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Critics call 'Willow' a magical revival adventure that might still overstay its Disney+ welcome

Willow has a lot of magic, but it also might have too much.

By Matthew Jackson
Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis) in Lucasfilm's WILLOW exclusively on Disney+.

This week, viewers get the chance to finally return to a fairy tale that was confined to a single movie for years with Willow, the Disney+ fantasy series that picks up the story of the title character (Warwick Davis) and his friends decades after he saved the kingdom of Tir Asleen from an evil queen. 

Created by Jon Kasdan (Solo: A Star Wars Story) and full of loving references to the source material, Willow seeks to be a story that will both remind longtime fans of the movie why they love this story and these characters, and get new fans invested in this world full of strange creatures, dreadful evils, and strong-hearted heroes. Set decades after the movie, Willow follows a band of young adventurers as they set out to find Willow, seeking his help to rescue a missing prince and, along the way, accidentally uncovering the mystery of what happened to Elora Danan, the prophesied young empress who was just a baby the last time we saw these characters. 

It's a very ambitious story, stretched out across a whole season of episodes, but is Willow any good? With the premiere out now, reviews are finally dropping, and it sounds like we can definitely expect a hefty dose of magic and youthful energy from the young cast surrounding Davis, even if the series ends up overstaying its welcome just a bit.

Here's what some critics who really enjoyed the series had to say.

"Though similar shows trade simply in nostalgia, the built-in audience for Willow is much more niche than your average re-quel, and the source material more limited. That means it has to constantly innovate and expand on the little that we who love it do know of the universe we're losing ourselves in. Luckily, Jon Kasdan is a lifelong fan of the franchise and comes from a family legacy of creating accessible and exciting adventure yarns. His love for the world drenches every scene and, along with the stellar creative team, Kasdan has created a truly unique and lovely fantasy series," Rosie Knight said at IGN.

"That perfect balance of reverence and irreverence is what immediately catapults Willow to the upper echelon of Disney+ series, and that alchemy  could have been accomplished only with such a dust-covered story as Willow. For as thrilling as Disney’s Marvel and Star Wars series can be, their interconnectedness (to each other and their broader cinematic universes) can be creatively limiting and draining for a viewer. Meanwhile, Willow doesn’t want a deeper commitment, it’s just here to delight, and does it so effectively as to totally refurbish a previously junk-binned franchise," Joshua Alston wrote at Variety.

"Couple top-notch acting with engaging visuals and you’ve got a sequel that’s shaping up to be even more fun than its predecessor. Everything from the costume design to the resplendence of Willow’s spellcasting oozes passion for the material. Kasdan and company truly care about this story and every detail reflects that," Hayden Mears wrote at TVLine.

"This is an unapologetically traditional fantasy, with no pretentions to Game Of Thrones-style grimness or Lord Of The Rings cultural depth. But it also has vivid characters, scary moments and fun obstacles, and they carry it briskly along. In the end it relies far less on nostalgia and more on expanding the world of the original film to encompass new complexity and new identities among all these daikinis, and that’s a real treat," Helen O'Hara said at Empire.

Of course, not everyone was quite that impressed. While the majority of critics were invested in what Willow had to offer, there were others who questioned why the series needed to be eight hours instead of a two-hour movie in the first place, while others wished the series leaned a little more on the ensemble and a little less on the title character.

"But in the second half of the opening double bill, the show loses momentum. Davis is a beloved performer, yet his comic timing isn’t as sharp as the less familiar actors around him, and his character’s status as a sorcerer and keeper of old lore and prophecies bogs the narrative down in the sort of boilerplate fantasy gubbins that the light-footed opener largely avoided. So far, Willow is almost better without Willow," Jack Seale said at The Guardian.

"Willow, like a lot of recent streaming series, is a feature film story stretched out to televisual episodic structure. There are some initial twists and turns regarding our protagonists, such as why Kit's so displeased at being betrothed to a dorky stranger (it's not just because he's a dorky stranger) or the current whereabouts of Elora Danan. But the ways that these supposed shockers take form – especially the surprise regarding Kit's personal life – takes an awfully long time to get going, doled out over the languorously-paced opening episodes," Josh Spiegel wrote at Slashfilm.

Now, you can find out for yourself. The first two episodes of Willow are streaming on Disney+, with more episodes arriving each Wednesday.

Looking for more fantasy adventures? Check out the Harry Potter film saga streaming on Peacock.