In 2011, Once Upon a Time debuted on ABC and catered to the Disney fan in all of us, being not only based on classic fairytale characters, but the Disney versions of them specifically. Sadly, that show ended last spring and while a series is still on ABC called “Once Upon a Time” that resembles it in a few ways, it’s an imposter. This is not Once Upon a Time, these are not the characters we’ve spent six years with, and this is not even Storybrooke or the Enchanted Forest.
In the opening scene, young adult Henry is saying goodbye to Regina as he tells her it’s time for him to write his own story. He mentions that there are different versions of every fairytale all over the world and that he’s off to live his own. He throws his only magic bean into the road, gets on a motorcycle and rides off into a new and unknown realm. In doing so, he pushes a gigantic reset button where you can forget anything that happened before and I couldn’t be angrier about it.
Within the first few minutes, “New Henry” (they swap actors suddenly) crashes his bike into Cinderella’s carriage. Attentive viewers will remember that Cinderella was a minor subplot in the previous six seasons, but forget her. She is now on her way to the ball to murder the Prince who took everything away from her and is played by Dania Ram. It’s like watching the strangest episode of The Twilight Zone and you keep waiting for Rod Serling to end the show and leave you with some thoughts to ponder. Sadly, you won’t be thinking any deep thoughts other than questioning how a series can start off so strong and go this far off the rails.
Flash forward again and older “New Henry” is a writer in Seattle where a girl knocks on his door with a book called “Once Upon a Time” that looks like a Barnes & Noble sale aisle reprint. She claims to be his daughter (shock!), he doesn’t remember her (shock!), her mother is Cinderella (shock!), and she lives with her wicked step-grandmother (shock!) who runs her neighborhood (shock!). The hood is called Hyperion Heights, as if that will be enough for Disney diehards to pay attention to this poor man’s version of Once Upon a Time. The only twist in this tired “history repeats itself” premise is that the residents of Hyperion Heights can actually move out of the neighborhood and real-world citizens can move in. In other words, there’s no reason to guess or assume anybody else there is a fairytale character. How boring is that?
Older “New Henry” follows his alleged daughter to Hyperion Heights where he immediately meets the struggling bar owner Regina (WHAT!?!?!?), comes into contact with a local police man named Killian (WHAT!?!?!?), and briefly encounters an underground crime lord named Gold (WHAT!?!?!?!?). While Cinderella and potentially every other fairytale character are replaced this time around, these three remain. If they weren’t initially begging their agents to get them out of this, I bet they were when the first script arrived.
Seeing Regina reduced to such a minor secondary character is painful to watch. The new baddie is Victoria Belfrey (aka Lady Tremaine) played by Gabriella Anwar. She is a cross between Miranda Priestly and Donald Trump (Belfrey Tower looks a lot like Trump Tower), but fails to entertain and is barely able to pull off being vile. During a flashback scene to this other realm she steals the Fairy Godmother’s wand, which is presumably how all of this happened. If we’re on the same page, yes, the creators are now borrowing the plot of a direct-to-video cheapquel (Cinderella III: A Twist in Time). Thats how devoid of creativity this season opening is. Other characters we’re supposed to suddenly care about are her daughter Drizella and Alice (of Wonderland fame), who is essentially Selena Kyle from Fox’s Gotham lurking on rooftops and in alleyways.
All that happened before isn’t essentially gone forever, with a nod to Emma Swan towards the end of the season premiere. At first I had to stop and ask myself: Is this bad or is it just so different that I’m having a hard time enjoying it? But I did some soul searching and have arrived at a conclusion – This is very, very bad! It’s actually insulting, displaying a lack of respect for the series and characters that came before it and by extension, you the fans.
With a start this atrocious and a move to Friday nights, it seems inevitable that audiences will not stick around for even a second episode of season 7 to see how things unfold. I advise all viewers to save themselves the heartache of sitting through this mess. Let’s all just pretend that at the end of season 6, the entire town of Storybrooke united in a tender moment of peace and understanding, free to live the lives they want in either the Enchanted Forest or anywhere else their heart desires. This new iteration of Once Upon a Time isn’t something that anyone wished for, but anyone who watches will be searching for a spell to help them forget about it.
Once Upon a Time returns Friday, October 6th, at 8:00 pm. Ye be warned.
Alex has been blogging about Disney films since 2009 after a lifetime of fandom. He joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and covers films across all of Disney’s brands, including Star Wars, Marvel, and Fox, in addition to books, music, toys, consumer products, and food. You can hear his voice as a member of the Laughing Place Podcast and his face can be seen on Laughing Place’s YouTube channel where he unboxes stuff.