kasdan has crafted a perfectly acceptable follow-up to a classic. The worldbuilding is rich, the characters are expertly written, and the cast is at the top of its game,” says Phil Roberts in his review

The collaboration between Ron Howard and George Lucas delivered cinematic gold in 1988 when the original Willow hit our screens. The charming adventures of the budding sorcerer and his sword-wielding sidekick really resonated with a generation of fans who all pleaded for more of the same. But for over three decades, their hopes and dreams have been left unfulfilled. Until now…

This week, Jon Kasdan invites us to return to the world of Willow to explore what happened next. The series, which launches on Disney Plus today boasts a wonderful young cast, a few familiar faces, and the iconic themes of the late great James Horner. But after three decades, can Warwick Davis slip back into character and deliver the sequel series we’ve all been craving? Or has the magic finally abandoned the world of Willow?

Warwick Davis as Willow Ufgood in Willow 1988

Fear not Willow fans because the new Disney Plus series is a certified triumph. One with more than enough nostalgia and magic to win over the harshest of critics. And although some of the icons from the movie are sadly unable to be involved, the fresh new story and the energetic young cast deliver an uplifting adventure that will resonate with us all.

Sadly, it’s not all sweetness and light. There are a few bumps in the road along the way, but overall, Jon Kasdan has given us an early Christmas present with this series. So sit back and join me as we unpack Willow Ufgood’s long-awaited sequel series.

LEGENDS OF TIR ASLEEN

Last we saw Willow Ufgood, the budding sorcerer helped Madmartigan, Sorsha, and Raziel to defeat Queen Bavmorda and save the baby Elora Danan from certain doom. With Tir Asleen restored to prominence, Willow entrusted Elora to his friends and returned home to allow the infant savior to grow up and fulfill her prophecized destiny. And it’s here where the new adventures begin.

Soon after his victory against Bavmorda, Willow was troubled with dreams and omens that threatened the life of Elora Danan. Therefore, Sorsha and Madmartigan chose to hide her away and conceal her identity, even from Elora herself. But soon, things took a turn for the worse as dark forces began to rise and the heroic Madmartigan (Val Kilmer) vanished without a trace. And with Willow leading his people into a new era, the heroes of the first movie went their separate ways and slipped into day-to-day life.

WILLOW
(L-R): Commander Ballantine (Ralph Ineson), Queen Arianna (Talisa Garcia), Sorsha (Joanne Whalley), King Hastur (Derek Horsham), and Graydon (Tony Revolori) in Lucasfilm’s WILLOW exclusively on Disney+. ©2022 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

QUEEN SORSHA

After a brief but poignant walk down memory lane, we are warmly reunited with Queen Sorsha (Joanne Whalley). And it is a pleasure to see her back on the screen. Her monologue quickly sets the tone for what will be an intense but entertaining series. And this leads us to the introduction of the young characters that will carry this bold new chapter forwards. First up are Sorsha and Madmartigan’s teenage twin offspring. And they have all the hallmarks of their parents.

Kit (Ruby Cruz) is a self-assured princess who is adept with a blade. But she longs for more than her mundane palace life and yearns to break free of the shackles of her position. Airk (Dempsey Bryk), on the other hand, is a young prince who enjoys all of the trappings of his position. Whether it’s his womanizing, or his overly confident bravado, he oozes the machismo of his father. But it isn’t until the duo comes together that we see the combined traits of their parents fully come to fruition. And in true adventure story fashion, both are joined by their budding sidekicks who all have instrumental roles in the series.

Airk (Dempsey Bryk) in Lucasfilm's WILLOW
Airk (Dempsey Bryk) in Lucasfilm’s WILLOW exclusively on Disney+. ©2022 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

COMPANIONS

At Kit’s side is Jade (Erin Kellyman), a knight-in-training and Kit’s love interest. Disney has worked tirelessly to evolve its stories to include characters of all genders and sexualities, and it’s refreshing to see the chemistry between Kit and Jade unfold. The same can be said for Airk, who has his own love interest in the form of the enigmatic Dove (Ellie Bamber). From the off, Dove is presented as a charming, but understated kitchen maid who takes pride in everything she does. And with her sights firmly set on Airk, she is determined to stand by her man. No matter what.

The cast is rounded out by some heavyweight co-stars. Tony Revolori (Spider-Man: Homecoming) turns in an admirable performance as Graydon, a young scholar and Kit’s betrothed husband in waiting. And last but not least, Amar Chadha-Patel delivers THE standout performance as Boorman, a thief, and swordsman who has ties to Madmartigan himself. By the end of the premiere episodes, Chadha-Patel cements himself as the muscle, the comic relief, and the sarcastic voice of reason that will see us through. His delivery is unrivaled in this series and he will effortlessly become a firm fan favorite as the adventure unfolds. Mark my words.

