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Willow on Disney+ review: Remember everything you know

Willow on Disney+ review: Remember everything you know

Willow on Disney+ review: Remember everything you know

In a TV fantasy landscape that tends to get very self-serious, from the incestuous and hapless Targarys to the endless mythology dumps of JRR Tolkien appendages, Willow on Disney+ can feel like a breath of fresh air. With a tone more like The princess bride, it manages to take the logic of its fantasy world seriously while portraying characters with very modern behavior and conversations. When Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis) at one point quotes the late Billy Barty’s High Aldwin (and the 1988 film’s catchphrase), “Forget everything you know, or think you know,” his would-be apprentice replies, “I don’t know nothing, so we can probably just skip it.”

Much humor is derived from similar contrasts. When Kit (Ruby Cruz), daughter of Sorsha and Madmartigan, tells her fiancé Graydon (Tony Revolori), “So…we’re getting married. It’s weird, isn’t it?” he replies “I am grateful for the opportunity to serve the kingdom.” When another character later says, “The love letter is your strength,” the response she gets from her beau is, “Right. Definitely will.”

The movie from 1988 Willow was essentially George Lucas’ attempt to recreate Star Wars magic in a fantasy realm, with less successful results. It is more liked than loved, and in retrospect it reveals certain tonal and story weaknesses that would have become more apparent in Star Wars prequels. The French-accented brownies definitely feel like a trial run for Jar Jar Binks, while the awkward love story between Val Kilmer’s Madmartigan and Joanne Whalley’s Sorsha is only slightly less creepy than Anakin and Padme’s courtship. Behind the scenes, of course, it got real, as Kilmer and Whalley were married for a while. And they are still amicable co-parents to their children, as the documentary shows Choice.

With SoloJonathan Kasdan now directing the writing, comedy and action feel better integrated this time around. Even Kevin Pollak’s brief return as brownie Rool, doing grumpy parent shtick, feels less gratuitously self-aware, like when Dave Filoni very judiciously used Jar Jar in Clone Wars cartoons. Like Filoni, Kasdan also adds new renditions to better explain some of the choices in the original story.

Keeping the Lucasfilm motifs going, Willow includes some familiar plot devices from The Force Awakens. This time, instead of Luke Skywalker, it’s Madmartigan who has disappeared after an important mission presumably gone wrong. Since Kilmer apparently isn’t coming back, unless everyone involved is an Andrew Garfield-level liar, the outcome will likely be a little different. Disney+ screened all but the last episode for reviewers. So if they pull any big turns it will be in episode 8.

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But Madmartigan isn’t the only “lost” character. The chosen Elora Danan, formerly a baby in the film, has been hidden away under another identity, under such a deep cover that not even she knows her name. As this is mercifully not a JJ Abrams film either Power rings, you don’t have to wait the whole season to find out — by the end of episode 1, her identity becomes unequivocally clear. Since most of the young cast members are the same age, it’s no spoiler to say that time progresses differently Willow universe, where the actual Elora would be in her mid-thirties in real-life years. Thanks to Davis’ youthful face, and the suggestion that Whalley’s Sorsha has had a hard life as queen, the illusion of the returning leads’ younger-than-reality ages is only plausible.

Throwing even more confusion into the timelines, Willow recovers from one of Star Wars the sequel trilogy’s big mistake of using flashbacks to fill in the key events that happened in the last…however many years there are in their time. Willow and Sorsha have argued over their different reactions to a prophetic vision he had shortly after their adventure in the film. Needless to say, evil is not defeated, and the new great evil, an unseen Sauron-like force named The Withered Crone, who may be a new form of the late Queen Bavmorda. Note: if you haven’t seen the movie, or at least not for a while, it’s worth at least visiting Wikipedia to relearn the differences between, say, Galladoorn, Tir Asleen and Nockmaar.

