For famed psychoanalyst Carl Jung, fairy tales revealed unconscious desires and primal wishes. Stories of Big Bad Wolves and trips through deep dark forests to get to Grandma’s house present a deeper hidden meaning of desires and dreams. Therefore, fairy tales, mythology and legends became the basis for wishing for something as well as revealing one’s truer inner self.
So, as the technological entertainment world evolves, fairy tales become re-told and re-packaged from Shrek to Hoodwinked or the love triangle in “Red Riding Hood” or the violent “Hanna,” fairy tales take on a newer more cynical meaning. Take for example ABC’s “Once Upon a Time.”
For Disney and ABC, the fairy tale opens new markets for an old franchise, a market Disney once cornered years ago through the glory days of its animation. On NBC’s “Grimm,” the last descendent of the Brothers Grimm is an Oregon police officer who finds that he’s fighting crime and fairy tale characters who have come to life. This season fairy tales are the new vampire. High-Ho, high-ho, it’s off to re-brand we go.
In the pilot episode of “Once Upon a Time,” bail bonds person Emma Swann is confronted by her son who she gave away years ago. The son convinces Emma to come back to Storybrooke, Maine where no one knows that they’re all in reality fairy book characters, especially the town’s mayor who is the bad witch queen and the town’s school teacher is Snow White and Emma’s real mother who gave her away years ago. A sense of childhood abandonment issues arise, which are themes from fairy tales like Hansel and Gretel, Jack and the Beanstalk and Cinderella.
From the start of this show, Snow White, encased in her class coffin, until she’s out of her paralytic coma from Prince Charming’s puckered kiss. At their wedding, the evil witch-queen promises an end to all happily ever-afters, which sends the characters into the real world, in other words, they become us and the archetypes become human.
As the evil witch queen, Lana Parilla comes off as a ghastly step-mother from Wisteria Lane. And Robert Carlyle’s Rumpelstiltskin is more Heath Ledger’s Joker than the man who spun straw into gold. As Snow White and Storybrooke’s school teacher, Jennifer Morrison is still lovely off her “Big Love” stint. As Emma, Ginnifer Goodwin is genuinely believable as the long lost daughter and savior of fairy tale land who proves to be a real doubting Thomas who must be won over to her role as savior and restorer of the story book characters back to their own land and time.
The actors believe in the roles they play. There are no ironic winks at the camera that this hooey is anything more than pure “Lost” meets “The X-Files.” Wanna-bes. The actors anchor down what could potentially be a laughable enterprise however they pull off their dual roles with believability as if some puppet master Hitchcock were pulling Pinocchio’s strings. Yes, he’s here too. So is Jiminy Cricket (Raphael Sbarge) as the town’s psychiatrist, Red Riding Hood, Granny and one of the Seven Dwarfs as a grumpy town drunk.
As this engaging show evolves, will there be an expanse into “Beauty and the Beast” or “Little Mermaid” territory? And with the 3 female leads and this “Desperate Housewives” last season on the air, “Once Upon a Time” might wind up filling ABC’s soon to be opened Sunday night line-up void, and attract some bored vampire worshipers. No longer are these fairy tale women the dainty delights that need saving but they can do their own lipstick feminism stunts and protect themselves. No bulky woodsman need apply.
Like the many images of Barbie Dolls, fairy tales have always given the world a false sense of reality with the promise of a happily ever after, as if this were the highest and most laudably attainable goal. Like going back to the past some Republicans think they can return America to the 1950s. In a world at war for ten years, a war on terror still in full swing and a still lagging economy, the promise of a happily ever after does seem as remote and ethereal as fairy dust.
In these new story book re-tellings, the characters who were once damsels are now the heroes and the once monsters meld with what use to be the once protagonists. In “Grimm” a vegan big bad wolf that does polities helps the Grimm police officer find another big bad wolf who is kidnapping girls in red hoods. So, fairy Tale characters become their own worst enemies and with the help of a good shrink they too can look inward for deeper meaning. Hopefully, part of their therapeutic 12-step-program won’t include concocting hokey re-packaged television shows.
Whether psychiatrist’s fairy tale archetypes, or Joseph Campbell’s hero questing myths, D.C. or Marvel Comics tortured superheroes that really represent us, or Tex Avery’s nightclub wolf howling at sexy Little Red, Jessica and Roger Rabbit’s Toon Town, or the mythology of religion, or the religion of politics and sports, Americans want to put their fingers onto something that gives meaning and definition of their already jumbled and information overloaded pulverized existence. (In the 1930s, during the Great Depression there was the Socialist movement and the KKK. Today we have sit-ins on Wall Street, ipods, the Tea Party and Dancing with the Stars.) This is one reason now why major league sporting events and Comic Con are so popular with the masses. “Once Upon a Time,” which re-does old ideas gives meaning to a world starving for a clue and groping for a truer definition.
So, Sunday nights on ABC, Rapunzuel let down your hair, don’t go to grandma’s house unless she’s watching too, huff and puff blowing your own house down, don’t tell a lie because this reviewer’s nose will grow, “Once Upon a Time” is an exciting new show that could have surprising plot twists. If not, this show is only an hour away from the more revealing metaphorical story of the day: “The Walking Dead” where no one lives, happily or other wise. They’re the un-dead; it’s Halloween every day so no one lives to tell the tall tale.