'Once Upon A Time' - the Television Series

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Once Upon a Time (2011-2018) is an American fantasy fairy tale television series set in the fictional town of Storybrooke in the United Sates of America within the real world, also called the World Without Magic. Created by the experienced writing team behind Lost (2004-2010) Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz for the Disney-owned channel ABC1, the series alternates between showing drama set at the present day in Storybrooke as well as flashbacks in the characters past, usually set in their magical realm known as the Enchanted Forest. As the series opens all the inhabitants - with two exceptions – are fairy tale characters living 21st Century lives unaware of their true origins, having been cursed to forget their real lives and leave their magical world behind by the Evil Queen. They have since been given new identities and do not realise who they once were. 155 × 40-minute episodes were made in seven series.

Plot

Emma Swan is celebrating her 28th birthday in Boston when a 10-year-old boy knocks on her door and says that he is the son she gave up for adoption as a teenager. She takes him back to his adoptive mother, Regina, the mayor of the strange town of Storybrooke who tells her to leave town, which encourages Emma to stay and try to get to know her son. She learns of his theory that everyone in the town is a fairy tale character cursed by his adoptive mother, who is the Evil Queen, as part of her plan to ruin Snow White's Happily Ever After. He believes his schoolteacher, Mary Margaret, is Snow White. As part of the curse none of the inhabitants know who they were and have been frozen in time for 28 years, almost reliving the same day over and over – and he believes that Emma is Snow White's long-lost daughter who was sent away from the Enchanted Forest to protect her from the curse. Swan had since grown up as an orphan, believing herself to be abandoned and unwanted.

Can Henry persuade Emma that he is right and that everyone in Storybrooke is really a character from fairy tales, and that magic is real? Why can no-one from Storybrook leave without something bad happening, and why can no-one other than Emma and Henry enter the town? What does it mean that the library's clock has started ticking again after 28 years of time standing still on Emma's arrival in town?

Soon Emma begins to wonder how true-to-life fairy tales are as she finds herself working in Storybrooke as the new sheriff alongside Dr Frankenstein, Little Red Riding Hood and the Mad Hatter. The stories that have been passed down are not always true, with Emma discovering that some characters such as Bo Peep are really villains. Will Robin Hood marry Maid Mulan? Is the Evil Queen such a villain after all, or simply misunderstood? Will Emma accept a marriage proposal from a flying monkey? Can True Love's Kiss solve every problem, and will there be a happily ever after?

Characters

There are many characters, many of whom dominate half a series and then do not appear again. Please note that many, though not all, characters have two different names. Their Storybrooke name is listed where different2. Unlike characters from the Enchanted Realm who also have normal names on Earth ('the realm without magic'), Emma and Henry only have ordinary names.

NameActor
Fairy TaleStorybrooke
Emma Swan, the SaviourJennifer Morrison
Evil QueenRegina Mills3Lana Parrilla
Rumplestiltskin, the Dark OneMr Gold4Robert Carlyle
Henry Mills, Emma's sonJared Gilmore & Andrew J. West
Snow WhiteMary-Margaret BlanchardGinnifer Goodwin
Prince David CharmingDavid NolanJosh Dallas
Captain Killian 'Hook' Jones RogersColin O'Donoghue
Belle FrenchLaceyEmilie de Ravin
Zelena, Wicked Witch of the WestKelly WestRebecca Mader
GrannyGranny LucasBeverley Elliott
Robin HoodSean Maguire
Grumpy/Dreamy, a broken-hearted dwarfLeroyLee Arenberg
Little Red Riding HoodRuby LucasMeghan Ory
Jiminy CricketDr Archibald Hopper, psychiatristRaphael Sbarge
Blue FairyMother SuperiorKeegan Connor Tracy
Baelfire, Rumpelstiltskin's sonNeal CassidyMichael Raymond-James
Lucy MillsLucy VidrioAlison Fernandez
Will ScarletMichael Socha
'Cinder' EllaJacinda VidrioDania Ramirez
PinocchioAugust W BoothEion Bailey
Queen TianaSabineMekia Cox
Peter PanRobbie Kay
AuroraSarah Bolger
Dr Victor FrankensteinDr WhaleDavid Anders
Cruella De VilCruella FeinbergVictoria Smurfit
William SmeeChris Gauthier
Roland HoodRaphael Alejandro
Robin HoodMargotTiera Skovbye
Magic Mirror & GenieSidney GlassGiancarlo Esposito
AliceTillyRose Reynolds
Queen of HeartsCora MillsBarbara Hershey
GideonGiles Matthey
GepettoMarcoTony Amendola
DrizellaIvy BelfreyAdelaide Kane
Queen ElsaGeorgina Haig
Princess Anna, Elsa's missing sisterElizabeth Lail
Mother GothelEloise GardenerEmma Booth
MulanJamie Chung
Rapunzel TremaineVictoria BelfreyGabrielle Anwar
King ArthurLiam Garrigan
MaleficentKristin Bauer van Straten
Greg MendellOwen FlynnEthan Embry
HadesGreg Germann
Snow QueenIngridElizabeth Mitchell
Tinker BellRose McIver
Albert SpencerKing GeorgeAlan Dale
HuntsmanSheriff Graham HumbertJamie Dornan
AladdinDeniz Akdeniz
JasmineKaren David
Kristoff, snowmanScott Michael Foster
Kathryn Nolan, David's wifePrincess AbigailAnastasia Griffith
FionaBlack FairyJaime Murray
Baron SamdiDr FacilierDaniel Francis
HanselJackNathan Parsons
Marian, Robin Hood's wifeChristie Laing
MeridaAmy Manson
Tamara, Neal's fiancéeSonequa Martin-Green
Ariel, a little mermaidJoAnna Garcia Swisher
Mad HatterJeffersonSebastian Stan

