‘Willow’ review: Warwick Davis returns in Lucasfilm’s series sequel for Disney+



Disney’s press materials refer to the original 1988 film “Willow” as “beloved,” which despite its admirers feels like nostalgic inflation of a fairly common fantasy plotted by George Lucas that provided an early directorial showcase for Ron Howard. Aside from that, a Disney+ revival series isn’t without its charms, in a more contemporary story that brings back Warwick Davis while focusing on the next generation.

The series begins by recounting the events of the film, in which Davis’ humble farmer Willow turned wizard and took part in a fierce battle to protect a baby who carried the fate of the kingdom on her tiny shoulders and vanquished the ancient evil. with the help of the swordsman Madmartigan. and (eventually) Princess Sorsha. The latter were played by Val Kilmer and Joanne Whalley, respectively, who got married after the film as a bonus off-screen.

Kilmer remains out of the picture amid his battle with cancer, but Whalley returns as the now-queen and mother of two wayward adult children, who take part in a mythical quest that requires you to travel across treacherous lands to find the evil crone. to thwart.

As for the aforementioned baby, Elora Danan, she’s been raised in anonymity, “Sleeping Beauty”-esque, to protect her, though her identity (an unrevealable spoiler) is quickly revealed. The quest encompasses a colorful band of numerous youthful relationship troubles, including Princess Kit (Ruby Cruz), who is secretly in love with the knight charged with training her (Erin Kellyman, whose credits include Lucasfilm’s “Solo: A Star Wars story”). ; and Boorman (Amar Chadha-Patel), an irreverent fighter in Madmartigan mode.

Jonathan Kasdan (who also worked on “Solo”) serves as showrunner, working with four directors who each oversaw consecutive episodes. As constructed, ‘Willow’ draws from the original while weaving in florals reminiscent of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ films, including plenty of sweeping green scenery and copious, sometimes quite violent action.

As is so often the case with the growing subgenre of series-expanding sequels, this “Willow” sometimes feels like it’s spinning its wheels, dedicating long stretches to Willow guiding the now-elderly Elora to master her powers , whom he presents as the only hope of saving the kingdom. And while Kilmer’s absence leaves a significant gap, Kasdan and company are doing quite well, including the late arrival of another knight (Christian Slater) with whom Madmartigan shared some history.

In addition to modern-sounding dialogue and situations, the story features a lot of playful irreverence and humor mixed between the action sequences and the elaborate fantasy production design. The latter in particular suggest that this revival was no small undertaking, and to his credit the money seems to have landed on the screen.

While that combination doesn’t make “Willow” worthy of the “beloved” label significantly more than its late-’80s predecessor, consumed on its own unpretentious terms, it’s easy enough to love.

“Willow” premieres on Disney+ on November 30.

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