The week before Cinderella made her debut on ABC’s Disney-influenced fairy tale drama “Once Upon A Time,” news broke that “Lost” star Emilie de Ravin was cast as Belle for the program. The princesses have arrived.
“Once Upon A Time” already features Disney’s first princess Snow White as a major character wrapped up in the series’ main story arc. As is befitting a drama of this size, however, many other fairy tale figures make appearances, such as Rumpelstiltskin and Little Red Riding Hood. Original Disney characters such as Jiminy Cricket and Maleficent also factor into some scenes.
However, the entrance of one famous member of the Disney Princess Royal Court on the heels of the announcement of the casting of perhaps its most popular princess gave me pause. I have well known princess fatigue, despite loving many of their movies, and I was worried that “Once Upon A Time” was going to turn into a princess parade.
No one does a parade like Disney. Due to the popularity of the brand Disney now has Princess-themed parades, and I was worried that “Once Upon A Time” was about to become an extension of them. Despite my misgivings, I’m enjoying the show and I don’t want it to jump the shark so early.
It’s one thing to make use of the Disney characters that have become so popular they’re now wrapped up into general fairy tale lore. It’s another to become an obvious walking advertisement for the company, and if “Once Upon A Time” wants to succeed it has to forge its own path, not just turn into a grown-up version of the Disney Channel’s “House of Mouse.”
I admit I’m quick to criticize, but my fears aren’t entirely unfounded. In the most recent episode Henry read an “Incredible Hulk” comic book. That wouldn’t be of note except for the fact that the Marvel logo upon the book was conspicuously flashed about three times. Yes Disney, we know you own both Marvel and ABC. You don’t have to keep reminding us, it’s distracting.
However, that was one tiny off moment in an otherwise solid episode. Although I didn’t much care for her character (or perhaps the actress), Cinderella’s storyline wrapped well into the mythology with which we’ve already been presented, both informing us more about events that have already passed and serving to move the story a little further ahead. I continue to be way more interested in Rumpelstiltskin as a villain, as he was for Cinderella. He’s clearly the one calling the real shots, unlike the Evil Queen, who can’t seem to decide whether or not she really wants to be a bad guy.
Such gray areas in villain dynamics are usually interesting and I laud the writers for including them. But I’m also really glad that they’ve added Rumpelstiltskin. This is a fairy tale, and I like my villains big and bad in them, and the trickster provides that in spades (no sooner does Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother appear on the scene than Rumpelstiltskin explodes her and offers his own sinister take on the job).
My main frustration with the show is that I want more of its story now. And that’s definitely a good thing. Disney, bring in the princesses if you absolutely must, though lesser-known characters like Mother Goose or Hansel and Gretel would be more interesting. If we must have princesses, how about the unnamed one who beat Rumpelstiltskin? If you keep handling their stories the way you did Cinderella’s, I won’t complain.