Once Upon A Time In Wonderland

Confession time: I enjoy Once Upon A Time. Well, in reality, it's more like a love/hate relationship. There are a lot of things that I really like about the show, such as Robert Carlyle's Mr. Gold and Lana Parrilla's Wicked Queen. There are also a lot of things that I hate about it, like the fact that Disney's blood is all over the place even though most of these fairy tales pre-date the Disney movies by a hundred year or so. (Yes, I know Disney owns ABC, the station that airs Once Upon A Time but that doesn't mean that it needs to be a commercial for all things Disney.) In a lot of ways, I feel dirty for liking Once, but I just can't help it. So when I found out that it will be getting a spin-off series based in Wonderland (bee tee double-you, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is my favorite book of all time) I could barely contain my excitement.

The pilot opens with Alice returning from her trip to Wonderland, emerging from a hole in the ground and running home to find her father surprised to see her. After explaining all of the strange things she experienced, her father has her committed, fearing that she's gone insane. Alice spends years in an asylum, being convinced by a team of doctors the things she saw weren't real to get her to agree to some sort of experimental procedure that will give her her life back. On the morning of her surgery, Will, the Knave of Hearts, rescues her and together they travel back to Wonderland in search of Alice's lost love, Cyrus (Peter Gadiot).

The first thing I notice about Alice is that she's a conglomeration of a few different characters. She retains her classic curiosity, eyes alight at all of the things she sees. But she's also got a bad-ass powerful side, like the Alice we see in Tim Burton's Alice In Wonderland. With the way the episode starts, I can tell she's also part Dorothy from the 1985 movie Return To Oz starring Fairuza Balk. Even the changes that they say Wonderland has gone through since Alice left is reminiscent of how Oz changed between The Wizard of Oz and Return to Oz. Not entirely on the same scale, mind you, but there are parallels between the two.

Sophie Lowe plays Alice and I have to say, she's nothing special. She plays the part well enough, flashing her big, doe eyes when the script calls for it. For a show about Alice, I would expect a little more, but while I really don't have anything positive to say, I also have nothing negative.

The mysterious Knave of Hearts (Michael Socha) is, so far, my favorite character. He reluctantly joins Alice on her quest and manages to provide the comedy relief of the show. The strange thing is, he's actually pretty funny. He delivers his lines with pristine timing and comes off as witty as opposed to annoying like so many other comedic characters on prime time. He also has a bit of a dark side, proving that to Alice as he disappears on her during a crucial moment.

The lowest point, however, is the Red Queen. Played by Emma Rigby, the Red Queen rules over Wonderland with an iron fist, threatening anyone who opposes her with the loss of their head. Rigby sashays across the set with an eternal frown, pointing her ruby red lips in the direction of her latest irritation. She doesn't add anything to the show besides being the big, necessary evil and because she had an integral role in the source materials. What makes Parrilla's Regina/Evil Queen such a convincing character is the vacillation of being "evil". Sometimes, her quest for revenge drives her to do bad things but other times, she's a pretty stand-up person because all she wants is the love of her adopted son, Henry. At this point, the Red Queen has no such motivations and is just a 2-Dimensional villain.

The other big bad of the show is Jafar from Aladdin. It wouldn't be a Once Upon A Time without mashing a few other Disney movies into it. Remember how I said earlier that one of the things that bother me about OUAT was all the in-your-face Disney action? Well, I like Jafar in this. Despite a lack of screen time, Naveen Andrews, Said of Lost fame, manages to exude a great presence that overshadows the Red Queen. Their alliance against Alice could be the stuff of legends and I'm hoping the writers use it to its fullest.

There is a lot of special effects going on in Wonderland. The entire world is meant to be a strange amalgamation of pretty much anything you can imagine. Most of the show is filmed in front of a green screen and the characters placed in a full, CG surroundings. Some of it looks great, like Alice getting chased through the hedge maze. Other parts look like shit. But this project is ambitious as hell. There's a reason you don't see many prime time shows drenched in CGI like this; because it's expensive. Full CGI characters like the White Rabbit and the Cheshire Cat must eat through most of the show's budget, so I'm willing to excuse some of the shittier special effects like the marsh made out of marshmallow.

Speaking of the Cheshire Cat, he's awesome. And he's voiced by Keith David. I so can't wait to see more of him.

As a fan of Alice's Adventures In Wonderland, there's so much that I want to see in this show. The Jaberwocky. The Lion and the Unicorn. Perhaps even the return of the Mad Hatter, a character that had a decent role in Once Upon A Time. The pilot also set up a number of other possibilities showing up in the show; a quick line about "swimming with mermaids" could imply the appearance of The Little Mermaid, Ariel. But since she's already been confirmed for Once Upon A Time proper, I don't know if that's going to happen. Regardless of that, though, the writers were able to come up with a strong premise that has a lot of potential and I'm hoping Once Upon A Time: Wonderland lives up that that potential.

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