Defenders of the Disney+ series Willow refer to people like me as ‘haters’ or ‘trolls’ for levying complaints against the show. It appears that fans of the original film who hoped the show would hew closer to its tone, its gorgeous musical score and its medieval high-fantasy visual aesthetic are no longer allowed to have opinions and should just “not watch it if you don’t like it.” Often, we’re dismissed or lumped together with those complaining that it’s ‘too woke’ which is an awfully convenient way to straw-man critics.
I find this attitude frustrating, to say the least. I have no problem with anyone who likes the show. I even understand why. It has its charms, no doubt, and there are moments when the good show buried beneath all the clutter really does shine through. But there are so many things that rip me out of this world, it’s impossible to ignore—and if that makes me a ‘hater’ so be it. At least I have standards.
In my review of Willow’s most recent episode, I listed several changes that the show’s creators could make to transform this into something everyone could enjoy. And by this I mean those of us who are disappointed and the show’s defenders. I will reprint that here for emphasis:
- Take out all modern music. It has no place here, period. It should not be in the end-credits and it should especially not be in the middle of the action.
- Stop it with the cringey dialogue. I don’t expect Willow to sound like The Lord Of The Rings, but it shouldn’t go this far beyond what the film did in terms of modern slang. Stop trying to write your teen-adjacent characters to sound how you think teenagers sound. As a parent of a teenager I can tell you two things: 1) they don’t talk like this and 2) they don’t like this anymore than we do and find it condescending and lame.
- Have sensible costumes for the setting. Costumes are very hit and miss in this show. The woodcutter women—for example—seemed like characters you’d meet in the Australian outback, not in an epic fantasy. Graydon and Lili could have been plucked out of some hippie movie. Get it together costume department!
- And finally, please focus on the adventure and fantasy elements of this series and spare us all the YA romance crap. I’m not saying there can’t be any romance at all—an Elora/Airk/Graydon love triangle could work, if it wasn’t overbearing—but we just have way too much, and way too many samey YA characters who feel deeply out of place in Willow.
What you have left, after stripping out these elements, is largely the same story but more focused on adventure and magic, with an orchestral score that never breaks our immersion (and I think we can all at least agree on that point, at the very least).
But I want to revisit the costumes here, because they are truly terrible at times and the show’s defenders should just admit that better, more setting-appropriate attire would also be better in the end. Like the show’s tonal issues, the costumes are all over the map. Some are terrific; others are jarring and out of place. I’ve seen complaints over the costumes dismissed as “trolling” but this is, again, completely ludicrous. Costumes are designed to heighten the sense of place and time and setting. If I see someone in skinny jeans traipsing around Rivendell, that’s going to take me out of the story. Wanting costumes that add to the setting—rather than detract—isn’t an unfair demand.
If this were just Elora and Kit’s jackets I wouldn’t care that much:
But some of these costumes have zippers, which have no place in a medieval fantasy.
The woodcutters (pictured above) are far worse. Not only denim—which is an invention of the industrial era—but hats with metal eyelets. They look like they’ve leaped out of the Australian outback for some reason. Why?
Or how about Airk’s boots, as discovered by a reddit user:
But not just the boot, the shirt! A floral printed shirt? What? Why are we suddenly at a 70s’ disco party?
Then there’s the new brownie and her onesie/modern T-shirt combo:
Defenders of the show wave this stuff off with arguments such as: “Oh, you’re worried about this in a show with magic?” as though the fantasy elements of a fantasy show mean that anything goes. There’s magic and brownies and monsters, so you can have modern-looking costumes and modern-sounding dialogue and cheap, lazy shortcuts like putting Airk in rainboots and not even bothering to edit out the logo, and that’s all fine. I swear, Willow’s defenders would find a way to justify a truck being driven into the Immemorial City in this week’s coming finale by saying “Oh you can suspend your disbelief for magic spells but not trucks? Haters!”
But then, sometimes the costumes are just fine! Why can’t we just do more of this:
And less of this:
A litmus test might be, if I were to show you these pictures—you having never seen the show before—would you be able to tell what kind of show it was? The top picture, I’d argue, would be pretty obviously some kind of fantasy. But the bottom picture? In your heart, you know that what I say is true.
Look, the thing about us ‘haters’ is we would really like to enjoy this show also. We don’t want to be told that we should just “not watch it” and we have valid complaints. Willow is literally one of my favorite movies of all time. I wanted very badly to love this show. We feel burned because of the many inexplicable decisions the show’s creators have made that make it hard for us to like a show we were this excited about. We don’t want to change it in ways that would make you like it less. Surely defenders of the show would not like Willow less if the costume issues I’ve laid out here were fixed. If the woodcutters were wearing costumes that felt more medieval high-fantasy, nobody would have complained about that! Surely having more setting-appropriate attire wouldn’t cause people to abandon the show. Better, less jarring dialogue that didn’t include words like “MacSleezoid” wouldn’t create some sort of mass exodus.
The fact is, these costumes are lazy and cheap and don’t add to the setting in any way. Most of the show is framed as a medieval fantasy, like the movie, which makes the myriad departures from that motif all the more distracting. Nobody in the original film wore denim or had zippers or printed T-shirts or looked like they were off to a disco dance party. All I’m asking for—all that any of us ‘haters’ are asking for—is for this show to stick closer to the original movie. Why even bother making a sequel series if that isn’t the goal? And if you say something about ‘updating it for modern audiences’ just stop. That’s corporate-speak that means nothing at all.