Plot Summary

The first series deals with Emma getting to know the town of Storybrooke and the inhabitants. She tries to connect with her son Henry, who is being raised by Regina, the town's mayor and formerly the Enchanted Kingdom's Evil Queen who brought the people of the Enchanted Forest to Storybrooke in the first place using a curse she received in a deal with Rumpelstiltskin. Rumpelstiltskin, also known as Mr Gold and the only other person in town to remember his past life, was tricked into becoming a powerful dark lord who has an almost infinite grasp of magic, but can be controlled by whoever owns a magic knife that has his name engraved on it. He taught Regina everything she knew about magic and hoped to use the curse to find his lost son, Baelfire, who had fallen through a portal to the World Without Magic many years before. Rumpelstiltskin had predicted that though the curse could not be stopped if she was sent away before the curse struck, baby Emma would be the people's saviour and undo the curse when grown into an adult.

Despite losing their memories, after Emma's arrival the inhabitants of Storybrooke begin to regain their characteristics, with Mary Margaret (Snow White) falling in love with Prince Charming (David Nolan) despite David having been married in his Storybrooke life to Kathryn (Princess Abigail), much to the disgust of the judgemental townsfolk. Regina begins to fear her control over the town is failing, yet as long as Emma refuses to believe that she is living in a fairy tale her curse can never be broken.

From the second series onwards the show begins to split each series in half, with a different plot in the first and second halves. In the first half of the second series the curse is broken and the townsfolk of Storybrooke remember who they once were. Gold reconnects with the love of his life, Belle, who once considered him a beast, and is able to cast a spell that allows people in Storybrooke to use magic - but again the people of Storybrooke are trapped as anyone who leaves the town loses their memory. Emma and Snow White fall through a portal that transports them back to the Enchanted Forest and try and find a way back to the real world. In the second half they have returned, but Regina's even more evil and powerful mother Cora has followed them and plans to conquer Storybrooke, while Gold, Emma and Henry leave Storybrooke in order to find Gold's missing son. Meanwhile two strangers have somehow managed to find their way to Storybrooke.

The first half of the third series is set in Neverland, where Peter Pan tries to recruit Henry to become a Lost Boy as he has the Heart of a True Believer. The second half is set back in Storybrooke where Zelena the Wicked Witch of the West has cursed the town again, removing a year of everyone's memories. The fourth series begins with Queen Elsa finding herself in Storybrooke while looking for her missing sister Anna, apparently causing mischief and mayhem with her magical powers unaware that her aunt the Snow Queen has also found her way to Storybrooke and is trying to manipulate the town against both Elsa and Emma. The second half sees Storybrooke invaded by a coven of witches: Ursula, Maleficent and Cruella de Vil, who has hitherto unseen magical powers. What are they doing in town, who is The Author, and who will get their happy ending?

In the fifth series Emma sacrifices herself to a curse that turns her evil, with her family and friends travelling to Camelot in order to seek Merlin, who is the only one with power to save her. Camelot is the neighbouring kingdom to DunBroch, home of Queen Merida, who faces rebellion from the clans as everyone becomes embroiled in the drama between King Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot. The second half of the series follows the death of a key character and the others journey to the underworld in order to save them, only to find themselves in a purgatory reflection of Storybrooke they name Underbrooke. This is full of all the people they have met and since died with something outstanding and unfulfilled, unable to move on. Can they save their friend and return to the land of the living while helping those in Underbrooke pass over to a better place? Or will Hades, the master of Hell, succeed in his manipulative efforts to make them turn on each other?

