There are movies that make a big splash when released and movies that are quieter. The quieter movies can have the same thrills as the bigger ones, but for some reason, they get overlooked by audiences, even if they do well in theatres. The 1988 film, Willow, is such a quiet film. While still a fantasy film that leans on special effects, the story itself was personal despite the stakes being control of the world.

Willow stars Warwick Davis as the title character, a Nelwyn farmer and amateur stage magician who wants to become a sorcerer; Val Kilmer as the mercenary swordsman Madmartigan; Joanne Whalley as Sorsha, warrior and the daughter of the evil queen; Kevin Pollak as Rool, a brownie joining the quest; Rick Overton as Franjean, Rool’s brownie friend who also joins the quest; and Jean Marsh as Queen Bavmorda, evil queen and black sorceress. Set on a fantasy world, the film begins, Queen Bavmorda is aware of a prophecy that a child with a rune birthmark will be the cause of her downfall. Being the villain, Bavmorda decides that the best way to subvert the prophecy is to round up every pregnant woman, wait until the babies are born, and check every girl born for the rune.

Prophecy is not one to be denied, so the midwife who delivers Elora, the baby with the rune, smugglers her out and sends her down a river. Elora is blissfully unaware of what happens to the midwife and floats downstream until she is discovered by Ranon and Mims, the young children of Willow Ufgood. The children bring the baby to their father, who decides to start raising the baby like she was his own.

Bavmorda finds out about what the midwife did and sends out the hounds. They arrive at the Nelwyn village during a festival and start attacking every cradle they can find. Nelwyn warriors slay the hounds, but the High Aldwin (Billy Barty), a sorcerer, decrees that the baby has to be returned to her own people. Willow is place in charge of a party of volunteers to go find the one of tall people to give the baby.

The first tall person found is Madmartigan, who is imprisoned in a crow’s cage. He bargains, the baby for his freedom, but Willow’s fatherly instincts give him pause. However, on meeting Madmartigan’s compatriot, Airk (Gavin O’Herlihy), who is leading an army against Bavmorda, Willow changes his mind and frees the trapped man.

Sorsha decides that she will head up the search for the baby. She catches up to Willow and Madmartigan just after a small accident involving a love potion during a brawl instigated by the mercenary. Madmartigan sees Sorsha and the love potion takes effect. He winds up taking her hostage temporarily.

Eventually, Sorsha is brought onside with the quest, being convinced that her mother is a danger to the kingdom and the world. Elora is kidnapped and returned to Bavmorda. Willow, Madmartigan, and Sorsha catch up just as Bavmorda begins her ritual. Madmartigan and Sorsha deal with Bavmorda’s army, Willow gets up to the ritual. The day is saved not by magic or swords but by Willow’s creativity and other skills.

The film was popular with the audience, filled with thrills, action, and humour, but was seen as one-and-done. Elora Danan was instrumental in the defeat of Queen Bavmorda, as prophesied. The quest had the classic trappings of fantasy – magic, ruined castles, evil sorceress, a fight between good and evil, high stakes. But the film was kept at the personal level, focusing on Willow. Every character had an arc that was wrapped up in the film. However, the world promised more. The setting wasn’t just a backdrop; it implied a far larger world beyond the heroes of the film. Not to mention, WIllow’s quest to become a great sorcerer only just started.

November 2022 saw the premiere of the series, Willow, on Disney+, set seventeen years after the movie. Returning are Warwick Davis as Willow and Joanna Whalley as now Queen Sorsha. Kevin Pollak makes an appearance as Rool to let audiences know how he and Franjean fared after the original movie. Jean Marsh and Sallyanne Law, who played Elora’s mother in the film, appear in footage from the original but also provide their voices for the fourth episode. Joining the veterans are Ellie Bamber as Elora; Ruby Cruz as Kit, daughter of Sorsha; Dempsey Bryk as Airk, Sorsha’s son and Kit’s twin brother; Tony Revolori as Prince Greydon, Kit’s arranged betrothed; Erin Kellyman as Jade, knight in training and Kit’s love; Rosabell Laurenti Sellers as Lili, and Amar Chadha-Patel as Thraxus Boorman, swordsman and treasure hunter.

