‘Willow’ Review: Disney Plus Reboot Has fun updating the ’80s fantasy

When Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones take themselves too seriously, Willow is back to inject some fun into the fantasy. This new one DisneyPlus series is a long-awaited sequel to the 1980s sword ‘n’ sorcery romp and a welcome mix of clinking swords and comedy (with some spooky bits to make the kids jump).

The original 1986 film, written by George Lucas, starred Warwick Davis as a short but big-hearted farmer fighting a cackling sorceress for the soul of a baby destined to save the world. Val Kilmer starred as the high-spirited swordsman Madmartigan in a film that infused his fantasy world with a healthy dose of humor.

Kilmer is sadly absent from the new series due to the actor’s recent illness, but Joanne Whalley returns as Sorsha, the heroine of the first film. She reigns over a period of apparent peace and prosperity, though with Madmartigan missing, her children are not so easy to command. The baby from the movie was hidden because Willow has a vision that seems like a pretty big deal to yada yada over in a voiceover, but then we’re straight into a sword fight on top of a hill and speeding along on a whole new adventure a cast of teenagers with sharp cheekbones.

The 2022 series, streaming now on Disney Plus, features a feisty new princess who would rather practice swordplay than accept an arranged marriage, her twin brother, the cocky ladies’ man, and various subordinates in varying degrees of love for them. It all begins the night before the wedding when an evil force launches a surprise attack, and before you can say “JRR Tolkien”, a community of bickering royals, gruff old guys and jocular warriors embark on a quest through scenic landscapes. Hooray!

It’s not entirely clear why the heirs of two royal families are in jeopardy, but who cares. It kicks off with rousing action, chilling villains, and an inexplicable mix of accents saying funny made-up names. But what’s most charming is the show’s sense of fun. This seven-episode series has a lot of really funny bits, including a scene-stealing Amar Chadha-Patel as the new talkative warrior and a knowing twist from Warwick Davis, who draws as much on his recent comedy work with Ricky Gervais as he does on the original film.

It’s very hard to avoid comparisons in a post-Game of Thrones era saturated with fantasy TV. In the premier league are posh, mature, and clearly pricey Thrones spinoffs House of the Dragon and Amazon’s Rings of Power. Some recent shows have a strong hook, like The Witcher’s sexy monster-hunting, Shadow and Bone’s military magic, or Carnival Row’s steampunk. Willow’s world of magical lore is less pronounced, coming dangerously close to flat-pack fantasy like The Wheel of Time. That means Willow relies almost entirely on name-recognition nostalgia to capture you. But once the title got you through the door, the series is worth sticking with. The cast and characters are captivating, and it comes with a winning mix of action, humor, and creepiness.

Speaking of which, the villains are appropriately evil, with spooky magic and even scarier makeup. There’s a big fight in the opening episode that’s a bit gory and intense (and someone says “shit” for no reason), but then no ’80s kid’s adventure was complete without a bizarre, terrifying bit that scarred a generation, eh we will allow it. And the deliciously spooky stuff is also leavened with playful touches like irreverent pieces of music and knowing ’80s cameos.

Whether Willow was a memorable part of your childhood or you’re dealing with it for the first time — perhaps with your own children — the film and its world have aged surprisingly well. Maybe not the goofy special effects that make it look like the Star Wars advances never happened – and let’s face it, the first film was basically Star Wars in the Lord of the Rings cosplay. You can see why the George Lucas tale of a farmer, a mercenary and his hairy sidekick, a princess and a wizard fighting an evil emperor and a masked general would be seen as Lucas tearing down his own creation ( even if Star Wars were a room). -based remix of the classic Japanese samurai film The Hidden Fortress). Only over time has the nostalgic glamor blurred the Star Wars association.

But the film lasts mainly because of its positive mood. Set in the macho Reagan era of the 1980s and in theaters at the same time as Rambo 3, Willow featured a villain and a magical mentor, both of whom were women. The story revolved around a brave midwife, and a love-hate relationship between mother and daughter was one of the main storylines. Unlike Star Wars and most stories about a chosen one, the prophesied child was a young girl. And among men, Willow was a devoted family man, made a hero not for his martial arts but for his nurturing parenting instincts and hands-on experience caring for a baby. Even Kilmer’s Madmartigan, the swaggering swordsman, was a far cry from the ultra-macho man Kilmer played in Top Gun just before. Kilmer happily hugged him and looked goofy (he spent part of the film in a dress), and his character grew as he was exposed to Willow’s caring nature.

Luckily, that feminine energy and overall sense of fun carries over easily into the present day. Whether you’re a fan of ’80s movies or not, the new Willow is a slick and fun mix of swordplay and wordplay that evokes some of the old-world magic.

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