Monday, September 23, 2013

A Fairy-Tale Fangirl in Fairy-Tale World

I'm a sucker for fairy-tales. I was raised on the Disney versions of fairy-tales.  From The Little Mermaid to Cinderella to Beauty and the Beast - I wore those VHS tapes out!  I also adore the non-Disney versions (the fact that Hans Christian Andersen's original story of The Little Mermaid doesn't have a happy ending didn't sway me from reading and re-reading that old copy of fairy-tales my grandma had every time I went to visit).  There have been plenty of fairy-tale retellings in recent years - Shannon Hale and Jessica Day George are some of my favorite authors in this genre and Mercedes Lackey's Five Hundred Kingdoms series is quite good as well.  And there's the ever-popular Once Upon A Time Fairy Tales written by a variety of authors. And can I get a shout-out for The Ever Afters series by Shelby Bach? (that's another one I need to write a review for - so many writing projects and not enough time to write them).  Really, you can't sneeze in the library without hitting a fairy-tale retelling story (and here I must include a PSA to not sneeze on library books, because that's just gross).

So, it is no surprise that TV executives have leaped on the fairy-tale bandwagon with Once Upon a Time (and, yes, there is also Grimm, but I haven't watched that one yet).

As much as I love, love, LOVE fairy-tales, I'm surprised that I haven't joined the Once Upon a Time fandom.  I'd seen it talked about on Twitter and Tumblr, but it's just one of those things I had to make time for.  So, that's what I did last week - I got the first season from the library, just to see if it was as good as people said it was.

Here's a quick-and-dirty summary of the premise - the Evil Queen from Snow White has banished all the fairy-tale characters into the real world.  They are all trapped in the town of Storybrooke (100 points for that name, holy cow) and they can't leave. None of them remembers their past lives or that they were ever anywhere else. The only person who knows the truth about Storybrooke is Mayor Regina Mills (the Evil Queen) and she is the only one who can ever have a happy ending (something she delights in holding over everyone else's heads - even if they don't realize how much of a heinous hosebeast she really is). But Emma Swan, the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming, escaped to the real world before the curse took effect and she can break the curse.  Problem is, she doesn't believe that she's the savior of Storybrooke - she's just brought into the town because of her ten-year-old son, Henry, who she gave up for adoption and he was adopted by Regina (how's that for a fairy-tale twist?)  Henry is the only person in town who isn't from the fairy tales, but who believes that the fairy tales are real, thanks to an old "Once Upon a Time" storybook that tells the fairy-tales as they actually happened.

There is a lot to love about this show and I'll start there. I enjoyed how all the different fairy tales were interwoven together and how all the characters were aware of each other. The very first episode has a High Fairy Tale Council (of sorts) with Snow White and Prince Charming leading the way.  You've got the Blue Fairy, Gepetto and Jiminy Cricket from Pinocchio in the group, as well as the Seven Dwarves, Red Riding Hood and her Granny.  As the show progresses, you get Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast (that one's a special case, which I'll get to shortly), and, of course, Rumpelstiltskin - who has a very key role in this show as a trickster.  Sometimes he's a villain, sometimes he's the hero.  Some characters migrate into other stories (the Genie of the lamp comes to mind) and a few have different roles (Belle starts out as a princess betrothed to Gaston but later falls in love with... I'll get to that in a minute), but it all makes sense in the story.

The narrative structure in this show is absolutely brilliant.  Every episode switches between things going on in Storybrooke and things that happened before in Fairy-Tale Land (do they ever saw what the land is called specifically? I don't remember).  Through the whole show, I remember thinking "If you didn't have the fairy-tale component here, this would be just your run-of-the-mill soap opera" (that did become problematic in some places - I'm not a fan of the soap opera tropes of comatose love interests and insane love-triangles that serve no real overall purpose).  While Emma Swan's story is the focal point in the real world, she meets a fair number of fairy-tale characters in Storybrooke and we get flashbacks of their fairy-tales, which I just love.  At some points, the fairy-tale flashbacks were much more enjoyable than what was going on in the real world!

There are a few things that bothered me about the show and I want to address them - the biggest one that I had to contend with was the long, drawn-out plotline of Mary Margaret Blanchard (whose fairy-tale counterpart is Snow White) getting framed for murder.  Because the Evil Queen blames Snow White for the loss of her happy ending, Regina goes all-out in putting the blame squarely on Mary Margaret's shoulders, even though it's patently obvious that there's no way sweet, innocent, naive Mary Margaret could have done it (and evidently, Storybrooke is an obscenely petty town, so everyone believes that she's a murderous scumbag).  It was good for a few episodes, but it got really old, really fast and I thought they could have done something else with those episodes (I wish Pinocchio's storyline had been introduced much earlier than it was - there was narrative gold in that guy. Or, let's do more with Cinderella, because her story was freaking amazing!)

