“There have been many authors throughout time. It’s a job, not a person… Tasked with the great responsibility to record. To witness the greatest stories of all time and record them for posterity. The job has gone back eons from the man who watched the shadows dance across cave walls and developed an entire philosophy to playwrights who tell tales in poetry to a man named Walt.”
OK, so you’ve tapped into almost every Disney classic story and quite a few that weren’t Disney. The television show is still going strong. What are you going to do next? You turn to your brand new hits, of course. And if you happen to own the characters from the highest-grossing animated feature of all time, perhaps the decision is obvious. Yes, we’re talking about Frozen. It’s no surprise, really. If you watched the last season finale and the spots ABC has been running both on-air and online, you knew this was coming. There’s been a lot of internet chatter about the decision. Many are happy. A few not so much. If you find yourself in the later camp, it’s a done deal now, and you’ll simply have to let it go.
ABC has had a very important asset going for it for years. It’s one that the network has seldom taken any advantage of. That asset is its parent company. You see, ABC is part of the Walt Disney family. With the rich history of stories the studio has in its arsenal going back to the 1920’s, it was only a matter of time before some clever people decided to find a way to use that rich history into a television series. That time has arrived, and the result is Once Upon A Time. It’s the most clever and original series to hit the tube in a long time.
The mythology of Once Upon A Time gets quite complicated over these three seasons. This is not the place to start if you want to watch the show. Check out our previous reviews of the first three seasons of Once Upon A Time. Bang it here to get caught up: Once Upon A Time Reviews.
“It’s time to change the book.”
It all starts almost to the moment where we left off last season. Emma and Hook (O’Donoghue) have returned from their Back To The Future adventure and have brought Marian (Laing) back with them. So much for Regina’s happy ending with Robin (Maguire). And that is the theme of the fourth season: happy endings and who gets them. The villains of the show are fed up with the way their story has been written. It seems the heroes always win the day and get their happily ever after. For Gold and Regina they decide to fight the system but go about it in different ways. Regina wishes to seek out the “author” of Henry’s storybook to ask him to write a happy ending for her. She’s inspired by an alternate page Robin discovers in his bags that depicts him and Regina together. It provides the spark of hope that she can be happy. For Gold, it’s a matter of manipulating events to force his happy ending, and he’s running out of time. It seems his heart has gone almost totally dark, and he’ll lose any chance to know love if the last spark disappears. So naturally he thinks another scheme is the way to fix it, with tragic results.
But Marian wasn’t the only thing that Emma brought back with her. She also brought with her Elsa (Haig), who appears to have brought a destructive wall of ice around the city. She’s going to get the blame for plenty of icy destructive events, at least until we discover another new player on the scene. Enter the Snow Queen, played by Lost’s Juliet Elizabeth Mitchell. She’s a new villain who has a connection to Emma we discover along the way in flashbacks. She’s got to be the worst bad guy in Disney history. She actually weaponizes ice cream. I don’t know about you, but that’s as low as you can go. Along the way we are eventually joined by Frozen characters Anna (Lail) and Kristoff (Foster). Through the Fairyland segments we see a story that involves the discovery of an aunt by the girls, and we all know who that’s going to turn out to be. The Frozen motif is used to tell a story of family and acceptance that leads to the usual moral ending. We also find these characters having shared moments in the past with our main characters. Honestly, the Frozen tie-in could have been worse and manages to grow on you by the time it is resolved.
“I suppose we should go out and see what’s killing property values this time.”
Like the previous season, this year involves pretty much two stories. As the Frozen story finishes mid-season, a new one takes over. This one sees the arrival of two classic Disney villains as part of Gold’s plan to get his own happily ever after. We’re talking about Ursula (Dungey) from The Little Mermaid, Cruella De Vil (Smurfit) from 101 Dalmatians, and Maleficent, played by True Blood’s favorite evil club owner Kristin Bauer van Straten. This version of Maleficent is less the Jolie story and more the one from Sleeping Beauty. She’s definitely a villain here, and the three bad girls are coming to town with Gold to change the villains’ stories.
The season manages to sneak in some other fairy tale characters with a new spin. We find Little Bo Peep is running a protection racket in the Enchanted Forest.
