Once Upon a Time and Terra Nova are my two obsession series of the year. They’re different from the usual cop murder shows, or the hospital dramas that I watch, they are now my fantasy sci-fi fix now that Stargate is officially dead. The concept behind Once Upon a Time excited me, we have had very few fantasy shows over the years, and not many of them survive for very long. If done right Once Upon a Time could do very well, and is doing very well so far, although I do have a few gripes.
Let me explain. Fairytales and fables are a great source of ideas, there are multiple versions of tales, and you can draw from multiple cultures. That being said, there is one huge problem. DISNEY. I absolutely love Disney, I have watched every movie, except Bambi, hundreds of times, and that’s only during this year. The thing is, just because Disney has released their version of famous fairytales, doesn’t me that their version must become the cannon. Once Upon a Time has the opportunity to take the original tales and do with them whatever they want, which they have done in some areas but not in others. For example: the seven dwarves. Next year we see the release of two Snow White movies, each with their own set of Seven Dwarves. In Snow White and the Huntsmen the dwarves are named after Roman Emperors: Caesar, Tiberius, Constantine, Claudius, Hadrian, Nero and Trajan; in Mirror Mirror the dwarves are named: Butcher, Grimm, Half-Pint, Grub, Napoleon, Wolf and Chuckles. But OUaT called their dwarves Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Doc, Sneezy, Bashful and Dopey, after the Disney version. So far we have seen Grumpy and Sleepy in the ‘real’ world, and are known as Leroy and Walter. I can see Grumpy/ Leroy is a favourite, but then who doesn’t love a grumpy character? (Team Grumpy Bear). Seriously, they have all this creative wiggle room and what do they do? They use the Disney names, which aren’t very flattering. Ug, even in Kristin Kreuk’s Snow White, her dwarves where named after days of the week and colour coded to match the colours of the rainbow! OUaT was doing so well with their Snow White interpretation, their Snow White’s on the run, living rough, stealing from the rich, dealing with evil trolls, she’s got attitude and the ability to take care of herself, and Prince Charming actually has a name! But I won’t spoil that. They were doing so well avoiding the Disney references with Snow White’s story (apart from the dwarves names) but when we finally get other fairytale characters, it’s like the writers get lazy and use Disney as their source of visual reference for their fairytales.
The evil witch from Sleeping Beauty is the Evil Queen/ Regina’s best friend. So they call her Maleficent! Now I admit it is a fabulous name, and considering the evil fairy or queen (depending which version of the tale you’re reading) from the Sleeping Beauty fairytale doesn’t have a name. I don’t mind the reference, what I do mind, is that they take it a step further to link it to the Disney version by trying to incorporate the Disney design into their design. And thus we get those ridiculous head ear/ horn purple mesh thingy’s. In my house when we don’t know what something is, we call it a thingy, and that’s what Maleficent is wearing.
That was episode 2, in episode 4 we get a new fairy tale character not linked to Snow White, Cinderella. Now don’t get me wrong, I loved this episode, even though, again, it blatantly references Disney. Firstly, Ella gets a blue ball gown! It’s like a more sensible less fluffy version than Disney, but it’s a Disney reference. Followed by the hair! I can’t believe they gave her poufy hair that imitates the Disney hairstyle. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, and maybe I just find the hairstyle horrible and unflattering to the actress who has a really sweet face, but I definitely see a Disney reference. Also, another Prince Charming, shame that is like the default name for every fairytale prince, but at least he gets a name and personality as well.
Episode 5 was a Jiminy Cricket story, and I absolutely loved it. It showed me that the writers are capable of using the fairytales as guidelines and creating new stories to flesh out characters. In this episode Archie Hopper/ Jiminy Cricket becomes the person he wants to be in the ‘real’ world, while we get flashbacks of his life in the enchanted world. He had terrible parents, marvellously evil, apathetic characters. What’s nice is that the end of Jiminy Crickets origin story then links up to the Pinocchio tale in quite a poignant and original way.
That’s all that’s been released of OUaT so far, and I’m looking forward to the rest, but even now I am disappointed again. A spoiler was released for a future episode which deals with Beauty and the Beast, a fairytale that I love, and what do we get, but a photo of Bell in Disney’s yellow poufy dress! I actually hate that dress. There have been tonnes of other adaption’s of Beauty and the Beast, with stunning dresses, why, why, why the yellow one? I like the idea of Bell in blue. Other than my gripe with the dress, I’m really excited about this episode, like what will the beast look like and whose going to play him, what kind of Bell will Emilie de Ravin (Claire in Lost) make, and what on earth is Bell doing talking to Rumpelstiltskin?
I have no objection to Disney references, such as the Tinker Bell wind charm, of Doctor Hopper’s dog being a Dalmatian called Pongo (which is pure Disney, 101 Dalmatians is not a classic fairytale, but a novel written in 1956 by Dodie Smith) or the little Minnie Mouse in Mister Gold’s pawn shop, it’s the blatantly huge ones, the ones that they use to define characters with. It was suggested that not everyone knows the non-Disney versions of fairytales, that they use the Disney version so that people can more easily identify fairytale characters. I both agree and disagree with this idea, the fairytales have other signifiers that make the story identifiable to the viewer, as Rumpelstiltskin said to Cinderella when asked about the glass slippers: ‘Every story needs a memorable detail’. We don’t need the Disney look to make people recognise which fairytale their watching. Also, growing up, I watched and read multiple versions of fairytales, many of them not even remotely similar in aesthetic to Disney.