Another thing is how nosy Regina is as the mayor. There were a few instances where I was like "Really? The mayor has to be involved in this?  Nobody thinks there's something wrong here?"  Granted, I could handwave that away as people are unconsciously subservient to her because of the curse (oh, the plotholes that the simple phrase "It's magic" can resolve!), but after a while, it became ridiculous. I mean, at least Emma, as an outsider, should be wondering why the mayor of the town is involved in something as silly as a couple of hungry kids stealing from a convenience store (as happens in the episode with Hansel and Gretel).  Doesn't she have more important things to do?

One last nit-picky thing, and then I'll end on a high note (and this is EXTREMELY spoilery, so proceed with the utmost caution) -

(Spoiler Buffer)

Nobody freaking gets their memories back until the very, very, very, VERY end!!!!! This one drove me absolutely NUTS!  There were a few close calls - like Sheriff Graham (fairy-tale counterpart - the huntsman from Snow White).  But then Regina kills him and we're all "Well, that's the end of that."  I mean, if Emma coming to town is supposed to start changing things in Storybrooke and the curse is supposed to weaken - I didn't see much changing between the pilot and the finale (other than the clock in the town square finally moving off 8:15).  It's like it was just dropped and Regina continued being her hosey-beasty self (there were some instances where Regina was just waaaaay too much and I hoped and prayed that Robert Carlyle would show up with his Rumpel-snark-skin act and bring her down a notch or ten because I couldn't take it anymore.  It didn't happen as often as I would have liked). I didn't need anyone to remember everything all at once - but some little nod would be nice, especially since we're taking the time to do these fairy-tale flashbacks.  It could be that someone had a dream about their fairy-tale self and it was so unnerving that they don't tell anyone, but the audience knows they know something is going on and the business of curse-breaking is progressing.

Anyway - I don't want to be negative on this whole thing, because the rest of the show is quite wonderful.  I wish I had the time to take this show episode-by-episode and do a review of each one and discuss the great things about them, especially the fairy-tale components of it.  I skipped ahead to the end of Season 2 (that's what was on Hulu for free and I wanted to be up-to-speed on what the upcoming Season 3 would be about - thanks Wikipedia!) and it seems like Season 2 really went to town with the fairy-tale characters living in modern times, but still retaining their fairy-tale qualities, so I'm looking forward to when I can watch that (the Season 1 finale was the only episode I really got any of that and it was slightly disappointing.  Again, the fairy-tale flashbacks are what saved this show from me hating it entirely in some places).

But I do have to talk about Rumpelstiltskin - and Robert Carlyle's portrayal, by extension - because there were moments where he was the one bright spot on the horizon (especially in the "Who Framed Mary Margaret?" Plot Line Of DOOM!)  If anyone could bring Regina off her high horse, it was Mr. Gold (ol' Rumple's Storybrooke persona).  In the backstory, Rumpelstiltskin is the Dark One - a trickster, of sorts, in the fairy-tale land.  The Evil Queen actually gets the curse from Rumpelstiltskin and he puts in certain fail-safes so that he remembers who he is and what kind of power he has over the Queen. Even though he's a slimy little snake at times, I really enjoyed his character a lot.  I even liked his role in the Beauty and the Beast episode - where he's the Beast and Belle falls in love with him (though, the jury's still out on whether or not I'm on board with Belle - I'm not sure I like what they've done with the modern-day version of her. But that's my problem and I'll deal with it in my own time).  Like I mentioned earlier, there were times where Regina was so off-putting and out-of-control that anytime Mr. Gold showed up to reign her in was suddenly my most favorite part in the story - EVER!

And, of course, I LOVE what they did with Snow White and Prince Charming.  If I ever do an episode-by-episode analysis, I with probably spend ample time gushing over their love story.  Now, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves was never my favorite Disney movie, though I thought it was passable.  But there is so much more rich detail woven into this story in this show and it's a huge reason why I will continue watching the show - for all the other little issues I have with it, as long as they get these two characters right (which, judging from what I saw in the Season 2 finale, I think they did), I will keep watching. I'm a sucker for a good romance, even better when you take stock characters from the fairy tale and add in all these fantastic little details - like Prince Charming actually being the twin brother of the real prince who was killed in battle and he gets pulled in from the farm to replace the prince who was killed (another long story involving Rumpelstiltskin selling and trading children - and how great is it that they used that component of the original Rumpelstiltskin story?)  Snow White becomes a ranger-type character after her stepmother tries to have her killed and she has to live on her skills and wits in the woods before falling in with the dwarves (who are hatched from eggs so they can work in the mines - that was a damn cute episode).  Really, there's more to gush and love about this show than there is to complain about.

Bottom Line: Once Upon a Time is a wonderful addition to the fairy-tale canon. Even with its faults, it's red meat to a fangirl who's been raised on fairy-tales and their fantasy spin-offs.

And, apparently, The Little Mermaid is getting the OUAT treatment in Season 3, which has me doing this -

Enchated Giselle Happy photo xbakyc.gif

Yes, I'm very excited about this.

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