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‘Willow’ Is A Charming Nostalgic Fantasy Adventure For All Ages – Review

Legacy sequels are extremely common in our current pop culture landscape, using nostalgia in an attempt to replicate success from decades ago. In most cases, such projects fail to understand what initially made the original stories attractive to audiences, with sequels that feel hollow and emotionless. That is not the case with Willow, Lucasfilm’s continuation of their 1988 film of the same name about an evil sorcerer’s quest to destroy a baby meant to bring her down.

The show takes place around seventeen years after the film’s events, where we can find Queen Sorsha (Joanne Whalley) ordering a quest to find her abducted son, Airk (Dempsey Bryk). Led by the prince’s twin sister, Kit (Ruby Cruz), an improvised crew must dare to go beyond the world they know to rescue the young man. The group embarks on a journey filled with the genre’s most famous tropes, such as magic, horses, castles and mountains surrounded by cliffs.

(Courtesy of ©2022 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.)

Focusing on the younger characters as they mature throughout their adventure is how this series improves the original film. There are nostalgic elements, of course, but they should be musical cues and sets. Instead of merely bringing Warwick Davis back as Willow to take the spotlight from the new guys, he provides a warm performance as a guide and teacher in his new role. Davis easily slips back into the charismatic character, giving Willow a hardened personality after his years as a sorcerer. 

Cruz’s performance as Kit is the highlight of all the new characters. The princess is brave, commanding, and eager to answer the call to adventure. Ruby Cruz knows how to portray a very confident person that hasn’t stared danger in the face yet, creating a compelling arc about a young warrior who desires a bigger destiny than the one coming her way. She has fantastic chemistry with the other characters, especially Erin Kellyman’s Jade, her sparring partner and best friend.

It is easy to see how this is a Lucasfilm production, more than merely a Disney show. The visual effects look supported by a hefty budget, even if they could have been used in more creative manners rather than common rays and bursts of energy. The effects related to nature and the use of prosthetics are better utilized than anything pertaining to spells over the course of the episodes.

Willow - Disney+
(Courtesy of ©2022 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.)

But the deciding factor setting this story outside the expected studio limits is its tone. Showrunner Jonathan Kasdan was aware of the balance needed to create a fantasy show aimed at teenagers. Kids or adults are the typical demographics for stories featuring magic forests and strange creatures, so it was refreshing to see a product that comfortably sat in the middle, providing enough drama and adventure to keep the audience engaged while not being violent or graphic enough to drive kids away from watching.

When it comes to the dark aspects of this universe, Ralph Ineson’s Commander Ballentine was a brilliant antagonist, establishing a menacing presence with a character who is quick to show no hesitation, despite the fact that people he is threatening are as old as your average high school senior. Ineson looks like he is having plenty of fun delivering killing stares, angry grunts and wearing a fashionable cape. Enough camp is infused in his wicked performance, in a perfect fit for a fantasy series.

Almost three and a half decades after this world was brought to life, its overall charm is renewed by taking any Labyrinth atmosphere it remembered and adapting it to modern-day filmmaking. A creative team led by Jonathan Kasdan and Stephen Woolfenden explores their favourite aspects of the genre, offering new audiences a chance to know what the studio is capable of beyond the galaxy far, far away.

A young cast with plenty of chemistry, engaging performances, and a bright fantasy spectacle make Willow a surprising and wholesome continuation of the quirky Ron Howard film. Nockmaar is a land still filled with brave hearts and fantastical quests in search of honour, in a television series that takes more pride in its new characters than the magical spells it can offer.

Willow premieres on Disney+ on November 30.

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