Walt Disney World has removed the Sorcerer’s Apprentice hat from its prime spot at their Florida Hollywood Studios park. Where has it gone, you might ask. We’ve found it here. Gold has taken procession of the hat, which also exists in the form of a bucket. Both forms pay homage to the famous Mickey Mouse segment of the original Fantasia. It’s become a Pandora’s Box item that allows Gold to collect the power and essence of magical beings. And trust me, I know from the curse of Pandora. This allows the character of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice to appear on the show. While he’s a man, there is a segment that finds him turned into …you guessed it… a mouse. When activated the hat resembles the planet-eating doomsday machine from Star Trek. The music is made to resemble the piece from the film, and there’s even an animated broom.
There are plenty of twists and turns that it wouldn’t be fair to reveal here. The moral of the season is absolutely the difference between heroes and villains. It’s always been a popular concept with Disney and has lately extended to how the Magic Kingdom separates its two major parking areas. Of course, you don’t have a choice which area you will be funneled into, but that’s really kind of the point here. There’s a question on whether villains are thrust into their roles by an unseen author or if their actions and free will determine who they are. That’s the big philosophical debate that boils through most of the season. Even the heroes find their dark moments as Snow and Charming are hiding their own dark deeds that tie-in with the Maleficent story and a daughter who also can do the dragon thing. I will say they aren’t very subtle here. You will be hit over the head by the heroes/villain quotes as badly as Uncle Ben’s admonition on great power and… heck, you know the rest. ‘Nuff said.
The series is heading more and more into the territory of camp. We’re talking Adam West camp. The characters have gone totally over the top, and you really have to take most of these performances with a grain of salt. The show has become more of a guilty pleasure for many of its fans. It’s the show you don’t necessarily want to admit you watch or even like. Still there are some things going for the show that certainly provide a little entertainment. And like all good fairy tales, there’s usually a moral to the story and not always the obvious one.
Some of the cast is also quite good. Robert Carlyle steals every scene he is in. He also has the most diversity between his Storybrooke character and his fairyland character. Rumpelstiltskin is quite a prominent character here. Carlyle certainly gets to have the most fun as the flamboyant Rump and delivers the most maniacal and hideous giggles in the role. His face is painted gold. As the “mundane” Mr. Gold, he’s merely cold and calculating and a convincing devil character at all times. Still, you never really quite know which side he is truly on. He gets a shot at redemption and even love in this season, and it would be spoiling to tell you how it worked out. Needless to say, he’s not completely regained his “good” nature. Ginnifer Goodwin and Lana Parilla have too close a look to be as distinctive as the characters should be. Parilla’s is by far the more convincing and better performance. Of course, it really is more fun to play evil than it is to portray good. Raphael Sbarge is terribly underused as Jiminy and doesn’t appear in most of the episodes. He’s the show’s grounding character and certainly should have more to do. Young Jared Gilmore is infectious as Henry and shows a lot of energy and passion in the part. Of course, the true lead here is Jennifer Morrison as Emma. She doesn’t really have a counterpart in Fairyland, so she doesn’t get to stretch the performance as much. Maybe that’s for the best. She represents us here, and we see, at least the mundane world, through her eyes.
You get all 23 episodes, including two 2-parters on five discs.
Each episode is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec. The picture is nothing short of stunning for a television series. The fairytale land is particularly magical. The image gives us nice textures in the environments and costumes. Some of the computer-generated environments are a bit obvious, and the sharpness of the image can work against the presentation on those instances. Colors are vibrant and shiny. You do get the atmosphere of a hyper-fantastic world. Black levels are solid in the rare instances where they are required.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is dominated by dialog. That isn’t to say there aren’t some rather fanciful uses of surrounds. You’ll find them more aggressive in the fantastic world. The musical numbers are clean and dynamic. It’s a solid audio presentation without actually calling much attention to itself.
All of the features are in HD.
Commentary & Deleted Scenes on select episodes.
Defrosting Frozen: (9:46) The cast and crew talk about bringing the hit film’s characters into the show. There’s some nice behind-the-scenes footage here that reveals some frosty secrets.
Behind The Magic Tour: (9:58) Goodwin and Dallas give us a tour of some of the sets. It’s told in a kind of mockumentary style.
Three Who Stayed: (5:23) This is a straight-out mockumentary about three characters not seen on the show who stayed when the ice wall came down. It’s told in the style of an expose.
The storybook tale has taken on a sense of reality since last year. Snow White and Prince Charming got married in the real world and had a child. Of course I’m talking about Goodwin and Josh Dallas, who play the characters. Apparently, there was some real chemistry going on, and they are now a couple. Goodwin’s pregnancy made for some interesting shooting angles this season employing the usual tricks to hide the obvious. The new season is about to begin once again on ABC. It’ll start with things literally turned on their heads. The cast tell us to expect the unexpected. “I love it when they say that.”