“Once Upon a Time” Pilot Released; Let the Fairy Tale Battle Begin!

Although Oct. 23 is the official release date of ABC’s new fairy tale series, “Once Upon a Time,” I was delighted to see IMDb offering the full first episode for free viewing today.  As I’ve been excited for the upcoming battle of the fairy tale shows since March, I eagerly settled in to watch the pilot.

To quickly summarize the show’s concept, all of the fairy tale characters we know and love have been transported to the modern world by spell of an evil witch (Lana Parilla).  To further complicate things, they no longer remember their true identities, giving them no way to fight back against this curse.  Think “Fables” plus amnesia–an easy criticism of the show’s plot.

Despite the similarities to “Fables,” however, the pilot was relatively solid, striking a good balance between an angsty and mysterious present and flashbacks to the characters’ magical pasts.  Although this episode didn’t delve particularly deep (Few pilots do.), many scenes teased the audience by suggesting future twists and upcoming conflict.  I’m not a true fan yet, but if the show makes good on the potential the pilot hinted at, there’s a good chance I’ll become one.

I was interested to see that the show is not simply focusing on true fairy tales.  Many references were made to Carlo Collodi’s “Pinocchio,” which I’m willing to accept.  Although this story is not a true fairy tale, it is getting closer to becoming one; few people seem to know the name of the original author (Carlo Collodi), and there have been tons of adaptations, many of which bear little resemblance to the original story.  Lines were further blurred, however, when the book that represents the characters’ past lives briefly showed an illustration of some flying monkeys.  Likewise, the magical wardrobe capable of transporting people to another land was clearly a Narnia reference.  “Pinocchio” may be halfway to a fairy tale, but “the Wonderful Wizard of Oz” and “The Chronicles of Narnia” are not.  Although many audience members will likely ignore this, some will know enough about fairy tales to make this a little wince-worthy.  If the writers expect to get away with this kind of line blurring (something of which “Fables” is wildly guilty), they’ll have to make their plot compelling enough that pickier audience members will be willing to let it slide.

Overall, I found the pilot pretty enjoyable.  I’ll admit, however, that I remain excited  for the Oct. 28 premier of  “Grimm,” which is sure to be this show’s greatest competitor.  Let the fairy tale battle begin!

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Cracked Fables

Cracked.com has finally decided to take a stab at Aesop’s fables (and a few wrongly attributed to Aesop, i.e. “The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing” and “Henny Penny“), and the result is pretty amusing.  Their “non-bullshit fables” summarize what they believe would happen if any of these fantastical events happened in real life.  Some of the jokes are based on common sense responses to fairy tale problems, while others make blatant pop culture references.  They even throw in some more “realistic” morals for good measure.

This is just another great example of a joke based on our cultural knowledge of fairy tales.  Everyone who reads the above comic strip will understand the stories these are based on and get a laugh.

My personal favorite of these Cracked fables is the retelling of “The Ant and the Grasshopper.”  That ant always did seem like a jerk, to me!  Of course, their version of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” is pretty great, too.  Why did the townspeople let that irresponsible boy guard their sheep at night, anyway?

Fables 15: Rose Red

As fans of the series may know, the fifteenth Fables trade paperback came out earlier this week, on April 11, and it contains the series’ 100th issue.  The collection, titled “Rose Red,” follows the Fables community as it rallies to fight a new enemy, Mister Dark.  Of course, with Rose Red still in a deep depression over Boy Blue’s recent death, and all of the New York Fables living at the farm due to Mister Dark’s destruction of Fabletown, many different Fables and factions are vying for power.

I’ll try my hardest to not to give too much away,with this review, but I must warn you that there may be some SPOILERS.  If you don’t want to know anything about what happens in this story arc, stop reading now.

Rose Red

One thing I really enjoyed about this collection is that we finally had the opportunity to hear Rose Red’s whole back story.  We have known for years that Rose ended her sister Snow White’s marriage to Prince Charming, but this book shows us why and how.  It also shows us that this event was not actually what tore the sisters apart to begin with.  It was nice to be able to put Rose’s choices over the past few centuries into context.

Another thing that I loved was getting to see Frau Totenkinder unleash her full magical power to battle Fabletown’s newest adversary, Mister Dark.  Their battle is fantastic, and I always love plotlines that involve her.  Seeing as she’s one of the series’ richest and most interesting characters, I was saddened by this edition’s suggestion that we won’t be hearing any more about her.  The witch of the Black Forest will be greatly missed.

A few plotlines appeared in this collection that I’m really looking forward to hearing more about.  For one thing, the ever unpleasant Nurse Spratt appears to be more than just a bitch; she’s on her way to great betrayal.  Secondly, it seems like Snow and Bigby’s secret seventh child, Ghost, will finally be featured in the story that’s been hinted at for years, now; his grandfather, the North Wind, has discovered his existence.

One thing that got a little frustrating in this story arc was its overuse of twist endings.  In quick succession, a character dies, returns, and kills another character who also returns several pages later.  The last fifteen pages of the story are unnecessarily roller-coaster-esque.  While interesting, it was frankly a little ridiculous.

Overall, however, this collection was fantastic, and I loved the opportunity to read more about Fabletown’s most terrifying enemy to date.  This is a must-read for any fan of the series.

What Fairy Tale Do You Want Retold?

