Once Upon a Time
In the midst of all our real life worries and stressors, a return to Storybrooke would be a welcome change. (Illustration by Julie Chow, University of California, Berkeley)

‘Once Upon a Time’ Shouldn’t Be Doomed to a Happily Ever After

The fantasy drama that brought fairytale characters to a realistic, modern world deserves a reboot with new Disney characters and storylines.

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Once Upon a Time

The fantasy drama that brought fairytale characters to a realistic, modern world deserves a reboot with new Disney characters and storylines.

ABC’s hit television series “Once Upon a Time” welcomed fairytale legends into an ordinary and mundane world. Airing from 2011 to 2018, the fantasy drama captured the hearts of Brothers Grimm fans and Disney lovers alike, but as Disney+ continues to release spin-offs and reboots of their fairytale media, “Once Upon a Time” deserves a comeback.

The show’s creators, Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis, teamed up with writer Brigette Hales to bring a new anthology series, “Epic,” to ABC. A Jan. 29 TVLine article confirmed the pilot order for the new drama that would “reinvent classic Disney fairytales for a new audience.” The exciting news was a dream come true for “Once Upon a Time” fans.

However, a recent Deadline article reported that ABC opted not to proceed with the fairytale anthology. The pilot didn’t finish strong, and because of the pandemic, filming at select locations was challenging. “Like ‘Once Upon a Time,’ the high-concept ‘Epic’ was a big swing and an admirable effort.”   

Consider how successful the original TV show was — it was a top-rated drama series from the start. People’s Choice Awards nominated “Once Upon a Time” for categories such as favorite TV duo, favorite on-screen chemistry and favorite TV fan following. Watched by millions of “Oncers,” the accolades of “Once Upon a Time” build its esteemed reputation. 

Oncers obviously treasure the seven mythical seasons of the fantasy and reality mashup. Yet, the combination of the real and the fantastical attracted various viewers who wished to see a touch of magic in a normal setting. Reviving “Once Upon a Time” could both attract new audiences and reunite loyal fans who want to see fresh storylines based on new Disney characters.

Fantasy and Reality for New Viewers

How would a real-world human react to meeting a fairytale character in real life? In “Once Upon a Time,” Emma Swan, out on bail from jail, receives a visit from Henry, the child she gave up for adoption years ago. He draws her to Storybrooke, a small town in Maine, where fairytale characters have supposedly been trapped in the real world and don’t remember who they are.

Henry tells Emma that she is the “Savior” and has the power to undo the curse. Of course, Emma remains skeptical of the information, as any sane person would. The idea of fairytale characters being real is impossible, even when Emma starts noticing things that are off about Storybrooke. 

Movies or TV shows that mix fantasy with reality attract viewers. The character who questions, “What the hell is going on?” when out-of-the-world creatures and magical powers arrive in an ordinary setting represents how any one of us would react to the same events.

Real-world humans crave a life inside an on-screen fantasy. So, seeing normal humans mix with a surreal setting such as in “Once Upon a Time” gives the audience relatable yet unique characters. The audience can live out their wishes of encountering real-life fairytale legends through characters like Emma Swan.

For its appealing mixture of fantasy and reality, “Once Upon a Time” has a high chance of success among new audiences. Of course, loyal Oncers would appreciate a revival of the hit show with brand new characters.

The Untold Stories of Fairytale Characters

After Henry takes Emma to Storybrooke, he introduces her to people that Henry believes to be real fairytale characters. Spoiler alert: Henry’s assumption is right, and Emma breaks the curse and saves all of Storybrooke within the first season. Soon after, the fairytale characters remember who they are, and Emma gets to meet their true selves.

Recurring characters in “Once Upon a Time” include The Evil Queen, Rumplestiltskin, Snow White, Belle and Captain Hook. Considering that these characters have been a staple in the Disney community, it’s no surprise that they play a lasting role on the show. 

