Once Upon a Time: A Review

I mentioned in my last post (or what should have been my last post, it got posted at the same time as the other, so they ended up backwards, but whatever), that I love Peter Pan so much that I recently started watching Once Upon a Time just because Captain Hook shows up in season 2. I am now on season 2, episode 11, Captain Hook has shown up, and I am thrilled to see him. But the appearance of Hook doesn’t change the general feeling that Once Upon a Time is, at best, mediocre.

Granted, this is nothing new. The vast majority of shows on the air right now are mediocre. There are even shows I like more than Once Upon a Time, like White Collar, which I feel could be improved by some pretty basic changes. In fact, about the only show currently running that I feel really impressed by is Sherlock, and this is primarily due to my being a Holmes fangirl and the show being made by Holmes fanboys. Half my love for it is based merely in the fact that it is deeply steeped in Holmes canon and history.

What is my problem with Once Upon a Time? Well, for one thing, I don’t find their characters particularly interesting. They seem kind of flat and mundane. Additionally, I feel the female characters are particularly lacking. I mean, Rumplestiltskin and Hook are both great. Between them, they cover about 95% of why I watch the show. (The possibility of seeing Neverland and maybe Peter covers another 3). There are several other characters who I like, though not as much, like Grumpy and August and Jefferson. See what I mean? The only two females I really like are Ruby and Belle, who get very little screen time (though thankfully Belle is getting more, due to her association with Mr. Gold.) The female protagonist I am indifferent toward and Mary Margaret, the face of the show (this is the actress they always advertise) I actively dislike for being a cliched virgin angel who seems to exist more or less to fall in love with a prince and make a queen angry. (Granted, Snow White has more substance than this and I don’t mind her so much.)

But there is a greater problem, which is the show’s reliance upon Disney motifs. Granted, some of the details I cannot be sure of. For instance, not having read the original “Beauty and the Beast,” I don’t know if there’s a chipped teacup of importance, and while most versions of “Sleeping Beauty,” name her some variation of Briar Rose, Disney may not have been the first to switch this to Aurora. These are two features which Once Upon a Time Uses. But they also name the dwarves as they were named in the Disney film, which less face it, are kind of stupid names. In fact, every time I hear the dwarves named, I cringe. Poor Grumpy deserves an original and better name. They also briefly introduced Gus Gus the mouse. Now, I’m told the French version of “Cinderella” actually has mice that run around and sing and help her, but Gus Gus specifically seems a little too Disney. My brother says they had to do this to appeal to a broader audience (i.e. the general public who know only the Disney versions of fairytales.) While this may be a legitimate excuse for making Belle a lover of books (which I don’t take issue with anyway), but Disney-fiying their story down to the color and design of Belle’s dresses is more than a little overboard.

The creators’ lack of attention to the original stories hit a gross magnitude with the introduction of Hook. First of all, they named him Killigan Jones. Killigan Jones? Seriously? I thought everybody knew that Hook’s name was James. And they certainly didn’t rename Dr. Frankenstein Bob or rename Belle Lucy. So why rename Hook? Maybe because he’s not referred to by his first name in the Disney films, which are their only source of fairytales (if they had seen any production which refers to his first name, they would know to call him James. I don’t believe I have seen a version that calls him anything else before this.) But grossest of all is that Hook’s hooks is on his left hand. Again, the only version I have seen to make this mistake is Disney. All others depict Hook with his hook on his right, probably because that’s how Barrie wrote it. I know this a nit picky detail, but to me it displays a carelessness so astute that I’m surprised they didn’t give Hook long black curls and big red coat (though I’m glad they didn’t–this would have given him a different demeanor, and I like him as he is.) Furthermore, it’s the nit oicky details that usually bother me more because it’s not deviating from the story that bothers me, it’s deviating without reason. In Once Upon a Time, Hook has his hand cut off by Rumplestiltskin, not Peter Pan. This doesn’t bother me because it’s necessary to the story they want to tell and it’s reasonable within the canon of the show. But changing his hook hand from the right to the left or changing his hame from James to Killigan has no bearing on the character. Therefore, it’s offensive that they can’t keep these details straight out of respect to the original character. I mean, if you’re going to change everything, just because you feel like it, you might as well create a new character of your own.

Don’t get me wrong though. Hook is not the problem here. This Killigan Jones may be an imposter, but he’s one of my favorite Hooks of the screen. (And remember, Colon O’Donoghue is competing with the likes of Cyril Richards, Dustin Hoffman, Jason Isaacs, and Rhys Ifans.) But the lack of attention to detail regarding his character reveals to me, not an attempt to appeal to a broader audience, but sheer laziness on the part of the creators. In complete opposite fashion of Sherlock, they choose to ignore the original stories and use only the watered down Disney films as their reference. This, in turn, results in the watered down characterization and themes that the Disney films have. In fact, the reason Rumplestiltskin is so good could be that Disney has never done a version of the story, so they had to look elsewhere for references. But the creators’ reliance on a single, shallow source of the literature is what makes the show, at best, mediocre.


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