There’s a great moment at the start of the second episode of Willow in which Sorsha (Joanne Whalley) tells Willow (Warwick Davis) that “you’re not a great sorcerer and you never will be.” In context, this scene is a flashback that sets up some of the story happening in the present. But, for the parents watching the show, this scene is basically speaking directly to all of us. Although we all believed we would become powerful sorcerers, the truth is, we just got old. In Willow, the titular hero has gotten old too, and even though the series carries his name, the adventure isn’t really about him. And therein lies the brilliance of the new Disney+ epic fantasy series. It will give you nostalgia for 1988, but the show is probably aimed more at your kids than you. No spoilers ahead for Willow.
Revealing what happens in the two-episode debut of Willow will specifically spoil a great big revelation at the end of the first episode. So, for now, let’s just say that if it’s been a while since you watched the 1988 Ron Howard movie Willow — in which Willow and Madmartigan (Val Kilmer) protected a baby from evil magic — it’s good to remember that babies grow up.
In fact, the strength of Willow is that it’s not a nostalgia fest at all. Willow himself doesn’t appear much in the first episode, and true to many reboots and remakes, now appears as the representative from the previous generation here to guide the next generation to magical, fantasy victory. While the TV series retains much of what made the original good (including the fact that’s scary in certain parts) overall, it’s tempting to say the show is actually better than the movie, because it feels less generic. In 1988, Willow was a one-off high fantasy adventure, produced by George Lucas, and fairly well-liked by all of us who grew up liking other Lucasfilm movies like the Indiana Jones films, and those other ones, with the spaceships or whatever. And although Val Kilmer was wonderful in the original film, his absence in the new Willow actually give this show its wings.
As a TV series, Willow is the Disney+ version of Game of Thrones or perhaps more accurately, The Rings of Power. It’s connected to another fantasy franchise, but, those connections don’t define it. Just as The Rings of Power created all sorts of new continuity separate and apart from the Tolkien books, Willow has even more room to maneuver. There was just one movie, and it was a long time ago, so now, this fantasy kingdom can be whatever series producer Jonathan Kasdan wants it to be.
Which, essentially, is a high fantasy that parents can comfortably watch with their slightly older kids. Willow is probably too scary for kids under 7, but then again, so was the 1988 movie. The difference now is that the cast is all young people. The plot of the first episode finds various young characters forming their own kind of makes “Fellowship,” consisting of Graydon (Tony Revolori), Boorman (Amar Chadha-Patel), Dove (Ellie Bamber), Kit (Ruby Cruz), Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis) and Jade (Erin Kellyman). One of these people has a secret identity, but the power of Willow is that the cast is clearly appealing to the younger crowd.
Willow on Disney+ is not your parent’s Willow, because you were a child (or not born) in 1988, and now you’re the parent. The show knows this and is better for it. Children of the ‘80s and ‘90s may not get the exact nostalgia fix they want with Willow, but there’s a good bet your kids are going to love it.
Willow streams new episodes on Disney+ on Wednesdays.