TV

The 'Frozen' Characters' Mix in 'Once Upon a Time - Season 4' Creates Quite the Slush

Liz Medendorp

In what appears to be more of a publicity stunt to capitalize on the immense popularity of Frozen, Storybrooke is looking more like Disneyworld than a classic fairytale world.


Once Upon a Time

Distributor: Disney
Cast: Jennifer Morrison, Lana Parrilla, Ginnifer Goodwin, Josh Dallas, Robert Carlyle, Colin O'Donoghue, Georgina Haig, Elizabeth Lail, Kristin Bauer van Straten, Victoria Smurfit, Merrin Dungey
Network: ABC
US release date: 2015-08-18
Website
Amazon

The appeal of Once Upon a Time is grounded in the idea of reviving and expanding the stories of classic and cherished fairy tale characters, but in its fourth season, this notion is somewhat abandoned with the decision to integrate fresh contemporary icons into the series. Even though the Frozen characters are certainly beloved by many, it seems odd that these newcomers would be so quickly adopted into the world of much more established fairy tale icons, such as Snow White, Rumpelstiltskin, and Sleeping Beauty. In what appears to be more of a publicity stunt to capitalize on the immense popularity of this recent animated hit, Storybrooke is looking more like Disneyworld than a classic fairytale world.

The central theme of Once Upon a Time is love in its various forms, and its fourth season continues in that vein with the introduction of the sisterly love between Frozen’s Anna (Elizabeth Lail) and Elsa (Georgina Haig). While romantic love does figure prominently, although many viewers might agree not prominently enough in the case of Emma Swan’s (Jennifer Morrison) relationship with the steamy Captain Hook (Colin O’Donoghue), familial love is the primary focal point, particularly because nearly all of the main characters are related in some way, giving the series an almost incestual undertone. They are at least often bemusedly self-aware of the ridiculousness of this situation, but the continued emphasis on familial bonds is still a bit overdone, as has been the case throughout the entire series.

However, the second half of this season shifts focus to a more intriguing theme that has been built into the series from the beginning yet has not been deeply explored until now. Playing with the dichotomy of heroes and villains, Once Upon a Time blurs the line between good and evil by reexamining these classic characters' motivations from different perspectives. Although the reliance on absolutist ideologies, reflected by the persistent use of terms such as “hero” and “villain,” does a bit of a disservice to the characters, making them seem more one-dimensional and archetypal than they really are, this shift away from a tired re-hashing of the same emphasis on family bonds and loyalty to the complex notions of "good" and "evil" represents a vast improvement.

The season aired in two parts, and it certainly feels like two separate mini-seasons. The first half focuses on the introduction of the Frozen characters and their somewhat clumsy integration into Storybrooke, despite the writers’ repeated assertions that they prioritized the existing characters and and the impact these outsiders would have on them. The biggest attempts to do so include a supposed connection between Emma and Elsa due to their wariness of and lack of control over their similarly burgeoning magical powers and the Snow Queen’s (Elizabeth Mitchell) deranged obsession with making these two her sisters based on a conveniently enigmatic prophecy. These connections are tenuous, and a greater integration of the other, more interesting Arendelle characters, such as the bubbly and amusing Anna, whose rendering by promising new actress Elizabeth Lail is both faithful and fresh, and her quirky and fully supportive fiancé Kristoff (Scott Michael Foster), is a sadly missed opportunity.

The attempts to foreshadow the second half of the season also feel somewhat tangential; Mr. Gold’s (Robert Carlyle) strange scheming with and visits to the "Queens of Darkness" and Regina’s (Lana Parrilla) quest to locate the “Author” of the storybook are tacked onto the episodes without clear relevance to the rest of the events. That being said, once you actually get to the second half of the season, the storyline is much more focused and compelling, highlighting the perspectives of the so-called “villains”, namely Maleficent (Kristin Bauer van Straten), Cruella De Vil (Victoria Smurfit), and Ursula (Merrin Dungey), and their quest to get their happy endings. These characters are humanized as their motives are explained through their backstories, and while their insistence on retaining the label is somewhat odd, they show that a “villain” is not always outright evil, and instead may simply be misunderstood.

The DVD’s audio commentaries are quite good, particularly because they are done by the writers of the corresponding episodes, so they discuss more than just behind-the-scenes anecdotes about the filming of the scenes. Thankfully, Jane Espenson, the writer responsible for some of the show’s best episodes as well as some of its funniest dialogue, is one of the commentators, and while she and actress Lana Parrilla spend a lot of time simply praising various cast members for their kindness and hard work, they also provide insightful background on the structure of the plot, and the characters’ development and motivations.

Interestingly, the commentators all continuously praise the purportedly expensive special effects and stress that they turned out so great, which is surprising given their cheesy, almost cartoonish appearance. It may be expected that a fire-breathing dragon would not look realistic, but there are other, less fantastical elements that still stick out like a sore thumb. The rock troll Grand Pabbie, for example, while magnificently voiced by John Rhys-Davies, appears strangely out of place in the live-action realm, barely resembling the real boulders surrounding him. While they might be admittedly impressive for a television budget, the unnatural visual effects do not deserve the praise they have apparently been receiving.

Frozen's Grand Pabbie the rock troll in Once Upon a Time

All things considered, though, the writers have done an admiral job of juggling a cumbersome conglomeration of variegated fairy tale stories and their real-world counterparts, and Season 4 of Once Upon a Time may include some of the best acting in the series yet because of the focus on some of the more talented cast members and their more interesting characters. The minimal involvement of the irritatingly flat Henry (Jared S. Gilmore) is a merciful relief, and the increased attention to the more complex emotions of recovering villains Regina and Gold was a smart move.

Overall, the latest season of ABC’s fairy tale drama Once Upon a Time takes an already complex and meandering story and complicates it still further by adding in a whole host of new characters. While the introduction of already beloved fairy tale characters was a source of excitement in the early seasons, the cast is becoming so manifold and unwieldy that even the actors and writers admit to great difficulty keeping the story straight. However, with a new focus on the more compelling characters and hinting toward greater thematic depth, this series could be ready to revive itself in the same way it set out to revive its traditional inspirations.

5

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

This film suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Award-winning folk artist Karine Polwart showcases humankind's innate link to the natural world in her spellbinding new music video.

One of the breakthrough folk artists of our time, Karine Polwart's work is often related to the innate connection that humanity has to the natural world. Her latest album, A Pocket of Wind Resistance, is largely reliant on these themes, having come about after Polwart observed the nature of a pink-footed geese migration and how it could be related to humankind's intrinsic dependency on one another.

Keep reading... Show less
Film

Victory Is Never Assured in ‘Darkest Hour’

Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour (2017) (Photo by Jack English - © 2017 FOCUS FEATURES LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. / IMDB)

Joe Wright's sharp and only occasionally sentimental snapshot of Churchill in extremis as the Nazi juggernaut looms serves as a handy political strategy companion piece to the more abstracted combat narrative of Dunkirk.

By the time a true legend has been shellacked into history, almost the only way for art to restore some sense of its drama is to return to the moment and treat it as though the outcome were not a foregone conclusion. That's in large part how Christopher Nolan's steely modernist summer combat epic Dunkirk managed to sustain tension; that, and the unfortunate yet dependable historical illiteracy of much of the moviegoing public.

Keep reading... Show less
7
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image