The 1988 fantasy film Willow was under-appreciated in its day, but it’s now a fantasy cult classic. Disney+ is betting on the strength of its nostalgic appeal with the new fantasy series Willow, set decades after the events of the first film. And now we have an official trailer, which debuted at D23 Expo.
As we’ve reported previously, the original Willow was directed by Ron Howard, and it told the story of a child with a rune birthmark who was prophesied to bring about the downfall of the evil sorceress Queen Bavmorda. The child was set afloat on a grass raft and found by a village of little people (the Nelwyn). A Nelwyn dwarf sorcerer named Willow led a party to find a community of Daikini (tall people) to raise the baby. Many magical adventures ensued.
The Oscar-nominated film debuted to mixed critical reviews, but made a decent showing at the box office, earning $137.6 million globally—even though it never became the blockbuster hit producer George Lucas had hoped it would be. Lucas and Davis had discussed the possibility of a sequel series as early as 2005, but Disney+ didn’t give the project the green light until October 2020, with Howard on board as an executive producer.
The series looks and sounds like a promising return to that world. Among other positive signs, Warwick Davis is returning as the Nelwyn dwarf sorcerer Willow Ufgood. (Davis was on stage for the trailer’s introduction at D23 Expo.) The official synopsis describes the series as “an epic period fantasy series with a modern sensibility set in an enchanted land of breathtaking beauty”—so, very much in the same vein as the original film. It continues:
The story began with an aspiring magician from a Nelwyn village and an infant girl destined to unite the realms, who together helped destroy an evil queen and banish the forces of darkness. Now, in a magical world where brownies, sorcerers, trolls, and other mystical creatures flourish, the adventure continues, as an unlikely group of heroes set off on a dangerous quest to places far beyond their home, where they must face their inner demons and come together to save their world.
In addition to the return of Davis, Joanne Whalley is back as Sorsha, daughter of the defeated Queen Bavmorda from the original film, and an accomplished warrior in her own right. Kevin Pollak reprises his role as the brownie Rool, who brings a bit of levity to the proceedings. Alas, Val Kilmer has been recovering from throat cancer and thus couldn’t come back as mercenary swordsman Madmartigan. But we learned from the panelists that Christian Slater will join the cast as a friend of the swordsman, described merely as “a character aiding quest.” So Madmartigan will be there in spirit.
The new characters include Erin Kellyman as a servant named Jade, who is training to become a warrior; Ruby Cruz as Jade’s best friend Kit, daughter of Sorsha, who assembles a party to rescue her twin brother; Ellie Bamber as a kitchen maid named Dove; and Amar Chadha-Patel as a thief named Boorman, who is promised his freedom in exchange for helping the party. Ralph Ineson plays Commander Ballantine, Adwoah Aboa plays Scorpia, Kenny Knight plays Keene, Alexis Rodney plays Lachlan, Charlie Rawes plays Toth, and Talisa Garcia plays a queen and mother of the as-yet-unnamed character played by Tony Revolori. Dempsey Bryk and Rosabell Laurenti Sellers have been cast in undisclosed roles.
The trailer opens with a mysterious voiceover: “You think you know what is real and what isn’t. What is light, what is dark. Now forget all you know. Come with me.” Cut to Sorsha saying “Willow.” She sends Kit to seek out the sorcerer and ask for his help in rescuing her kidnapped son, because the world once again needs his magic. Of course Willow agrees to help, leading them “beyond the edge of our world into the unknown.” There’s a nameless enemy out there, “rallying the forces of evil,” Willow says. “And the only thing standing in his path is us.”
Pollak’s brief appearance as Rool—and might that be Franjean with him?—was the clear highlight for me. He’s delighted to see his old pal Willow again, and basically mimes the narrative arc of the first movie: “Just like old times. Running! Horses! Mayhem! Mayhem! Happy kissy ending!” Yep, that about sums it up. And it looks like the series will serve up plenty more of the same.
Willow debuts on Disney+ on November 30, 2022.
Listing image by Disney+