Tale Spin: Once Upon a Time
by Marcus Luera
Once Upon a Time is a great show, but I got more than a few weird looks when I told people that they should watch. Yes, it does draw heavily from Disney’s take on fairy tales, but the writers have added their own spin in some very interesting choices. For example, let’s take Snow White. The Disney version was kind of helpless, and pretty much a maid for the dwarves. In Once, she is a thief and very useful in a fight. The show has writers from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Buffy changed many things about how we see female characters on TV. It is in these updates on stories and characters that many find what they love about the show.
In Once’s universe, “Charming” is a nickname and slight insult given to him by Snow. Taken from a farm to replace a twin he never knew he had, he then had to become a warrior. Yup, this Prince Charming is a bad ass; you can see that in the pilot when he is fighting three men at once.
In the cartoon, she is very much a bookworm; not completely helpless, but still not a full-fledged hero. On Once, she seeks out adventure. Her first chance at being a hero came when she sacrificed herself to save her home from Rumpelstiltskin. After he let her go, she moped for a while then set out to kill a monster, saving Prince Phillip in the process. Belle’s basic characteristics between the original tale and Disney change little, but it does seem that the show’s writers cherry-picked from both versions.
In Grimm fairy tales, he is an imp who can spin straw into gold. In Once’s world, he is the ultimate puppet master. Not only that, he is inserted into in other tales. The writers made him Belle’s Beast; after killing Cinderella’s fairy godmother he takes her place; and he is Captain Hook’s “crocodile.” They gave him the backstory of man who was a coward and cared deeply for his son, who he lost when he became power hungry. One thing retained from Grimm was his penchant for making deals.
Little Red Riding Hood
Little Red Riding Hood has been updated and reinterpreted many times over the years, but Once has the most interesting take on her yet. Red, as she is called, lives with her overprotective grandmother, and has a little bit of a rebellious streak. The reason Granny is so over protective is not for Red’s protection, but for the town’s. That’s right, they made Red the Big Bad Wolf, and her famous garment is meant to keep her from changing into the creature.
With the Mad Hatter’s story, they once again used a parent’s love for motivation. In Carroll’s book, he was sentenced to death for bad singing and stuck in a never-ending tea party. Disney added a huge dose of silly to the character and gave the hat abilities. Once did away with the silly and took him to a somewhat dark place. The Hatter (named Jefferson) was able to move between worlds with his hat. Before he became a father, he traveled between worlds and dealings with Evil Queen Regina and Rumpelstiltskin. His last deal with Regina left him trapped in Wonderland away from his daughter. He was driven mad making hats, desperate to see his daughter again.
The pirate was just the villain Peter had to fight. He feared two things: the sight of his own blood and the crocodile. Disney made him a comedic fop. This is one of Once’s most radically changed characters. They stripped away the comedy and his fear. While still a bit of a fop, Hook is more a ladies’ man and dashing rouge. That is until he makes the mistake of running away with Rumpelstiltskin’s wife. Rumpel gets his revenge by killing his own wife and taking Hook’s hand. Hook now seeks out his crocodile to skin him.
Once also uses Lost-style flashbacks to tell the stories that happened in the enchanted forest, and like Lost, sometimes the flashbacks are more interesting and fun than what is happening the main story. These are just a few of the changes that have made Once Upon a Time a full-on action-fantasy show that can be enjoyed by a diverse crowd.