Classic heroes, heroines and villains derived from cartoons and comics tend to follow the familiar trope; the evil villain makes it their sole purpose in life to destroy all of the hero or heroine’s happiness. It’s seen repeatedly in television and movies with little variance in storyline. The tales of Snow White, Cinderella, Robin Hood and many more remind us of the quintessential good vs. evil scenario.
What if these stories are told in an entirely different way where the experiences of characters like Snow White and the Evil Queen were explored in much more depth? If there was a show that took the classic hero and made him an evil villain would your interest be piqued? How about a show that takes a beloved character and really challenges his or her beliefs about what “being good” really means? There is a show on ABC that does all of this and much more; ABC’s Once Upon A Time. This show has become one of my favorites because it redefines the hero and heroine archetypes, and reveals more about these characters than we could ever dream.
Writers Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitniss (Lost) have put together a pretty awesome series that satisfies your desire for background on each of the characters. The series begins with the familiar tale of Prince Charming kissing Snow White to wake her from the Evil Queen’s spell. They soon get married and the Evil Queen promises to exact her revenge. In a satisfying twist to this classic plot, the Evil Queen casts a spell on everyone in the Enchanted forest that transports them to a new world. After transportation, all of their memories are lost, sans the Evil Queen’s, and they can never return to the Enchanted Forest again.
But there is one who can save the entire kingdom from this curse; she is called “the savior.” She just happens to be the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming! Knowing this, Snow and her husband send their daughter through an enchanted tree that transports her to the same unknown world without being touched by the curse. Where is this other world you say? Well, it’s none other than Storybrooke, Maine, a fictional city that serves as the backdrop of the many adventures that take place on the show.
Characters that have rarely or never interacted in the classic stories are now brought together in Storybrooke. Mulan serves as friend and protector to Princess Aurora (Sleeping Beauty) and Prince Phillip. Belle (Beauty and the Beast) falls in love with her “Beast” who happens to be Rumplestilskin. We also learn that Malificent (Sleepy Beauty’s evil nemesis) is the archenemy of The Evil Queen (Regina). This interaction in itself is sure to bring much drama this third season.
The genius of this show is the characters’ ability to develop emotional connections with one another, whether in Storybrooke or in the Enchanted Forest. You become connected to each of them and enthralled by their development. You walk in thinking that the classic character can only travel down one archetypical lane. However, as a character expands and more is revealed about his or her background, you are forced to take another look. Characters that you thought were virtuous turn out to be the villains and those who have been villains have flashes of good in them, for example, Peter Pan’s Captain Hook walks the line between being a hero and a villain, and Peter Pan is probably the character that you will love to hate.
One area where I think the show could improve is an increase in the number of characters of color. In season two Sinqua Walls played Sir Lancelot. Although his time on the show is short lived, it is good to see this traditional non-white role go to a person of color to add another dimension to the narrative. Aside from Lancelot and Mulan, there just aren’t many people of color on the show. Once Upon a Time would do well to take a page from GRIMM and add some diversity to the cast. I am hoping the writers will bring on Tiana from The Princess and the Frog and Jasmine from Alladin to the show as well. Adding race to the narrative may allow the writers to explore what impact that particular quality may have on the traditional tropes and archetypes so often associated with classic storybook characters.
If you don’t already watch the show, I challenge you to watch an episode. If you’re looking for a show that questions and explores the traditional role of the hero, heroine and villain this is definitely the show for you.
Do you already watch Once Upon A Time? What do you think of it? Sounds off in the comment section below.