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The season four premiere of "Once Upon a Time" is a mixed bag. Whether you like it may depend on your feelings about Disney and "Frozen."

‘Once Upon a Time’ Season Premiere: The Good, the Bad, the ‘Frozen’

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.Once Upon a Time Premiere Sunday, September 28

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.

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics, (blogcritics.org). Her Bram Stoker Award-nominated novel, called "Anne Rice meets Michael Crichton," The Apothecary's Curse The Apothecary's Curse is now out from Pyr, an imprint of Prometheus Books.Her book on the TV series House, M.D., Chasing Zebras is a quintessential guide to the themes, characters and episodes of the hit show. Barnett is an accomplished speaker, an annual favorite at MENSA's HalloWEEM convention, where she has spoken to standing room crowds on subjects as diverse as "The Byronic Hero in Pop Culture," "The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes," "The Hidden History of Science Fiction," and "Our Passion for Disaster (Movies)."

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16 comments

  1. Can I ask about Emma and Charmings’ scenes?

  2. Anything about Henry in tonight’s episode ?

  3. Frozen isnt taking over, Elsa isnt even in all of the first half’s eleven episodes, shes only in 9, and the other Frozen characters get even less (I think 4-5, respectively). This is just the first episode, it makes sense they’d push Frozen at the start, since alot of people are tuning in just for the addition of Frozen who’ve never seen the show.

    • That is still nine episodes too many. Frozen was a decent movie, but the show has been taking a lot of decisions that are designed for a certain segment of fans of the show (Hook and Emma) and basically destroyed (or nearly destroyed) the reason why this show was interesting to begin with. The journey of personal growth and redemption for Rumple and the EQ got me hooked (Carlyle is a truly great actor and Lana Parilla is a very good actress). They injected life into what could have been cardboard characters. They did not have to kill Baelfire. They did that to appease the Hook/Emma shippers. The show is degenerating into a Disney marketing gig. And that’s not good.

  4. Right now I feel very disenchanted of many thinks about the show after the last season.For me It’s not surprise that in this first episodes will be more of the new characters since they need to catch the new viewers first with story that interest them and then entangle the principal characters so the fans of frozen stay in the future for the main cast. The problem I see is the one that was very visible with oz and walking in circles in the jungle arc; All the limps of the show are forgiven for the fans because they are fond of the characters. The show put to much weight in the character charisma and not in the writing, so I don’t know if this ambitious thing of catch the fans of Frozen will work If this thing was not corrected, unless the frozen fans are not that picky. Anyway I watched Frozen once, I don’t consider it one of the best works of Disney but more a good work of publicity and media, so perhaps after all is not that ambitious.
    Really, I don’t know what it’s gonna happen with the character development, that after last season was truly, a soup of contradictions… but my point was, that the Rumple grave scene I understand it, and even without watch it I will go with you about that was awkward positioned in the story, but since now that they are promoting couples like main attractive, this scene was urgent matter because last season they really nearly killed the liking of this couple and the fanbase…could have be done in more time but…we must hope that this is not precedent about how the things are gonna be managed after all isn’t? So then, only time will tell us after all.

  5. Did anyone catch how the urn came along with Emma and Hook last season? I’ve watched the scene twice but to me, it seems like the urn appears out of nowhere because I thought Emma left it with Rumple’s other objects and I didn’t notice the portal catching it.

  6. Not the best episode of OUAT. I am still upset with them killing Neal. And now, they give Rumple the short end of the stick, scene wise. The Rumple and Belle scenes could have been great, but because they have two put the tale of two sisters front and center, it felt more like a throwaway to Rumbelle fans, more than anything else. I hope that they don’t waste Robert Carlyle and Lana Parilla this season. The Disneyfication of this show is pathetic. When I saw Mickey’s hat materialize from the urn I cringed. What are they doing in this show?

    Thank you Fox for putting Sleepy Hollow on prime time. Those writers can write, they can imagine, and they know how to use talented actors like Tom Mison. Robert Carlyle is a great actor, but come on, OUAT overlords! You are wasting talent and losing fans.

    • WML–I did get the impression that both scenes were there to pander to the Rumbelle-ers. Although I make no bones about the fact that I love that relationship, I thought the scenes were really throwaways. Others weren’t, but those two scenes I mentioned (the graveside and the dance) were.

  7. I’m sure I’m not alone here; but the premier was atrocious. From continuity errors, discarded character development, and forcing too much Disney . . . awful

    http://theinsightfulpanda.com/2014/09/29/once-upon-a-time-two-sisters-5-ways-to-ruin-a-good-series/

  8. ‘Suggests a return of an old character?’ Do you mean like flashbacks of August?

  9. As an aside, I just watched the second episode of Sleepy Hollow. Wow! Contrast that to yesterday’s episode of Once Upon a Time. Bow Wow.

  10. We’ve never seen Frozen or care to so I knew this premier was going to suck. And it did. They had to spend the whole show introducing us to characters that aren’t classics and never will be. Some of the fun before was guessing who would show up. I’m really disappointed they went w this story line when there are many other classics they could have used.