Disney+'s new Willow series presents a fairly unique opportunity in the world of "legacyquels," which is to say the entertainment media landscape of today. Despite supposedly being more bankable, recapturing the magic of a previous property requires identifying the essence of its success, so that, in the attempt to strike the right balance of nostalgia and irreverence, the franchise's new stewards don't accidentally throw the baby out with the bathwater. This becomes a nightmare for something like Star Wars, which is loved for many different (and sometimes conflicting) reasons, but what about Willow? Far less precious an object, partially by design – as seriously as it takes the battle between good and evil, it also centers on a character whose path to heroism was to fake it 'til he made it. There is room to play here and be appreciated for it, and showrunner Jonathan Kasdan and his team take advantage. While its tone is a struggle to decipher at first, Willow settles into an ensemble show willing to let itself be fun, sending up the conventions of high fantasy without losing sight of why people love the genre in the first place.

Picking up years after the film's victory over the evil Queen Bavmorda, the kingdom of Tir-Asleen has enjoyed a period of peace under the reign of Queen Sorsha (Joanne Whalley). The young Empress-to-be, Elora Danan, has been hidden away and raised without knowledge of her true identity in the hopes that another foreseen evil would not be tempted to cross the magical barrier protecting their land. But, on the eve of an arranged marriage between Sorsha's spirited daughter Kit (Ruby Cruz) and a neighboring kingdom's bookish prince, Graydon (Tony Revolori), the first wave of the new enemy strikes, and Kit's twin brother Airk (Dempsey Bryk) is taken. A group of young heroes determine to recover the stolen prince: Princess Kit; her reluctant betrothed; her best friend and aspiring knight, Jade (Erin Kellyman); experienced adventurer and thief Boorman (Amar Chadha-Patel), who is promised a royal pardon for his participation; and Dove, a kitchen maid and Airk's not-so-secret paramore. But first, to learn where they must venture, Sorsha bids them seek out the world's last living sorcerer — the Nelwyn named Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis).

The first two episodes, which will premiere together, have to go about laying groundwork, and it's very possible viewers not already inclined to enjoy a Willow-based story will check out here. The issue is mostly tonal. The series throws around so many high-fantasy tropes and jargon early on that it plays as ridiculous, and with that digital sheen that is the typical look of Disney+ – only made more noticeable by flashbacks to the original film – it's possible to misread this reboot as an overly sincere misfire. But there are some performances that don't fit this mold. Bryk as Prince Airk, for one, has to work quickly to establish the surprising layers to his womanizing rogue type before his disappearance fuels the narrative. Revolori as Kit's suitor, keyed into a particular sense of humor by displaying intense discomfort at his societal duties, is another, and it's clear this is the result of him working with the script, not against it. So, the question becomes, is this new Willow in on the joke or not?

Once the quest begins in earnest, and especially in episode 3 (the full scope of this review), the show answers with a resounding yes. A self-conscious nod at the group's Dungeons & Dragons-esque combination of skill sets establishes the show's grammar of fantasy clichés, which Kasdan & Co. then start to use to their advantage. Sometimes this means fueling Willow's thorny sense of humor, often laugh-out-loud funny in the hands of its young cast, who bounce off each other's energies so naturally. Other times, it's deployed to create interesting character wrinkles and conflicts. These archetypes – the honorable knight, the wizened sorcerer, the plucky kitchenmaid – exist in this fantasy world the way that social roles might in reality, and just like in reality, those guises aren't always the most natural fit for the people forced into them. The ways in which this creates friction in the party, at least in this season 1 sampling, are as intriguing as they are comedic.

This, by the laws of legacyquels, should mean future success for Willow, as it seems inspired by a compelling reading of the original's essence. The movie's Nelwyn protagonist (as the show reminds its viewers in hilariously brutal fashion) was not actually a sorcerer during his previous quest. But by playing one, and believing he could make that dream a reality, he did become a hero, and the reboot's characters look headed for their own variations on that arc. There will be the customary grappling with lore (the shadow of Val Kilmer's Madmartigan already looms large), and there is also an understanding that cool creature effects are important (though here's hoping the show kicks an early tendency to style battles in obscuring darkness). But the guiding principle seems to be making something fun rather than self-important. In this era of treating every piece of IP like a form of scripture, that's a refreshing change of pace.

Willow episodes 1 and 2 premiere Wednesday, November 30 on Disney+. The remaining six episodes will then release on successive Wednesdays.