Viewers also see other Disney characters come to life in the series. For example, in Season 3, the crew takes a trip to Neverland, where they meet Tinker Bell and a villainous Peter Pan. There are also storylines surrounding Aladdin and “Frozen” sisters Anna and Elsa.

While some characters play prominent roles in “Once Upon a Time,” other beloved ones have yet to make their way to Storybrooke — such as Pocahontas and Moana, princesses who weren’t included in the original show. On the other hand, there’s nothing like a classic villain to disrupt the magical swing of things in Storybrooke. Some new options could include Scar from “The Lion King” and Yzma from “The Emperor’s New Groove.”

New characters are a must for a revival of “Once Upon a Time,” and the big opportunity to bring new faces to the table will attract loyal Oncers. The great thing about meeting nostalgic characters once again is doing so through a live-action setting. Although live-action remakes typically get a bad rap, “Once Upon a Time” has always been well-worth a watch.

A Live-Action That’s Better Suited for Critics

Live-action remakes of Disney’s original movies make tales as old as time as good as new. However, they tend to receive negative reviews for being repetitive, cash-grabs, or inaccurate to the original film. Despite the criticism of live-action remakes, “Once Upon a Time” pleases both fans and critics with a creative revival of nostalgic characters.

If the ABC series avoids one thing, it’s unoriginality. For example, all Disney lovers know the model tale of Snow White. She has an evil stepmother, the Evil Queen, who poisons her with a red apple. Snow White falls into a deathlike sleep until Prince Charming wakes her up with a true love’s kiss. However, in “Once Upon a Time,” the creators put a twist on the couple’s story.

Snow White doesn’t meet Prince Charming at a wishing well. Rather, she robs his carriage, and he chases after her. The Evil Queen doesn’t poison Snow White for being “the fairest of them all,” but rather for indirectly causing the death of her lover. After Charming wakes Snow White up from death, viewers get to see the fallout and the Evil Queen’s reaction that they couldn’t see in the original film.

The live-action stories work so well in “Once Upon a Time” because although there are many similarities to the original tales, the creators add or take away certain elements of the characters to fit the series’s unique tone and better adapt them to a real-world setting. 

In other words, the series avoids criticisms of unoriginality because it shows us new sides to familiar characters. When Disney fans think of Captain Hook, they think of a manipulative and cowardly pirate, but in “Once Upon a Time,” Killian “Hook” Jones grows into a dashing, gentle and selfless man.

Additionally, critics can’t judge the series for how accurate it is. Because the show alters characters’ lives and makes them unique to the world of “Once Upon a Time,” the storylines are not meant to be accurate to the original films. 

The live-action revival of nostalgic characters works perfectly in “Once Upon a Time.” New viewers, Oncers and critics can enjoy an exciting return of Storybrooke characters. 

Bring Back “Once Upon a Time”

Rumpelstiltskin repeatedly warns in the fantasy series, “All magic comes with a price.” Because it would be “magical” to bring the show back to ABC, creators must consider how they’d handle a hit revival. 

Will original characters be returning? Oncers might expect fan favorites to reappear in Storybrooke, such as Emma Swan and Regina Mills (The Evil Queen). However, if the actors have moved on and are currently working on other films and TV shows, it might be difficult to see them again in Storybrooke. 

If the original characters won’t be returning, the creators must decide whether to create a completely new town with new characters or keep the unique setting of Storybrooke. If they keep Storybrooke alive, they will need to provide an explanation as to why those original characters are not in town anymore. Whatever the case, any setting that mixes viewers’ reality with fairytale characters should suffice. 

Although ABC passed on the pilot for a related series, “Epic,” there’s still hope for a new “Once Upon a Time.” The fanbase and the age of revival are much too strong to keep fairytale characters from moving forward in a real-world setting. 

Writer Profile

Michelle Buckley

Chapman University
B.F.A. Creative Writing

Michelle Buckley is a rising sophomore at Chapman University and majors in creative writing. Driven by self-expression and motivation to build a community, Buckley hopes to make an impact with her passion for writing.

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