When I first learned that Disney was producing a sequel series to Willow for its Disney+ streaming platform, I was kind of curious. I’d never actually seen the 1988 movie — not from start to finish, anyway; I’d only seen a couple of scenes more than thirty years ago. But knowing there’d be a new series compelled me to watch the original film so I’d have a foundation from which to view it.
I watched the movie late last year and thought it was … just okay. I’ve never been big into the fantasy genre (I still haven’t read Lord of the Rings or seen the movies), but I’d seen enough to know that Willow wasn’t exactly top-shelf in the realm of science fiction/fantasy. (Though it was probably better than the 1985 film Ladyhawke.)
The original Willow was mostly, in my opinion, a victim of the era in which it was made. The special effects haven’t aged well, and the story is campier than what we’ve come to expect from the genre and is kind of forgettable. Special effects and storytelling have come a long way since then, and in a post-Game of Thrones era, I figured the new Disney+ Willow series would take the original story to a higher level.
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When it comes to special effects, the new Willow is hands-down spectacular. Overall, the world in which Willow takes place is now so much more detailed, colorful, and immersive. In the original film, the Brownies — a race of miniature human-ish fairy things — are almost distractingly awful to watch because of the limitations of special effects technology at the time. Thanks to CGI, they look seamless in the series, and it’s almost unfortunate we don’t see them as much in the new story.
Some reviews I’ve read criticized the introduction of younger characters and turning the story into a young adult romance. This was less problematic for me, as any decades-later reboot has shown you have to freshen up the cast with new and younger characters. Every time we get a reboot, this happens. Get used to it.
But while that didn’t bother me, I was put off by the writing. Even if you forget that the story is largely a Lord of the Rings-style quest that is hopelessly derivative of other works, the dialogue is just awful. Despite Disney being a beacon for all sorts of writing talent, the series suffers from modern influences, such as the regular use of contemporary slang. I suspect this may have been a conscious decision to appeal to younger audiences, but it is incredibly distracting. Then there are the occasionally bizarre and sometimes modern-influenced costumes featuring the likes of zippers, denim, and boots with treads. Did the wardrobe come straight from Old Navy? You’d expect better costume choices in a high school play. Sometimes the costumes were great; other times, they stuck out like a sore thumb.
But those are not the only ways contemporary influences plagued the show. The season finale’s credits featured “Money for Nothing” by Dire Straits. Writing that down actually makes me embarrassed that I made it through all eight episodes of the season. Imagine Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” being dropped in the middle of a Game of Thrones episode — that’s what it was like.
The question I’m sure is on everyone’s mind is whether or not the new Willow series is woke. The answer is yes and no. Frankly, I’ve seen worse.
For sure, in the very first scene in the first episode, it’s obvious there’s an unspoken same-sex attraction thing going on between Princess Kit Tanthalos and Jade, her friend and knight-in-training. Kit is betrothed to a prince from a neighboring kingdom to establish an alliance, but the lesbian arc is always present, though slowly advanced, throughout the season’s eight episodes.
Things go sideways before the wedding when Kit’s brother is kidnapped, which sets the stage for the main action of the season — the quest to find him. Kit bravely insists on being a part of it, so of course, it is decided that her future husband will join the quest as well, despite his being a complete wimp with no combat experience. His only role seems to be to contrast against the strength and independence of the female leads.
Willow was a show I really wanted to like. It wasn’t as woke as I thought it would be, but the writing, music, and costumes were huge distractions that overshadowed the advantages it had over the original film.