Let me preface this review of the season four premiere of Once Upon a Time by saying that, although I’ve seen Disney’s Frozen, the animated children’s feature is not even close to being in my top ten of Disney anything. So, the fact that the entire first half of the new Once Upon a Time season is imbued with, and surrounded by, Frozen, does not warm the cockles of my heart.
In an interview with Adam Horowitz and Eddy Kitsis over the summer, the series creators assured me (and everyone else) that they would honor these “beloved” characters. Now, I consider many characters within the Disney canon beloved: Snow White, Alice (of Wonderland fame), Bambi, Princess Aurora, and even several of the post-classic Disney era, including Belle, and Robin Williams’ brilliant Genie in Aladdin. A new movie like Frozen (which came out last year), hardly deserves the moniker of “beloved.” (End of rant.)
That aside, I’ve had a creeping feeling that series has, over the past couple of seasons, become more and more “Disney-fied,” which for an adult viewer without young children, doesn’t really do anything for me. Back in season one, the stories had an edge to them, a nuanced darkness that appealed to me as an adult, even as they have been, in many cases, based on Disney versions, and not on the original Grimm and other source material. What the writers did, telling alternative histories of Cinderella, Dr. Frankenstein, Little Red Riding Hood, Pinocchio, and Beauty and the Beast was wonderful, imaginative, and occasionally thought provoking. Even last year’s telling of Peter Pan was a great take, although the Wizard of Oz re-imagining largely wasted very rich source material.
Which brings me to the season premiere, “Two Sisters,” which aired this week on ABC. The episode begins straightaway with the Frozen story, and spend many of the episodes 45 minutes with two sisters: Frozen’s Elsa and Anna, building back story and Elsa’s grand and chilly, and rather destructive entrance into Storybrooke. Fans of the movie will be well pleased. Those who aren’t might find themselves multi-tasking between segments with our “regulars.” Personally, I was disappointed how little time we spent with them and their stories as they pick up directly from the end of the season three finale.
As you may recall, Emma has brought Maid Marian into Storybrooke, and Regina (Lana Parrilla), who had at last begun to find happiness, now finds that her chances with Robin may be dashed. As she speculates, the villains in the classic stories never get happy endings. And by the end of the episode she aims to fix that. (It’s one of the best reveals in the episode, and suggests the possible return of an old Once Upon a Time favorite character). Regina’s story also brings back the long lost (and lamented) Sidney (AKA The Mirror). It’s great to see Giancarlo Esposito back on the show, if only for a short time, and even as Regina exploits Sidney for her own vengeful agenda.
Of course Regina blames Emma for her new woes, and makes plans to return to her evil ways, but has she come too far and become to good to really be evil anymore? And how does Robin feel about being stuck in the middle between two women he loves? You’ll have to watch to find out! All I can say is that there’s a giant snow monster that really plays nicely into Regina’s vengeance agenda, but I can’t reveal how it all turns out.
One of the questions fans were asking at the end of last season was about why on Earth Rumple (Robert Carlyle) would lie to Belle about the dagger, giving her a fake, and keeping the real Dark One magic dagger for himself. Belle (Emilie de Ravin) was more than willing to let Rumple keep it, yet he chose to lie to her and make her believe she had the real deal. In a effort to explain (I think), there is a scene in which Rumple visits Baelfire’s grave, and the speech he makes, trying to explain why he would keep the dagger, and then vowing to honor his son’s sacrifice and return it, is beautifully done and poignant in and of itself. But the scene comes off (to me) like a set piece, staged for exposition, rather than something organic, evolving from the story.
It is much more “tell” than “show,” which from a storytelling point of view is much less effective. It’s an important and revelatory scene for Rumple, and deserved more, in my opinion. But with only 45 minutes to the episode, and so much of it spent on Frozen, the scene seems tacked on, tucked in, and not naturally flowing. It’s just a feeling, and most people won’t be bothered at all, so enjoy it for what it is (and Robert Carlyle’s heartfelt, emotional delivery).
Belle and Rumple are ready to take a honeymoon, and Belle has the perfect spot picked out (or does she?). There is a gorgeous scene during the honeymoon, and many fans of “Rumbelle” have already seen the clip (or the set images), but, like the graveside scene, it, too, seems tacked on, and in this case, rushed. It’s a beautiful scene, and romantic as can be (with a huge musical shout out to the Disney version of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale, but compared to any scene in season one’s “Skin Deep,” it pales immensely. However, we do get an inkling into Rumple’s best intentions regarding the dagger, and we all know about “best intentions.”
The honeymoon connects to the Frozen storyline in the end in a potentially clever way, but we’ll have to wait until next episode to find out how–and what consequences it may bring to Rumple and to Storybrooke. I suppose, if you’ve read this far, you might have picked up that I’m lukewarm about “Two Sisters.” I’ll admit, I’m ambivalent, but willing to give the Frozen thing a chance. My fervent hope is that the series creators do not sacrifice the regular cast of characters for pushing Frozen to the forefront. Once Upon a Time already has a huge cast, even among its main characters. There are a lot of threads to pick up from last season, and with this new story, not a lot of time to dive deeply into them. And that’s what worries me.
Once Upon a Time airs Sunday nights at 8:00 p.m. ET on ABC. Tune in Sunday night at 10:00 p.m. ET to Let’s Talk TV Live, when we’ll deconstruct the Once Upon a Time season premiere, talk about our favorite story lines and characters, and speculate about the season to come.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00KS9V6EC,B0058YPL66,B009RX85N0]