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When ABC began planning a show in which fairy tale characters would find their way into the modern world, a decision had to be made to have the character's adapt to modern behaviors and attitudes or retain the doe-eyed naivety and wonder of the worlds they once thrived within. There are some mature obstacles and themes many of the grownup characters in Once Upon a Time must face, but at its heart, ABC’s drama succeeds because it still manages to hold on to fairy tale storytelling and enchant audiences in the same way Mother Goose and The Grimms and so many other tellers have done over the years.
When we first meet Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison), she’s soft and charming and very much a part of the modern world, but that doesn’t last long. Within minutes, Swan turns into a hardened and lonely bail bondswoman who is spending her birthday alone. When Emma meets the son she gave up at birth, Henry (Jared Gilmore), the young man changes that for Emma, whisking her away to the hidden town of Storybrooke, ME. According to Henry, the town is home to a slew of fairy tale characters who can’t remember who they are, thanks to a horrid spell placed on everyone by Henry’s adoptive mother, Regina (Lana Parilla).
Due to a plot device switching perspectives from our world to the fairy tale world, the audience knows Henry is telling the truth, and despite Emma’s disbelief, she chooses to stick around for a little while. It is Storybrooke that offers Emma a place and a purpose, and as curiouser and curiouser events begin to unfold, we begin to meet the many characters from different fairy tale stories and see how they came to be in our world and how they have chosen to live out their lives once here.
At first, it seemed like creators Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz would only go for the mystery aspect of who each resident in Storybrooke used to be—and that’s definitely a definable part of the series—but, the writers also seem hellbent on twisting the identities of our characters. In Once Upon a Time Beauty (Emilie de Ravin) might fall in love with Rumpelstiltskin (Robert Carlyle) and Little Red Riding Hood (Meghan Ory) may not be exactly what she seems. Additionally, the writers include adult feelings and problems, which carve out an added niche for adults who enjoying seeing how lives intertwine in small communities. A multitude of deleted scenes included with the Blu-ray help to cement some of these relationships and add detail to the way the characters interact.
Before Once Upon A Time begins sounding a little like an episode of Gilmore Girls, the fairy tale world is a whole different ballgame. Characters still intertwine, of course, but the backdrop and setting are far more expansive. It’s kind of unusual for a network show to allow so much of its production to be shot on green screen, and even more unusual for those shots to look as good as they do. Some of the extra features on the disc, including “Fairy Tales in the Modern World” show how some of the scenes were shot on a bare bones stage and filled in later. If you’re a fan of the world building aspect of ABC’s hit show, there are plenty of extras that will help you to see how everything from the music, to the costume design, and the set design are accomplished. Even the audio commentaries from cast and crew members on each of the five discs go into detail about how episodes were constructed, but if you want some more specific fodder, you can check out the featurettes “Building Character” or “Welcome to Storybrooke.”
Still, Season 1 doesn’t play out perfectly. Perhaps because ABC added episodes midway, the show has to occasionally backtrack to fill in information we probably should have been privy to earlier. While the timeline in our world seems to be moving forward, the timeline in the fairy tale world hops around to fit the show’s agenda. We can even tell the writers did some backtracking when we get to the special features. Segments like “Once Upon a Time: Origins” and the aforementioned “Fairy Tales in the Modern World” keep bringing up the Little Mermaid, who presumably was supposed to be a part of Season 1. It seems likely we will catch the red-haired lady in action in Season 2, but she’s totally unnecessary on this disc—just like a few throwaway extras, including a blooper reel.
Once Upon a Time: The Complete First Season offers enough broad appeal to endear fans outside of those who cherish fantasy plots. However, despite its appealing look and strong leads, the show won’t be a story for everyone. Even Robert Carlyle’s amazing performance as Mr. Gold won’t stop the ABC drama from being filled with relationship issues and plenty of eye candy for the female audience, as well as borderline soapy plots. It’s definitely not a show written just for one audience, or one type of woman, but it is as female-driven as it is enchanted, and its interwoven plotlines always manage to break the storytelling mold.
Length: 946 min.
Release Date: 09/28/2012
Starring: Jennifer Morrison, Ginnifer Goodwin, Lana Parilla
Directed by:Dean White, Ralph Hemecker
Written by:Anthony Horowitz, Edward Kitsis