Fall 2013 Review: Once Upon a Time in Wonderland

6 Nov

Many times upon a time in Wonderland

Once Upon a Time in Wonderland owes its incredibly clumsy title to being a spinoff, in style, if not in practice, from Disney ABC surprise hit Once Upon a Time. It’s not a traditional spinoff because no character from Wonderland has ever been in Once Upon a Time, but reports lead me to believe their paths could cross sometime in the future and there are distinct stylistic similarities. I don’t like Once Upon a Time,, but I did my best to not let my biases get the best of me, as I said down to watch its progeny.

At first, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland actually seemed promising. What I disliked about Once Upon a Time original edition was it’s utter cheesiness. That’s not exactly an SAT word but it really aptly describes the quality which may make Once Upon a Time perfect for kids but unattractive to adults. Once Upon a Time in Wonderland contains a deliciously dark premise, at least to start. Alice, of Wonderland fame, is now a teenager stuck in a mental asylum. When she came out of Wonderland the first time she told stories of all her adventures, only to have her dad not believe her crazy tales. She returned to Wonderland again and again to find proof so that her dad would finally believe her, but when she didn’t it was only seen by her dad as running away and being mentally unstable. Eventually she was sent to an asylum for her own good, where they won’t let her out unless she admits she made up the stories. She tries to lie but they don’t believe her because she still cries out about Wonderland every night in her dreams. The asylum doctors end up suggesting a lobotomy, and broken of spirit, she gives in.

Unfortunately, that super dark premise doesn’t last long. Like in many fairy tales, things are darkest at the start. Alice has lost her willpower in particular because, as we see in flashbacks, her great love, an ex-genie (yes, that’s a thing – think how the genie in Aladdin was freed, but this time he looks like a hot guy) from Wonderland was killed by the evil Red Queen. Ever since his death, she’s had trouble caring about anything. Fortunately for her, a former Wonderland compatriot who’s escaped into the real world is summoned by the rabbit (the white rabbit of Jefferson Airplane fame), voiced by John Lithgow to help Alice, and let her know her true love is still alive. He somehow gets in and gives Alice the news which reinvigorates her and lets out her inner action hero as she takes out a couple of guards. They break out of the asylum and back into Wonderland where they set off to find her ex-genie. Forget the super creepy asylum and the potential lobotomy and all the doctors, that’s all done, because we’re in Wonderland now.  Now, there’s still a super evil baddie, the red queen, and the great twist is the rabbit is now in the Red Queen’s pocket for some reason that’s unclear up to her. But it’s a fairy tale and a classic fairy tale villain rather than the far more disturbing and creepy and potentially interesting asylum set up.

Which is fine to some extent. It’s innocuous enough, it’s pleasant, and I’m sure there’s a set who this appeals to. But to someone who has been exposed to so many dark adult stories and gripping emotional dramas, it feels well, and I know I sound cynical here, but lame. I certainly don’t expect every drama to be super dark or incredibly complex (Orphan Black, for example, as if I need to defend myself, is a ton of fun, certainly isn’t complex, unless you consider its sci-fi nonsense as complexity), and maybe it’s sad that I can’t enjoy this and it says more about me than it does about the show. Still, I can’t and I don’t.

Now,  in the second half of the episode, Alice and her buddy, the Knave of Hearts, are off on some sort of yellow brick road, questing to find her love, and they face a couple of obstacles, including a greedy Knave trying to steal from Alice, before episode’s end. They made it through them all though for now. The Red Queen, in the other surprise of the episode, is working for Jafar in a great confluence of Disney villains. He’s played by Lost’s Sayid, Naveen Andrews, who we see, has Alice’s genie locked up but for some reason needs her to unlock his power.

I need to talk for a second about the effects. Effects rarely bother me; they’re not something that ranks very highly for me on the list of pieces I look for in a movie or show and I’m usually willing to give substandard effects a pass. But I have to say that the effects here were really, really bad. The rabbit, and basically everything in Wonderland contributed to the overall cheesiness. Combined with the general tone, it seemed more appropriate for a Disney straight to home video film than a primetime TV show.

Will I watch it again? No.  The tone feels a little too I don’t know, like The Simpsons’ Storytime Village – perfect for ages 1 to 7 1/2 and the writing and characters aren’t so good that I’m willing to put up with a tone that doesn’t much interest me.

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