The sixth series begins with yet more fictional characters making it to Storybrooke, including Mr Hyde (Sam Witwer). A repentant Regina, struggling to redeem herself and regretting her wicked past, takes the potion that divides Mr Hyde from Dr Jekyll, unleashing the Evil Queen. Emma keeps seeing visions of her death, a baby is born, a wedding is held and Mr Gold's family is reunited. As the Final Battle between the forces of good and darkness represented by the Black Fairy approaches, what side will Rumplestiltskin be on?

The seventh and final series is set several years later and on a street in Seattle. Henry Mills has grown up sufficiently to be played by a different actor, has married Cinderella and has a daughter named Lucy. However Cinderella's wicked stepmother has cast another curse to make Henry, a few returning characters and a host of new ones, forget who they really are. This includes Henry's mother Regina and an alternate Captain Hook, who is now a policeman named Rogers. Yet the neighbourhood in Seattle, Hyperion Heights5, is being bought-up and controlled by Lady Tremaine, now known as Victoria Belfry. Who can remember their previous lives and what is their aim?

Review

The population of Storybrooke is a small village, yet somehow it encompasses everyone who once lived in several interlocking kingdoms that allowed for the existence of numerous princes and princesses and each kingdom had a large enough economy to allow for the construction of at least one substantial castle and provide for the glamorous lavish lifestyle to support a royal family and a large number of wealthy aristocrats. In this fantasy land the real city of Nottingham exists and Robin Hood lives alongside Cruella da Vil and Hercules, with Captain Hook and Captain Nemo sailing the seas together, which all seems anachronistic.

The village of Storybrooke consists of a dock, library with clock tower, one school, one hospital, one café where alcohol is served, a mayor's office and a police station with two cells. Anyone can turn up and randomly become the town's sheriff without qualification, including both Emma and her father David. Mayors are also elected without elections taking place, with Snow White spontaneously replacing Regina. It is rare to see more than a dozen people at any one time, but despite this the town apparently definitely contains the population of several kingdoms.

As well as our Earth and the Enchanted Forest there are also other dimensions where exist other fantasy lands including Wonderland, Neverland and Oz.

The character of Rumpelstiltskin, played by Robert Carlyle, dominates every scene he is in, with the pathos associated with villain Regina making the audience root for her too. Characters such as Snow White seem to be able to slaughter an infinite number of nameless guards, minions and servants of the Evil Queen in their fairy tale past without consequence, yet as soon as she has to kill a wicked witch with a name their conscience becomes troubled and hearts darken. Hearts darkened by too many evil deeds leads to death. Hearts play a predominant part of the story, with numerous characters having their hearts pulled out of their bodies on several occasions. This allows the person who holds their heart to control their actions, and only proves fatal if their heart is crushed.

As well as numerous Disney references, many of the actors who appear in the series had previously appeared in the show's creators' previous series Lost, Lana Parrilla who is Regina had previously played Greta, Belle actress Emilie de Ravin had been Claire Littleton, Jorge Garcia had been Hugo 'Hurley' Reye, Elizabeth Mitchell had been Dr Juliet Burke. Many of the numbers used in the show had been among the numbers with special significance on Lost and many of the earlier shows' bands and brands are referred to, for example the fictional Apollo chocolate bars, fast food chain Mr Cluck's Chicken Shack and MacCutcheon Scotch Whiskey. As the creators had also written Tron: Legacy there are even Tron references, particularly in any scene set in the 1980s.

In many ways the rebooted seventh series is superfluous. While there are some good moments in it, it tries too hard to recapture the earlier series' story and magic at the expense of creating its own identity. With Henry recast and the character of Hook revealed to be not the original Hook but a different, identical character from the Wish Realm, it all only serves to dilute the original unique story and fails to do justice to the beloved characters who had starred in the show and make cameo appearances in the final series.

The series is very much a soap opera that is heavily influenced by Disney interpretations of fairy tales. Audiences should be warned that it is both incredibly cheesy and saccharin, so not to everybody's taste.

Every title card shows the words 'Once Upon A Time' in a woodland scene as well as something or someone who will have particular importance in that episode. In the UK the series is rated between 12 and 15 for mild threat, drinking, tobacco and sexual references.

1American Broadcasting Company, not to be confused with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation or Britain's Associated British Corporation or Associated Broadcasting Company (later known as ATV).2Storybrooke is replaced with Hyperion Heights in the final series.3Also Roni in the reboot seventh series.4Also Detective Weaver in the reboot seventh series.5Named after Hyperion Avenue, the road where Disney's original animation studio was located.

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