With Hollywood going through a bit of a fairy tale phase, a lot of classic fairy tales are getting retold.  Despite this, many still remain untouched.  When was the last time you read or saw a retelling of Goldilocks and the Three Bears?  The only one I can think of off the top of my head is the character in Bill Willingham’s “Fables,”  and even then, it’s more of a reference than a full retelling.

In the "Fables" comic series, Goldilocks is a murderous, mentally unstable revolutionary.

With this in mind, I have a question for all of you; what fairy tale would you most like to see retold?  This can be a well-known fairy tale like “Jack and the Beanstalk” or a more obscure story, such as the Romanian tale of “Little Wildrose.”  Feel free to include a story concept!

Peter & Max: A Fables Novel

Although I have been a fan of Bill Willingham’s “Fables” comic series for years, I only recently had the opportunity to read the series’ first ever full-length novel, “Peter & Max.”  The book centered around the characters of Peter Piper, his wife Bo Peep, and his evil brother Max Piper.

 

Here is the beautiful cover art from Bill Willingham's novel, "Peter & Max."

Because the name “Peter” crops up in so many familiar fairy tales and nursery rhymes, Willingham is able to combine all of these stories into the life of one individual, masterfully placing the stories of “Peter and the Wolf” (which is not actually a fairy tale), “Peter Piper,”  and “Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater” on a logical time-line.  These stories are also woven around the tales and misadventures of Max, who is the Pied Piper of Hamelin.

As with his Fables comic series, Willingham’s book offers us a seamless blend of magical and modern.  He describes both the skyscrapers of New York in the twenty-first century and the intricacies of ancient and mystical worlds with ease.  Not only that, but he brings his customary twist of darkness and tragedy to every familiar tale he incorporates.  Although they retain their flavors, these stories are anything but predictable.

Willingham also makes it possible for both old fans and new readers to enjoy his book.  The details of the Fables world are quickly described at the start of the novel, making this a book I would recommend to any lover of fairy tales or fantasy.

ABC’s “Once Upon a Time”

It looks like NBC’s upcoming show “Grimm” is going to have some competition.  ABC is developing their own fairy tale show, “Once Upon a Time.”  The show, which comes from the writers of “Lost,” features a star-studded cast; Jennifer Morrison, Ginnifer Goodwin, and more are listed on the official cast list, and “Pirates of the Caribbean” veteran Lee Arenberg announced his involvement on Twitter less than 24 hours ago.

 

Jennifer Morrison of "House" is set to play Anna Swan, the star of "Once Upon a Time."

“Once Upon a Time” centers around a town called Storybrook where fairy tale characters exist in the modern world.  Although this has the potential to be a great show, it also feels a bit like a rip-off of Bill Willingham’s comic series, “Fables.”  Since ABC got the rights to a “Fables” television show in 2008, one wonders why they seem to be abandoning it for such a similar concept, especially since the comic series has already proven its success; “Fables” has won 14 Eisner awards during its nine year run and it does not seem to be losing any steam.  It really makes me wonder if ABC and Vertigo might be having some trouble with their deal, after all.

I also think it’s fascinating that two fairy tale shows are coming out at once.  In fact, NBC has another show in development with an equally mystical plotline: magical cop drama “17th Precinct.”  I have not heard any fairy tales mentioned in association with it, but with all the fairy tale films that have been cropping up lately (Snow White especially) I wouldn’t be surprised if a few found their way onto the show.

To see a collection of the other tweets and stories I consulted while writing this post, check out the story I created with them on Storify.  I’ve included everything from concept summaries to tweets from the actors themselves.

Fairy Tales and Comic Books: Not Just For Kids

As the sort of people who would read a fairy tale blog, you probably already believe that fairy tales are not just for children.  In my opinion, neither are comic books.  In fact, there are more and more comic books out there geared toward mature audiences.

That being said, fairy tales and adult comic books are a match made in heaven.  Vertigo’s “Fables,” although it is not the only adult fairy tale comic (Its main competitor is probably Zenescope’s “Grimm Fairy Tales.”), is arguably the best.

“Fables” is based on the premise that all of our favorite fairy tale characters are real beings from magical parallel worlds.  After being chased from their homes by “the Adversary,” they fled to New York City, where they began a secret community right under the noses of us “mundies,” meaning “mundane, non-magical people”–sort of the “Fables” version of J. K. Rowling’s “muggles.”  These “fables,” as they call themselves, are essentially immortal, and are kept alive by the mundies’ belief in them and love of their stories.

Their lives in New York City, however, are not a paradise.  The Adversary is still out to get them, and they have their own drama to deal with.  Snow White is now the deputy mayor of Fabletown, the Big Bad Wolf has taken human form and works as the town Sheriff, Prince Charming is sleeping with anything that moves, and Cinderella works at a shoe store, which gives her time to moonlight as a Fabletown secret agent.  Let’s just say that these are not your little sister’s fairy tales, and you should never read them to her.  These are definitely meant for mature audiences.

Overall, “Fables” is a brilliant series.  You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll marvel at the darkness its creators have brought to the series, and you’ll love every second of it.  Not only that, but there’s also a spin-off series to keep you occupied; “Jack of Fables” chronicles the often sordid adventures of Jack Horner following his banishment from Fabletown.

This is a perfect example of modern fairy tales done correctly.  This series has been running for almost ten years (since 2002), and I am hoping for at least another ten.

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