Boorman (Amar Chadha-Patel) in Lucasfilm's WILLOW
Boorman (Amar Chadha-Patel) in Lucasfilm’s WILLOW exclusively on Disney+. ©2022 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

WARWICK DAVIS

But of course, we are all here to welcome Warwick Davis back into the role of Willow and surprisingly his performance isn’t as polished as one might expect. In fact, at times his performance is a little wooden. I don’t know if it’s ring rust or too much time as a gameshow host, but for me, Davis delivers his lines like he’s reading stereo instructions. Devoid of feeling and tonally flat which came as a surprise. I don’t want to be the one to critique a legend, but something feels off with his performance and it’s far from the Willow we’ve come to know and love.

Of course, this sudden change in character can be attributed to Ufgood having seasoned and grown into a thriving member of the village hierarchy. Like an aging hero that carries the weight of responsibility on his shoulders. But Davis’ delivery leaves a lot to be desired in the opening episodes. And it has nothing to do with his character. We can only hope he grows back into the role as the series progresses. But it’s an alarming trait so far. That being said, it is wonderful to see him back on the screen and bringing Ufgood back to life. And that, after all, is what we came to see.

Warwick Davis as Willow Ufgood
in Lucasfilm’s WILLOW exclusively on Disney+. ©2022 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

VAL KILMER

Now, we all knew this series would have an uphill battle without Val Kilmer’s scene-stealing Madmatigan to rely on. And I’m sorry to report that his absence is evident. Sadly, his long battle against throat cancer has severely limited Val Kilmer’s career of late, and this has prevented him from returning in Warwick Davis’ new adventure. Which is a real shame. The fantasy realm doesn’t feel the same without him and his absence is the biggest pitfall of the show.

That being said, Jon Kasdan has woven an intriguing web of mystery surrounding Madmartigan’s disappearance. And this plot thread is a tangible focal point throughout the series. Moreover, Madmartigan is mentioned several times in the opening episodes and the breadcrumbs tease a deepening mystery to be explored in later episodes. Consequently, it leaves us with a sense that Madmartigan is ever-present in the story. Especially with his children, and it’s this constant involvement that tempers Kilmer’s absence to a degree.

Val Kilmer a Madmartigan in Willow

CINEMATOGRAPHY & LOCATIONS

Now, the success of a fantasy series lives and dies on the strength of its cinematography and I’m pleased to report that Willow is rich with breathtaking visuals. And not just in terms of CGI either. The locations selected for the series never cease to dazzle. And the beauty of the Welsh landscape effortlessly makes the series a more vibrant follow-up to the movie. The environments are rich and rewarding, and the costumes are arguably some of the finest of any Disney Plus series, and that alone helps the show feel richer than its predecessor.

The locations from the movie also feel revitalized as we explore the familiar topography in greater detail than ever before. Tir Asleen is presented in a fresh light which makes the kingdom feel far more realized than its blink and you miss it spell in the film. Even Willow’s village is fleshed out in greater detail. And the charming characters that inhabit it will capture our hearts just as their forbears did in 1988. Even Warwick Davis’ daughter Annabelle gets in on the action and she takes to the universe like a duck to water. She genuinely glows every time the camera is on her and I cannot wait to see her part grow with each episode.

WILLOW
(L-R): Graydon (Tony Revolori), Kit (Ruby Cruz), Jade (Erin Kellyman), Boorman (Amar Chadha-Patel), and Dove (Ellie Bamber) in Lucasfilm’s WILLOW exclusively on Disney+. ©2022 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

SCORE

Accentuating the glorious visuals and noteworthy performances is James Newton Howard’s powerful score. Following in the footsteps of the late great James Horner was always going to be a daunting task. But Howard delivers an extravagant and nostalgic soundtrack that harnesses the best of Horner’s themes. All the while forging a fresh new approach with some truly memorable soundscapes. His new score is powerful and it fits the world to a tee. And the regular use of Horner’s ques helps to infuse the show with a familiar feel. It’s a wonderful soundtrack, and I can see many playlists being created in the aftermath of this series.

Dove (Ellie Bamber) in Lucasfilm's WILLOW
Dove (Ellie Bamber) in Lucasfilm’s WILLOW exclusively on Disney+. ©2022 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

VERDICT

By now it should be abundantly clear that Willow is a triumph. One that forges a bold new chapter for the fantasy realm. I have deliberately avoided exploring the main plot threads of the series and have limited this review to just the launch episodes. This is by design. I’ll flesh out what unfolds in the aftermath in later reviews. But this is a series that deserves to be explored cold. And I wouldn’t want to deprive you of the fun that awaits you.

However, I can say that the series so far is an absolute blast. And although it is not without its flaws, Jon Kasdan has crafted a perfectly acceptable follow-up to a classic. The worldbuilding is rich, and the characters are expertly written, and the cast is at the top of its game. And although the lack of Val Kilmer leaves a massive hole to fill, there is more than enough fun and adventure to fill the void. George Lucas may have had a limited involvement in this series, but his legacy lives on through Jon Kasdan. And the world of Willow is back for a new generation to explore and fall in love with. So sit back with your kids, hit play, and share this magical realm with your budding sorcerers. You won’t regret it!

Hit play, peck!

The first two thrilling episodes of Disney’s Willow are now streaming on Disney Plus. Subscribe now and explore a wonderland of treasures.

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