23: Once Upon A Time In Wonderland — Down the Rabbit Hole (pilot)

Once Upon A Time In Wonderland (2013)

Like a lot of folks in their 20s, I was partially raised by Disney movies.

My brother, twelve years older and often tasked with the thankless chore of babysitting me, often tells the story of how our portable VCR was a godsend, because by 3, I’d learned how to press pause, play and rewind. I watched The Little Mermaid a lot. You know, if “a lot” is a variable for constantly.  I haven’t checked back in recently, but I bet I could still recite the whole thing verbatim.

A few years ago, during a preview of the season where both Once Upon A Time and Grimm would premiere, I remember being stoked on the concept of seeing Disney princes and princesses re-imagined for the small screen. Television has the great storytelling advantage of having so much more space and time to expand on a narrative, and the constraints of those films are so confining. With the exception of maybe Merida in Brave, young girls in Disney movies are generally made to give up their identities time and time again in the name of true love. Going back and watching those films as an adult is a total mindfuck, because the music is mostly still great, but the stories kind of suck.

I know a great deal of people like OUAT a lot (my sister included), but gosh, I really don’t.

I’ve said this before, but I’m a person obsessed with pacing and character development and strong dialogue, and I think it falls pretty flat across the board. Most pilots have a lot of rough patches. The nature of the beast is in world building, introducing characters that are both interesting and complex enough to keep an audience coming back, and it’s difficult to balance the need to do that and also push an episode forward that tells a story instead of just relaying character facts. I’ll give all the credit in the world to a pilot that’s at least trying to do something interesting, but more often than not, they fall pretty flat, which is okay if eventually, the show finds its footing and tells a good story. Once Upon A Time doesn’t.

It was for those reasons and more than I wasn’t particularly excited when I first learned about the forthcoming Once Upon A Time In Wonderland, but when it popped up in the “Fall Preview” tab as I was looking through Hulu+ in the small hours of the morning, I figured: why not? What’s the worst that could happen? I couldn’t think of much, and since Michael Socha is at least always pleasant to look at, I figured the pilot would be a good time to stretch out my fantasy legs.

There are some missteps, sure. The last 5-7 minutes are definitely my least favorite (Naveen Andrews, while a truly inspired choice for Jafar, was caught between the camp of being too over the top and not over the top enough), but there’s also something pretty wonderful happening. The storytelling is more cohesive. The visuals and costuming sharper. Maybe the focus of not having an entire ensemble cast to root for and root through is what’s necessary for a narrative like this to succeed.

A girl has lost her true love. She’s gone through hell and back. She’s willing to give up because she believes him dead and throws herself back into the mystery world that got her into so much trouble the first time.

The fact that the entire conceit of the show is all about a man again is a little worrisome, but this version of Alice, at least, seems to be stronger than some of the other iterations of Disney heroines. Hopefully she gets some more character development between now and the rest of the season, but at the moent I’m pretty stoked that she got to hold her own in a fight scene. The fact that Michael Socha and Sophie Lowe have such nice chemistry is pretty fun too, although I do wonder if this will be another Robin Scherbatsky situation. Hopefully, time will tell, although considering the show is run by the same people who did lost Lost and OUAT, I’m not expecting a lot.

Have you checked out Once Upon A Time in Wonderland? Are you planning on it? Come back and let me know if you do!