I have long been a fan of revisionist fairy tales. As a kid, some of my favorite books were The True Story of the Three Little Pigs and The Frog Prince, Continued by Jon Scieszka. As a teenager/young adult, I enjoyed watching movies like Ever After, The Princess Diaries, and Enchanted. More recently, I’ve become a fan of ABC’s Once Upon a Time, which, instead of revamping one particular fairy tale, has turned them all on their heads and mushed them into one massive universe. (You can find a fuller recap of each season here.)
C, on the other hand, is not as big a “Happily Ever After” fan, so when I had the house to myself the other day, I spent most of the afternoon catching up on OUAT and I was reminded of how much I like the show and how clever the creators/writers really are!
Now, I’ll be honest, C’s disinterest in the show is not the only reason why I had about six episodes and one behind-the-scenes special saved on the DVR. When this most recent season began with Elsa and Anna from Frozen fame and the winter finale pulled in Maleficent, Ursula, and Cruella De Vil, I thought OUAT might be jumping the shark.
With ABC being a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Company, it makes sense that most of the characters on the show come from the animated Disney films that we’ve all grown up with. But the Arendelle world didn’t seem to fit as naturally to me as Neverland, for example, and it just felt like a blatant attempt to use the film’s mega-blockbuster status to pull more viewers in – a kind of live-action product placement.
And while the show has introduced a variety of characters over the years, they typically came into the story one at a time. There would be a particular arc with that character and a few others would appear in the plot line in a slightly different way than we’re used to – the Evil Queen as a lovelorn teenager and Tinker Bell as her friend/matchmaker, for instance. But to have Maleficent, Ursula, and Cruella De Vil enter as the “Queens of Darkness” all at once made me wonder if the show-runners were just trying to incorporate as many fairy tale heroes and villains as possible. As with the Frozen tie-in, this just didn’t feel as natural to me.
Having now caught up on the second half of Season 4 though, I can happily report that the stories are being told with the same care and ingenuity as they always have been. And though the Queens of Darkness all seem to be after the same thing – their happy endings – each one has a complicated back story and her own reasons for being evil. In fact, these episodes almost seem like they are part of a completely new season, one focused on the mixture of good and evil in all of us, and how difficult circumstances can either bring out the light or the darkness. It’s a more realistic take on the fairy tales that we were told as kids – the world is a lot grayer than we would like sometimes – and I can’t wait to see what twists are still in store!