In November of 2022, Disney premiered the first episode of Willow, a follow-up to the 1988 fantasy movie of the same name, on Disney+. Willow may not be the biggest IP in the Lucasfilm stockpile — that will likely forever be Star Wars — but plenty of people fondly remember the adventures of Willow Ufgood, played by Warwick Davis. Surely there’s no harm in catching up with him years later.
The show did decent critically — better than the original movie, in fact — although it failed to attract many viewers. But at least the fans had something new to enjoy…only no, because in May of 2023, just a handful months after the show had premiered, Willow disappeared from Disney+, with no guarantee that it will ever return.
Now, Forbes is reporting that Disney spent some $105.9 in making this show, all to remove any means of watching it months later. Why would they do this?
Why did Disney remove Willow from Disney+ after spending so much money on it?
According to JoBlo, Disney got tens of millions of dollars in reimbursements in return for filming in the U.K., and even more in return for filming in Wales specifically. So effectively, the show cost more like $80 million to make. Still, that’s a lot of money to spend on something just to drop it.
When this was first announced, Willow creator Jonathan Kasdan wrote on Twitter about how it might actually be a good thing. “I’ve been quiet on this news that ‘Willow’ is leaving Disney+ ’cause… I’m kinda into it,” he said. “I grew up at a time when Disney movies were periodically re-released and not available to own, and it made them… more special.”
Kasdan is referring there to Disney’s tactic of locking some of its beloved movies in “the vault” periodically back when movies were mainly sold on video. It did this to create artificial scarcity and drive up the price of something it knew people wanted to buy. No one liked it at the time, so to act like it’s some kind of blessing in disguise is strange. And to be fair, it looks like Kasdan later deleted these tweets, perhaps after reading them.
Plus, the situation with Willow isn’t analogous because there’s no guarantee that Willow will ever see the light of day again. The junking of finished movies and TV shows is something fairly unique to the streaming era. It reminds me of when Warner Bros. Discovery spent $90 million to make a Batgirl movie only to pitch the whole thing in the garbage bin, reasoning that it would be better financially to scrap the project and take the tax write-offs than risk releasing it to little interest fro the public.
When it comes to Willow, I have to conclude that Disney figures it’s cheaper to take the show out of circulation than it is to make it available and have to buy residuals and other costs. And they figure that any reputational hit they take as a studio is worth it in light of the savings. It seems backwards, but that’s the kind of logic we’re probably going to see a lot more of as the streaming wars continue.