Is Once Upon a Time Getting Rebooted?

In late 2019, ABC greenlit a new romance drama produced by Eddy Kitsis and Adam Horowitz about Disney and fairy tale characters living in an enchanted forest. If that sounds familiar to you, that's because it is the exact formula that was used to create the 2011 ABC drama, Once Upon a Time, and by the same producers, no less. Once Upon a Time's seventh season was treated as a reboot of sorts and was, in many people's opinion, when the Disney-owned fairy tale drama finally jumped the shark. Why, then, would they think it's a good idea to do it all over again? Disney's behavior in recent years shows a dearth of creativity, as does Hollywood in general, so it isn't all that surprising that they would want to recreate a show that already has a fanbase, just as they've been tirelessly recreating their classic movies. However, the question remains that just because they can, does that mean they should?

Original cast of Once Upon a Time in the Enchanted Forest

From an objective standpoint, Once Upon a Time was not an original show, to begin with. There are many other properties that explored realms where fairy tale characters reside together, including Vertigo's Fables comics and the 2000 NBC miniseries, The 10th Kingdom. Once Upon a Time put an original spin on it with its protagonist, Emma Swan, a disgruntled modern-day woman who grew up in the real world and may have never learned of her fairy tale origins if her estranged son hadn't sought her out years later. Once Upon a Time conveyed a timeless theme about the power of family and hope, which made for a strong first season that started to fall apart as the show forced more and more unlikely familial relations to keep the plot interesting. The new series, entitled Epic, is promoted as a "romantic anthology," which might give it more in common with the underappreciated spinoff, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland. However, the reason that Wonderland is such a strong show is that it only ran for roughly half the length of a single season of Once Upon a Time and told a complete and moving love story in only 13 episodes. If Epic had been purchased as a limited series like Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, I would be less concerned, but knowing Disney, they will likely squeeze out every drop of content they can pull from it until there is nothing left.

Alice and Cyrus embracing in Once Upon a Time in Wonderland

Reboots are a slippery slope because fans of the original often want to see the same thing again with fewer flaws, so too many changes can make them worse, whereas too few changes make them question why the property needed to be remade in the first place. The former may be the case with the upcoming live-action remake of Disney's The Little Mermaid. At first, I was excited to learn about the sweet and talented newcomer they found in Halle Bailey to recreate the role of Ariel. Then I was excited to learn that Alan Menken was working with Lin-Manuel Miranda to write new music for the film. However, I was less excited to learn that these new songs include rap. Rapping and Disney princesses only go together in parodies or rap battle videos, not in the context of the story. Lin-Manuel Miranda had written such a beautiful "I want" song for Moana with "How Far I'll Go" that I had been hoping he would stick to the same format for The Little Mermaid. I would have even been happy with some of the original Broadway songs that were featured in 2019's live show starring Auli'i Cravalho as Ariel.

Auli'i Carvalho as Ariel

Unlike The Little Mermaid and Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, Epic is not being promoted as a reboot or a spinoff, which might be the worst transgression of all. Disney is hiring the same two producers to make the same show containing the same Disney-owned intellectual property and trying to promote it as something new. There is nothing original about this idea or even the fairy tales that inspired it. Disney has such a monopoly on princesses and fairy tales that all they ever want to do anymore is retell the same ancient stories and over and overs. What I would like to see from Epic is a new fantasy kingdom with original characters, original names, and an original story. It has been such a long time since Hollywood has introduced us to a princess we have never met before. Thanks to the decline of femininity in the media, it has been even longer since we have seen an original love story. Maybe this show will turn out to be all the things I've been hoping for since Once Upon a Time in Wonderland ended, but somehow, I doubt it.

Right now, I think the most original current Disney property is WandaVision. While this original Disney+ series draws its characters and story from various comics, movies, and classic sitcoms, the concept itself is something that has never been done before in this way. Instead of portraying a bunch of magical characters living in a mundane world like Once Upon a Time, WandaVision takes a bunch of ordinary New Jersey citizens and places them in a happy-go-lucky time-traveling sitcom. Not only does it fulfill the fantasy of living a trauma-free life that so many of us crave these days, but it also features what is in my opinion, the first Marvel character who is not afraid to show her femininity. My biggest issue with the Disney+ original movie Secret Society of Second-Born Royals is that it featured the same cookie-cutter rebellious feminist princess archetype that has been featured in every princess-related movie and TV show from the past decade. Wanda is the first superhero Disney has given us who would rather be a princess than a hero. I will have more to say about this when the finale airs later this week. In the meantime, I can only hope that Epic will take a page from WandaVision's book instead of trying to rehash the same old Once Upon a Time formula.


Stephanie said…
Part of me gets really hopeful Epic will be everything Once could have been but wasnt, however with so much anti-femininity going on, I doubt it. There is so much potential for what they could do with all the classic fairytale characters living in a world together.
Also I agree that they need some new content. Disney needs to get around to making some new Princesses (girly ones, with dresses. Not Raya-cough) They have never done Twelve Dancing Princesses, Rumplestiltskin, or Princess and the Pea. They could even do a version of the Goose Girl.
Lisa Dawn said…
I would love to see them do those stories! There was a very Disney-like animated version of "The Princess and the Pea" in 2002 that was made by an independent film studio. I reviewed it here: I think you can find it on YouTube.

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