When Disney CEO Bob Iger announced the company was launching its own streaming service, he promised “an unparalleled lineup of content” and referred to it as “a new era of innovation and creativity.” But less than four years since the service launched in the US, Canada and the Netherlands, and Bob Iger announced dozens of titles, including several Disney+ originals would be leaving the streaming service. While that has led to a lot of anger from fans of these shows, it’s also led to a bigger question. Why?
This is especially true of “Willow,” the Lucasfilm show continuing the story from the 1988 cult classic film. It was released in late 2022 before being removed from the service in May 2023. This despite not officially announcing a cancellation and showrunners saying earlier this year the show had not been given the axe.
As mentioned, “Willow” is a legacy sequel to a relatively well-known IP. The 1988 film didn’t receive much fanfare when it came out but managed to find a loyal audience that continues to sing its praise to this day. When it was announced in 2020 there would be a “Willow” series, it was an odd choice, but it was also a series with a lot of potential. Fantasy series have done well overall, and while no one was expecting a “Game of Thrones” style show to be on Disney+, many fans were excited about what Disney would do with this project.
It was clear from the first episode that Disney had spared no expense to try to make this a successful fantasy series. There was some good CGI, and unlike some other Disney+ Original Series, the marketing team was clearly behind “Willow.” But it never found a big enough audience to justify the cost. It never reached the Nielsen charts during its run.
Critically speaking, it fared okay. Most critics were kinder to the series than they were to the original film when it was released. While the legacy sequel has churned out hit after hit, there have been duds as well. Some of the duds have been attributed to the content, while others, again, just struggle to find an audience. As someone who watched and reviewed every episode, I’m inclined to believe it’s more the latter.
While the modern music in the fantasy series credits could be a bit jarring, it was far from detrimental to the series. Overall, the plot was solid, and the show’s creators clearly had ideas for two more seasons, as evidenced by the final episode’s tag that shows a book being put on a book shelf with two more volumes to complete. The content was there, so why didn’t it find a big enough audience?
WHY REMOVE WILLOW?
The simple answer is money. Keeping shows on streaming platforms costs companies money. They have to have a reason to keep the show on the platform. For every series like “Stranger Things” that continually draws in new subscribers to Netflix, there are dozens of shows that get a few seasons and then are cut from the service. While Netflix has a reputation for cutting shows, Warner Bros. has also made headlines for CEO David Zaslav’s decision to cut a lot of HBO Max original content before rebranding the service.
“Willow” was likely always going to have a tough time, because it was never going to be a tentpole show. Star Wars and Marvel properties may bring in new subscribers, but it’s very difficult for other Disney+ Original series to break through. Some like “High School Musical: the Musical: the Series”, have found a big enough audience to breakthrough the Nielsen charts and justify staying on the service. It might not bring in new subscribers, but it is streamed enough to keep around. Given the cost of “Willow,” that threshold was always going to be higher than many other shows on the service.
Another issue with money is residuals. For original content like “Willow,” actors are paid a percentage based on the project’s popularity. This is always a net loss for any company, but if the project is drawing massive viewership, companies are willing to pay more in residuals because the show is making money. If the show isn’t drawing massive viewership, residuals will factor into its future on a service, even if the residual is less than a successful show’s residual.
Could there also be a backlash against the show for its presentation of a same-sex couple? It’s possible. Critics actually praised “Willow’s” presentation of a queer relationship in a mostly positive manner. But just because critics appreciated those characters doesn’t necessarily mean viewers did.
I’ve seen no clear indication that people turned off the show because of this presentation, so I’m reluctant to say that it actually hurt the show. But, there have been clear complaints, especially in the USA, about the presentation of LGBTQ+ characters in Disney properties. Both “Lightyear” and “Strange World” have received heavy pushback from audiences about their inclusion of LGBTQ+ characters, although much like “Willow,” I doubt that had much to do with the failures of those films because even those who praise the inclusion point to plenty of other problems with both properties.
Could “Willow” be seen on a streaming service again? While the answer is certainly yes, who knows where or when that could be. Disney took a content impairment charge for all of the content it removed from its service. That impairment charge works as an essential tax write-off for the company, but it also means that none of those properties can return to Disney+ until the terms of that impairment charge have been fulfilled. Once those terms are met, it could return to Disney+, but Disney would need a reason to make that happen. So, the likelihood of seeing “Willow” on Disney+ again is incredibly small.
Bob Iger has expressed an interest in working on content with other companies again. This is the best hope for fans of “Willow.” While the show can’t return to Disney+, if another company liked what they saw and wants to take a chance on the show, Disney could certainly license the property out to them. It’s unlikely the last two seasons of “Willow” would ever be made in that circumstance. But, if another company is willing to license it, that could lead to extra revenue for Disney which is something the company is definitely interested in pursing.
What did you think of “Willow?” Would you like to see more seasons on another service?