The original Willow has notoriously named some of its villains and monsters after film critics who gave Lucas bad reviews, such as General Kael and the two-headed Eborsisk. The new Willow do this once, even if it involves a deceased critic who has already been similarly immortalized in the Galaxy Quest. However, it places other pop cultural references elsewhere. One of the new leads? A knight named Boorman, presumably after Excalibur director John Boorman. And American Werewolf in London fans will catch the name of a famous inn.

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Which brings us to the only really bad choice the show makes. Lucas knew that fantasy should be timeless – you don’t hear 70s rock n’ roll songs played in a Star Wars series. Willowhowever edges into A knight’s tale territory with its use of pop songs and covers. At first, it’s not too bad: Fuzzy alt-rock band Antibody cover songs like “Hurdy Gurdy Man” and “Enter Sandman” over the end credits. Terrible choices aside – David Fincher’s Zodiac definitely used “Hurdy Gurdy Man” – they are easy to ignore. However, later episodes use punk rock music to score an action sequence, “Crimson and Clover” during a big dance, and most extreme, the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations”. The effect proves more jarring than when Roger Moore’s James Bond used a similar tune for snowboarding With death in sight.

It is unclear who the songs are for. Fans old enough to have enjoyed them upon release don’t need the coaxing of oldies to see a Lucasfilm sequel, and the kids might not even know them. A strangely misguided choice in a series whose own inherent nostalgia value resonates with fans more than a Metallica cover could.

Warwick Davis, who rarely gets the main role outside Gnome, dwarf movies, making the most of his return as a beloved character. Uses well-honed skills to portray frustration and hubris in his series Life is too short, he plays the older Willow who is equal parts hero and con artist, as his mentor High Aldwin was before him. He’s less good at portraying genuine despair, but he’s very much the same Willow Ufgood plus the added baggage of age and personal flaws.

Whalley, who is less in the story due to being too old to apply and is essential to the stability of the rule at home, brings more layers to Sorsha. Forced into a more conservative, reactive role, she must fight public perception and temptations to become more like her evil, dead mother.

Dempsy Bryk’s Prince Airk, named after Gavan O’Herlihy’s character in the film, is so perfectly cast as Val Kilmer’s son that it’s a shame he becomes the MacGuffin, kidnapped early on by monsters. This triggers the mission that makes up the show, started by Kit, Graydon, Willow, Boorman (Amar Chadha-Patel), Airk’s secret lover, Dove (Ellie Bamber), and female knight Jade (Erin Kellyman). It’s a mission that feels episodic and right for TV, rather than the hypothetical “eight-hour movie.” Each week brings a different obstacle, or maybe a mini-boss. As with Lord of the Rings trilogy, there is no big Darth Vader-esque villain. Rather, people and things are destroyed to varying degrees.

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Many of the original characters and actors have died since 1988, but expect every big name from the film to at least make an appearance in one way or another. Christian Slater, who doesn’t appear until the end, adds a burst of movie star charisma in a novel role, reminiscent of his scene-sparing version of Will Scarlet in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. And despite Disney’s big talk, little action in general on the topic of gay characters, same-sex romance is an integral part of this series. Both explicitly, between large characters, and implicitly between smaller ones. With its little person lead and female arch-villain, Willow always been a progressive property.

The most important thing, however, is the world of Willow still feels epic. For a reasonable budget distribution, some episodes take place in more enclosed areas than others. But the viewer never feels stuck on a soundscape; There is always a feeling that around the next corner we can see a huge castle, an endless ocean, a giant dimensional doorway or a huge underground mine. Part of the point of Willow was always to make the viewer feel like a literal and figurative little guy against unreal odds, while keeping the human-level interactions real, navigable, and entertaining. In that regard, the spirit of the original film remains.

Should Lucasfilm later decide to do a special edition and cut all the songs from subsequent streaming, that would be even better.

Character: 3.5/5 (It would be a 4 with different music!)

WillowThe first two episodes are now streaming on Disney+.

Recommended Reading: Willow: The storybook based on the movie

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