At New York Comic Con, Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz – the co-creators of ABC/Disney’s hit TV show Once Upon A Time – took a break from greeting fans dressed as fairies, evil queens and blonde bounty hunters to discuss their twisted fairytale series and its Alice-meets-Aladdin spinoff, Once Upon A Time in Wonderland.
“We were telling the Mad Hatter story when we went to Wonderland for the first time. That world seemed so rich and something to explore,” Horowitz said, diving straight into the reason author Lewis Carroll’s characters were so quickly spun off into their own series after being introduced in an episode last season. “We thought about the character of Alice, and when we had ideas about the character, there were so many, it didn’t seem worth trying to shoehorn [them] in to ‘Once,’ which we had a plan for the story we were telling and where that’s going to go. So it sat in the back of our brains, and when ABC gave us the opportunity to develop a spinoff, that seemed like a no-brainer place to go.”
While the first two seasons of the original series stuck mainly to the public domain world of fairytales created by now-anonymous authors (with the occasional Disney reference thrown in for fun), season three of Once is steeped in J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, while Wonderland is firmly set in Carroll’s fictional world. Asked if the co-creators were planning any flashbacks showing the authors meeting their “fictional” characters, the two explained that questions surrounding the magic vs. non-magic realms were central to both shows.
“That’s a really fascinating question and it’s interesting; the relationship between the world of story and our world is one we do intend to continue to explore on the show,” Horowitz said. “I think that’s one of the fascinating relationships that lurk beneath the surface.”
“And one of the main questions we haven’t answered is, who wrote the book?” Kitsis added, citing the magical book explaining the history of all the fairytales which has proven central to Once’s overall storyline.
“That’s all related,” Horowitz continued. “Inspiration has to come from somewhere, and I think the relationship between all the realms is at the heart of what makes the Once Upon A Time world tick.”
While there is obviously a lot of attention being paid to the happenings in Wonderland, the co-creators remain dedicated to continuing to build the world presented in the original series, promising viewers more information on Pan and his crew, especially Felix, Pan’s number two Lost Boy and, in Horowitz’s words, “Kool-Aid drinker number one!”
“What we want to show you with Pan [is] not just Neverland, but his past, what makes him tick and how he did reach out and bring children and Lost Boys to Neverland,” Horowitz said.
“In a broader sense, we’re going to explore how lost boys became Lost Boys in episode four,” Kitsis added.
One of the most notable twists Once has presented fans of the show is the revelation that Pan is evil while Hook is a hero. While a bit disconcerting at first, this take on the characters was inspired by a very realistic reading of the original tale.
“Peter Pan was very mischievous in that book. If you think about fourteen year old boys, we think back to our youth. To want to be that for the rest of your life is dark!” Kitsis explained with a laugh. “What happens to somebody who wants to cling to youth at any cost? For us, that is a villain.”
“It was thinking of Peter Pan in those real terms,” Horowitz continued. “If you want to be fourteen or fifteen forever, that sounds good for about a second. But when you really think about it, it could do dark things to you.”
“Ugh, Junior High,” Kitsis said, laughing as Horowitz shuddered.
“We thought of Neverland as kind of Heart Of Darkness. We were going into the jungle to get Henry. It was Apocalypse Now with Pan,” Kitsis concluded.
The Pan/Hook reversal isn’t the only change made to a well-known character this season, as the co-creators and writers have transformed Wonderland protagonist Alice Liddell from Carroll’s curious young girl into a sword-fighting spitfire who has seen rather difficult days in her pre-Wonderlans life.
“We actually have a flashback on how [Alice] strains against the restrictions of Victorian England,” Kitsis said. “You’re going to see how she got into the insane asylum and you’re going to see what its like to be somebody who is different in a place where difference is not tolerated.”
When the possibility of a crossover between the two shows is mentioned, both Kitsis and Horowitz agree: Outside of a few nods from one series to the other, they plan to keep the main series and its spinoff separate.
“There are Easter eggs sprinkled throughout, and a character here or there will crop up, but the stories are really on a separate track,” Horowitz said. “They’re not building to each other; you can watch either show independent of the other.”
But while Onve and Wonderland are maintaining separate storylines, the latter has proven happy to mash-up Carroll’s world with elements of Arabian Nights’ Aladdin tale. However, Kitsis said not to expect an appearance from the story’s hero anytime soon. For now, Jafar (Naveen Andrews) is the only major character crossing over as the alliance between him and the Red Queen (Emma Rigby) deteriorates.
“[The Red Queen] has made a very uneasy alliance with somebody she’s beginning to realize is a psycho, and the trouble of making a deal with a psycho is, what happens when you’re no longer useful?” Kitsis asked. “Survival starts to kick in, and we’re definitely playing with that, because Naveen is very frightening.
“We’re going to find out who [the Red Queen] is and where she came from and what makes her tick,” Kitsis added.
The Red Queen isn’t the only character set to discover something about herself; in season three of “Once,” Emma will finally begin to learn more about her own magical abilities.
“We’re going to absolutely explore her use of magic, and the reason she kind of puts it away is part of her character,” Kitsis said. “It’s one thing to believe, and its another thing to truly believe. You may know, because there’s proof of magic, but having it within you and not using it is kind of your denial of something about yourself you’re not ready to admit. That’s what we’re exploring with her character.”
Horowitz agreed, stating that over the course of the past three seasons of Once, the audience has seen Emma grow as she slowly learned to accept the existence of magic and her fairytale origins.
“[At] first, we were trying to make Emma the audience surrogate. In the first season, she doesn’t believe, and for almost half the season [we] play with if [the fairy tale reality] is real or in the kid’s head, and then it becomes real to Emma,” Horowitz said. “Once it became real to Emma, it allowed us, in season two, to dig deeper into the mythology and what’s going on in all the different lands. And now, yes, in season three, allow us to go full-on magic.”
However, that doesn’t mean the skeptical, magic-distrusting Emma is completely gone — especially if her grumbling about Tinkerbell in last Sunday’s episode is any indication.
“I think its in the moment of her thinking, ‘How can this be my life? I can’t believe this is my life. I always dreamt of meeting my parents; I didn’t think they’d be my age and actually be Snow White and Prince Charming,'” Kitsis said. “Every once in a while, we are reminded that Emma did not grow up in the Enchanted Forest. So when she meets these people, she’s like, ‘Really?‘”
Once Upon A Time airs Sundays at 8/7c on ABC; Once Upon A Time in Wonderland airs Thursdays at 8/7c.