'Willow' Review: Just Another YA Fantasy TV Show
Warwick Davis returns as part of an ensemble of young people on an adventure in the Disney+ series.
Now Streaming: Since before the turn of the century, Disney has made it a habit to exploit their intellectual property to the fullest extent possible.
This corporate business decision has produced a string of forgettable movie sequels and multiple seasons of small-screen sequels and adaptations of box office hits and misses. Some of them I've enjoyed, some I wish I could forget, and some I avoid watching in the first place.
Case point: Disenchanted, a movie sequel that I recently described as "entirely pleasant and an enjoyable watch, even if it's not quite up to the original's reinvention of the Disney princess." To be frank, sometimes I am too kind; I watched the sequel without having seen the original, then went back and watched the original film, which prompted me to edit my still-in-progress review before publishing.
Now I find myself confessing to the same thing: offered a chance to preview-screen the first three episodes of the Willow series a couple weeks ago, I accepted and watched them, forming a mildly positive opinion but not having time to write my impressions down. Finally, I had time to watch the original movie, with the result being that I remembered why I made a conscious decision not to go and watch the movie during its initial theatrical release in 1988.
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At the time, Ron Howard was an up and coming director climbing the stairway to Hollywood success. I'd seen and enjoyed Night Shift (1982), Splash (1984) and Cocoon (1985), but priorities in my personal life had changed; with limited time and funds available, I only went to movies in theaters that I really, really wanted to see. Movies that were described as "fantasies" were not a draw for me; in the eternal battle between fantasy and science fiction, I always favored science fiction. Thus, Willow held no inherent appeal for me, even though friends told me they'd enjoyed and recommended it. (So many movies, so little time.)
Finally, I watched Willow -- also available on Disney Plus -- and watching the movie during lunchtime convinced me that I'd made the right decision back in 1988. It's fine if you like sword and sorcery movies that are not drenched in sex and violence; Warwick Davis more than holds his own as the protagonist, which is probably the most remarkable thing about the movie; Val Kilmer is charming as a rogue-ish ally; and Joanne Whalley is smart and capable in her role, an evil princess who is turned to the dark side. Also, since George Lucas is credited with the story, it's fun to see the parallels to his own Star Wars.
It's fine for what it is, it's just not my type of movie. It's "entirely pleasant and an enjoyable watch," which is how I described Disenchanted, and also how I can best describe Willow, the series, which brings back Warwick Davis as the titular character, invents a new quest for him, and surrounds him with a diverse group of good-looking young people who were new to my eyes, save for Tony Revolori, who was quite good in The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) and has repeatedly blended well into ensemble casts as a supporting player since then.
Over the course of the entire eight-episode run, other actors may jump out, given enough time to distinguish themselves. (The first two episodes debut initially, with subsequent episodes scheduled to become available on a weekly basis.)
The overall look and feel of the series makes it look like a network television show from the 90s. It is a decided step down from the film, which is to be expected in view of the (no-doubt lowered) budget, but, recognizing this, the actors do their best to distract, and, since I always try to look on the bright side, I can only say that I wish them the best in the days ahead. I'm afraid that's as bright as I can be. [Disney+]