The Fellowship of the Underwhelming – Willow (2022) Series Premiere

Produced 34 years after the original, Disney’s reboot of Willow is a fair bit better than the film that inspired it. That’s something of a relief, if not exactly much of an achievement. Improvement or not, the new Willow is still a dull, derivative, and uninteresting fantasy adventure.

Not every old movie deserves nostalgia. As I said in my review of it, I don’t understand the affection anyone may hold for the 1988 Willow. The film is a tedious and dumb Lord of the Rings knockoff that bored the pants off me when I first saw it as a teenager in the late 1980s or early ’90s. A rewatch only strengthened my distaste for it. Why anyone at Disney believed there could be a huge audience eager to revisit this property is unfathomable to me, yet here we have it.

Willow (2022) - The Fellowship
Episodes:1.01 – The Gales
1.02 – The High Aldwin
Release Date: Nov. 30, 2022
Watched On: Disney+

The new Willow is positioned as a direct sequel that takes place some years after the original film, clips from which are replayed at the beginning of the pilot episode to recap the essentials of the story. If you try to do the math on this, it doesn’t really make any sense. The baby central to the plot of the old film is supposed to be a teenager now, yet the returning adult actors look more than thirty years older than the last time we saw them (because they are). I suppose people age differently in this fantasy world.

Having defeated her evil mother, former princess Sorsha (Joanne Whalley) has served as queen of the realm ever since. Her husband Madmartigan is referenced but not seen, and my understanding is that Val Kilmer will not make any appearances in this series. Baby Elora Danan, prophesied to be the future empress, was sent into hiding and raised not knowing her true identity, but it will get revealed quickly enough.

As rumors swirl about an ancient evil rising to threaten the kingdom, the palace is invaded by an army of monsters called Gales, who kidnap the handsome but caddish Prince Airk (Dempsey Bryk). His twin sister, Princess Kit (Ruby Cruz), wants to lead an expedition to rescue him. Surprisingly, the queen is cool with that, and doesn’t seem to have any concerns about sending her only other heir directly into danger. In fact, she only sends one real knight with her, plus a smart-aleck criminal named Boorman (Amar Chadha-Patel), the boring and useless prince from a neighboring kingdom that Kit has been arranged to marry (Tony Revolori from The Grand Budapest Hotel), and Kit’s not-so-secret girlfriend (Erin Kellyman). All told, they don’t exactly make much of a grand army.

The queen also advises that they will need a sorcerer for this quest, and the only one left in the kingdom is a HobbitNelwyn she used to know, by the name of Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis). Most of the first episode is spent journeying to the HobbitNelwyn village to find him.

Almost as soon as this fellowship leaves the palace, a beautiful servant girl (Ellie Bamber) in love with the prince sneaks out to join them. When Sorsha hears about this, she’s way more concerned about the kitchen wench than she is about her own daughter. Gee, I wonder why that could be? The queen then sends another knight out to retrieve the girl, unaware that the knight was infected by dark magic and is secretly now enslaved by the forces of evil.

Willow (2022) - Joanne Whalley as Queen Sorsha

That’s as much plot as I feel needs recapping. None of it is particularly interesting. Willow himself doesn’t turn up until the end of the first episode, though to be fair he gets a lot more screen-time in the second. Warwick Davis is still appealing in the role, one of the few elements the original film did well.

Aside from Davis and Joanne Whalley, the majority of the cast are a bunch of twenty-somethings who make no attempt to hide their American accents. Yes, this is a fictional fantasy world and I suppose not everyone needs to be British, but for consistency’s sake you’d think the kids should sound something like their parents. They all have modern hairstyles, speak in modern slang (including one small bit of profanity I’m surprised Disney let slip through), and have decidedly modern progressive sensibilities toward things like racial politics, gender equality, and sexual orientation. The princess being gay has already driven the expected segments of Right-wing outrage culture into quite a tizzy.

What it all amounts to is that Willow feels like a bunch of Gen. Z young adults cosplaying a watered-down version of Game of Thrones. Is that really something the world needed? Even if so, I’m pretty sure the CW network already provides it.

Despite the aggressive troll campaign waged against it, Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is, in my opinion, a more compelling and successful fantasy undertaking than this. So is HBO’s House of the Dragon, though that one targets a much more mature audience. Even as far as YA offerings in this genre go, I’d be more inclined to direct younger viewers to something like Netflix’s Shadow and Bone, which I didn’t love but still found more interesting than Willow.

On the other hand, as I said, the show is an improvement over the movie it derived from. That’s something. Perhaps in another couple decades we’ll get a third iteration that actually makes it as far as to be good. Sadly, I don’t think we’re there yet.

Willow (2022) - Ellie Bamber as Elora Danan

Video Streaming

Credit where it’s due, the new Willow looks fantastic. In stark contrast to the drearily-photographed original movie, the series is very well shot with beautiful 4K video quality on Disney+ streaming. The 2.40:1 image is very sharp, bright, and colorful, with tons of detail and depth. Daytime scenes (of which there are many) look the best, of course. Night scenes are a little flat in contrast and tend to lack highlights, but the HDR grade is very rich and appealing overall.

The Dolby Atmos soundtrack also has surprising dynamic range, with occasional deep bass rumble that’s very rare for a modern Disney production. The musical score by James Newton Howard is big and broad.


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