The series begins with Airk starting a romance with Dove, a servant in the castle, and Kit and Jade starting to get closer. Sorsha breaks the news about Kit’s upcoming marriage to Prince Greydon, who doesn’t make a good first impression on the young princess. There are also visions of a new threat, the Gales, who work for the Crone; their goal is to unleash the Wyrm and remake the world. To this end, they need the blood of Bavmorda. An assault on the castle sees the Gales kidnapping Airk. Kit is determined to recover her brother and convinces her mother to let her go find him. Sorsha agrees, provided that Kit has others with her. The Queen sends Thrauxus Boorman, who she has imprisoned, trading freedom for guarding Kit. Jade volunteers, as does Greydon, and Dove tags along to rescue her prince.

As the group leaves, Willow meets the party. He reveals Dove as Elora and explains why the Crone has taken Airk. He, too, has had visions in the past, leading to an argument between him and Sorsha on how best to raise Elora. Willow wanted her to learn how to embrace her sorcery, nurture her potential, and prepare her for the Crone. Sorsha disagreed, wanting Elora to have a normal life. Fate demands otherwise, with Elora joining the quest without any training. Willow tries to get her to use magic, but the early steps falter.

Willow brings the party to his village, now underground, and brings the party up to speed. They don’t stay long in the village, not wanting the Gales to show up there. The series becomes a race and a chase. There is a push to rescue Airk before the Crone can do anything to him while also staying ahead of the Gales. Airk, however, finds himself in the Immemorial City, a city filled with buildings and no inhabitants. He tries to find a way out, but none of the doors will open for him. Airk does find Lili, who helps him, but she has her reasons for doing so.

Willow, Elora, and their party eventually reach the Immemorial City after crossing the Shattered Sea. Elora and Kit were the first to arrive, taking the step on faith to get to it. They run into Airk, who is waiting for them and wants them to join him and Lili in awaking the Wyrm. The Crone reveals herself, and the final battle for the fate of the world begins. Rescuing Airk, though, needs more than might. The solution is love, Kit’s love for her brother, to bring him back.The series builds upon the original movie, using some of its locations and expanding the world. Like the original film, the series also has a world-shattering threat but the story remains at the personal level. Every character has an arc. Willow has to come to terms with how he defeated Bavmorda and not being the great sorcerer he wants to be. Elora has to learn to live with being a living prophecy. Kit learns to handle her emotions and trust people close to her, even to allow them to be close. Boorman learns to think beyond himself, to give up something he’s been hunting his adult life. While a few episodes start to draw out the ending, the story is kept at a good pace overall.

Casting is always a key factor. Naturally, Willow wouldn’t be Willow without Warwick Davis. Bringing back Joanna Whalley as Sorsha and acknowledging that she would now be the queen made sense, especially when her children are involved in the plot. The newcomers have good chemistry with each other and with Davis. Fantasy can be effects heavy and being able to account for them while still keeping the emotions needed for the scene is essential. The cast has no problems here. They convey the entire range needed for the story.

The writing is strong, though with some lagging moments. A few episodes could have been tighter, shortened, without losing anything. That said, the cliffhangers worked, the plot doesn’t have holes, and the characters are distinctive. Willow is portrayed as wiser with his years, still fatherly but also driven; the writers and Davis both making the character grounded. The plot is believable, despite the fantastic elements.

The tone of the series matches the original film. There’s humour, thrills, tension, all at appropriate levels. There are twists on some fantasy tropes. The trolls, first seen in the original film, are given more time in the series and are erudite despite their appearances and actions. They are civilized, even while being actively evil.

Noticeably missing is Val Kilmer. The one time where he would be needed, when Kit hears her father in her head, Kilmer was recovering from throat cancer and wasn’t available. Filling in for him was his son, Jack Kilmer, provided the voice of Madmartigan. Also missing is the fate of Madmartigan. However, the end credits of the last episode imply there will be two more volumes. Whether Madmartigan will be part of those volumes remains to be seen. However, the character was critical to why Kit was adventuring; she wasn’t just trying to find Airk, she was trying to prevent losing another member of her family. Her father was important to her, and that is brought out during the series.

As a sequel, the series follows the original movie well. There are a few minor issues with pacing, but, overall, it is well worth watching after re-watching the original. Willow has grown over the seventeen years in-universe and seeing how he’s gained wisdom while still not being perfect. Likewise, Willow updated thirty-five years later shows how the original can grow, even with imperfections.

This article was originally published at THE REMAKE ZONE.

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