When Willow came out in 1988, it wasn’t revolutionary, but it was a funny and an adventurous ride into another world. It’s hard to say the same thing about the new Willow series on Disney+.
Director Ron Howard’s film was quirky and melodramatic, there were dark undertones, and star Warwick Davis brought real heart to the role of Willow. Val Kilmer also made the hilariously dumb Madmartigan effortlessly heroic, despite–or maybe even because of–his flaws.
The film isn’t perfect, but it’s still a hard story to follow because the obvious next part of the story is starting it over again with a rising darkness, and that’s where the new series fumbles.
Willow, the series, starts with a jumble of characters, and it’s not obvious who leads the story, but that’s important. Despite the name, it’s not really Willow’s story this time either.
For that matter, there are too many things going on with each of the characters, so instead of drawing out side plots once things are established, the series throws a lot at you in the first 30 minutes with mixed results.
Here are the basics: it’s been a number of years since the events of Willow when Queen Bavmorda was defeated and Elora Danan was rescued, but the magic child was hidden away when she was little, to protect her and keep the darkness from returning. And the kingdom seems somewhat safe, but there’s trouble on the horizon and Queen Sorsha, played once again by Joanne Whalley, is having nightmares about what’s to come.
Willow, played again by Davis, also has fears about the future of the kingdom, because he had a dream too, but he wants to try and do something about it.
These aren’t our main characters though. Despite the show being called Willow, the stars are mostly the new generation of teens and twenty-somethings, who are forced to go on a quest that sets everything in motion.
The cast suits the roles, and I enjoyed them all in the first two episodes, but the writing is frankly not strong enough so far to make the characters stand out. Most of the characters are also written as if they’re supposed to be unlikable, and that doesn’t really make sense in this story at all.
First there’s Ruby Cruz as Princess Kit. She’s fiery, and she’s definitely smitten with Jade, played by Erin Kellyman, but she’s also kind of obnoxious without trying too hard. Cruz is charismatic and likeable, but as an actor there’s only so much she can do with a character that’s not very kind.
Then there’s Dempsey Bryk as Prince Airk, who immediately gets captured after he and his love interest, Ellie Bamber as Dove, make a real connection. That’s the only way that she’ll go on this adventure but spoiler alert, she’s not what she seems.
Characters with as much dialogue as Dove are rarely what they seem to be at the start, and it’s the Prince’s capture by a group of evil creatures that propels this story into action.
These creatures are part of a plan to take over the kingdom, and it’s complicated enough that I didn’t really understand the full story here. The best I can say is that the creatures are serving a greater evil.
Along on the quest are Tony Revolori as Prince Graydo, who was supposed to marry Princess Kit until the creatures showed up, and Amar Chadha-Patel as Boorman, a thief and fighter who gives off serious “I’ll save the day” vibes from the moment we meet him.
To help save Prince Airk, the group of would-be heroes go off to find Willow, because he’s one of the few heroes in the world that can probably help stop the evil that’s lurking around. But then there’s a twist.
You see, Dove is actually Elora Danan, and episode two is just Willow trying to teach her magic, and her failing while the rest of the group moans about everything that’s wrong.
For the most part, I liked the concept of the story. I don’t really understand why it’s a teen fantasy, when the built in audience from the film are likely all in their 40s, but the series isn’t bad. I also like how the series is building new tension and problems.
The bigger problem with the series is that no one really seemed to think these characters through, and they’re very hard to like. The cast feels a bit aimless in the roles, and I especially had a hard time with how poorly they’re all written and directed.
Queen Sorsha, as just one example, is an important place to start. Whalley plays her with a lot of angst, and she comes off as the villain in her own story. If that serves a purpose in the story at some point, that’s great, but from the start it feels inept for the series to set her up this way.
Dove is one of the few examples of a character that I enjoyed in the series. Bamber gives Dove hope and brightness in almost every scene, and that’s what makes it easy to see her as the star of the show, except that we only start to see that in the second episode, and then the writing is a bit preoccupied with how she needs to learn magic, rather than evolving the character to feel like she could be a hero.
The second episode’s ending does give me hope for Willow. Throughout most of the episode there are creatures chasing after her, and the group is sitting around stewing while Elora has been trying to learn how to make seeds grow. She ends up being captured in the last moments of the episode, and that’s when we see that her magic finally worked.
Willow needs to show us more moments like that, where angst leads to something magical.
If the series can work to bring more hope, light, and genuine magic into Willow, it could be a great series. This cast can pull that off, but it will take better writing, and direction. A series like this just needs time to grow and evolve, a lot like Elora, but if it takes too long, it’s going to be difficult to stick around.
New episodes of Willow premiere every Wednesday on Disney+, and the finale premieres Wednesday, January 11.
Join our list
Subscribe to our mailing list and get weekly updates on our latest contests, interviews, and reviews.