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.
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?
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.
|Emma Swan, the Saviour||Jennifer Morrison|
|Evil Queen||Regina Mills3||Lana Parrilla|
|Rumplestiltskin, the Dark One||Mr Gold4||Robert Carlyle|
|Henry Mills, Emma's son||Jared Gilmore & Andrew J. West|
|Snow White||Mary-Margaret Blanchard||Ginnifer Goodwin|
|Prince David Charming||David Nolan||Josh Dallas|
|Captain Killian 'Hook' Jones||Rogers||Colin O'Donoghue|
|Belle French||Lacey||Emilie de Ravin|
|Zelena, Wicked Witch of the West||Kelly West||Rebecca Mader|
|Granny||Granny Lucas||Beverley Elliott|
|Robin Hood||Sean Maguire|
|Grumpy/Dreamy, a broken-hearted dwarf||Leroy||Lee Arenberg|
|Little Red Riding Hood||Ruby Lucas||Meghan Ory|
|Jiminy Cricket||Dr Archibald Hopper, psychiatrist||Raphael Sbarge|
|Blue Fairy||Mother Superior||Keegan Connor Tracy|
|Baelfire, Rumpelstiltskin's son||Neal Cassidy||Michael Raymond-James|
|Lucy Mills||Lucy Vidrio||Alison Fernandez|
|Will Scarlet||Michael Socha|
|'Cinder' Ella||Jacinda Vidrio||Dania Ramirez|
|Pinocchio||August W Booth||Eion Bailey|
|Queen Tiana||Sabine||Mekia Cox|
|Peter Pan||Robbie Kay|
|Dr Victor Frankenstein||Dr Whale||David Anders|
|Cruella De Vil||Cruella Feinberg||Victoria Smurfit|
|William Smee||Chris Gauthier|
|Roland Hood||Raphael Alejandro|
|Robin Hood||Margot||Tiera Skovbye|
|Magic Mirror & Genie||Sidney Glass||Giancarlo Esposito|
|Queen of Hearts||Cora Mills||Barbara Hershey|
|Drizella||Ivy Belfrey||Adelaide Kane|
|Queen Elsa||Georgina Haig|
|Princess Anna, Elsa's missing sister||Elizabeth Lail|
|Mother Gothel||Eloise Gardener||Emma Booth|
|Rapunzel Tremaine||Victoria Belfrey||Gabrielle Anwar|
|King Arthur||Liam Garrigan|
|Maleficent||Kristin Bauer van Straten|
|Greg Mendell||Owen Flynn||Ethan Embry|
|Snow Queen||Ingrid||Elizabeth Mitchell|
|Tinker Bell||Rose McIver|
|Albert Spencer||King George||Alan Dale|
|Huntsman||Sheriff Graham Humbert||Jamie Dornan|
|Kristoff, snowman||Scott Michael Foster|
|Kathryn Nolan, David's wife||Princess Abigail||Anastasia Griffith|
|Fiona||Black Fairy||Jaime Murray|
|Baron Samdi||Dr Facilier||Daniel Francis|
|Marian, Robin Hood's wife||Christie Laing|
|Tamara, Neal's fiancée||Sonequa Martin-Green|
|Ariel, a little mermaid||JoAnna Garcia Swisher|
|Mad Hatter||Jefferson||Sebastian Stan|
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?
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.