Feeling young is a good thing, as is evident by the many adult cosplayers at Comic-Con International in San Diego. Staying young, however, might be dangerous – or, at least, that was the message given to audience members at Saturday’s “Once Upon a Time: Off to Neverland” panel.
The presentation for the popular ABC fantasy drama began with clips from last season, followed by a brief tease of what lies ahead. As the lights came up, Once Upon a Time co-creators Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz walked on stage, followed by stars Ginnifer Goodwin (Mary Margaret), Jennifer Morrison (Emma Swan), Lana Parrilla (Regina), Josh Dallas (David), Robert Carlyle (Mr. Gold), Emilie de Ravin (Belle), Colin O’Donoghue (Hook) and Michael Raymond-James (Baelfire).
As indicated by the title of the panel, much is new in the upcoming season. The main cast members are headed on a mission to Neverland, and they’ll be forced to face challenges unlike any they’ve encountered before. The show’s creators are dealing with a change of their own, but they feel it’s one that fans will appreciate: The series will be airing in a new format.
“In the fall, we’re basically running 11 episodes in a row, uninterrupted, and then doing the same this spring,” Horowitz said to cheers from the audience.
“So we’ll no longer air one episode every seven months,” joked Kitsis. “It’s going to be 11 and 11.”
The creators were as pleased about this news as they were about the setting of their new season, Neverland. They told attendees they had wanted to bring the Peter Pan mythos into the show for a while, but legal issues regarding copyrights kept them from pursuing it.
“The legal tale is not that interesting,” Horowitz explained. “But what we are really excited about is this: Last year we saw the shadow, we saw the Darlings, we met Captain Hook, but we have not yet met Peter Pan, and we have not yet seen Neverland, and that is where we are going.”
The crowd burst into applause. However, what fans have seen so far of the “Shadow Peter” may not make them happy. Some may even ask if he’s a creature of evil.
Horowitz responded to this idea and said, “Peter Pan has a complicated motivation – he’s a little different than you’ve seen before.”
“He might be frightening to some people,” Kitsis added.
The creators next turned to the look of Neverland, which in J.M. Barrie’s classic tale features such locations as Skull Rock and Mermaid Grotto. Some of those will be seen on Once Upon a Time, while other areas may be new.
“It is a fantastical island,” Kitsis said. “Remember, it is the place where imagination comes from.”
As Peter Pan is appearing this season, the panelists were asked if viewers could expect to see Tinkerbell as well. Horowitz and Kitsis assured the audience that the pixie is coming, but added that they’ll be putting their own spin on the iconic character. They plan to reveal her backstory, and Horowitz said, “We’re going to find she has a surprising connection to one of the cast members at this table.”
While that notion ran through the minds of fans in the room, O’Donoghue was questioned about the inspiration for his take on Hook. Someone asked whether he modeled his performance on Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow. The actor said he had discussed the part with the show’s producers, and they decided to play Hook as if he were a character from The Princess Bride.
At that point, the co-creators mentioned how the show has to rely on sponsorship and product placement to keep costs down, so they were required to run an ad during the panel. The lights dimmed and what came next delighted the crowd.
A commercial was played for a show called Good Morning, Storybrooke, with hosts Paul Scheer (The League) and Yvette Nicole Brown (Community). Then Dr. Whale (David Anders) attempted to give love advice to Jack and Jill, and Ruby (Meghan Ory) did a hilarious commercial for Granny’s Diner that felt like something one would find on a local TV channel at 3 a.m. The audience was still laughing and cheering as the lights came up.
As the topic of Storybrooke had been broached with the video, talk turned to de Ravin. Horowitz and Kitsis said her character is going to “hold down the fort” in town while the others are gone. At that news, audience members started yelling “Belle for Mayor.” De Ravin explained that a Twitter hashtag “belleformayor” appeared over the summer. She insisted she didn’t know what it means, but it was unclear whether she was being sly with the audience.
Regarding the romance between de Ravin and Carlyle’s characters and how their time separated will affect the relationship, Horowitz said, “You have to remember, Mr. Gold is on a suicide mission in Neverland. The prophecy said that to save Henry, he is going to have to die. And that is why he wanted to go face his death alone.”
A fan followed that up with a question via Twitter: “How would Belle react if she discovered she had a little Gold bun in the oven?”
“That’s not bad,” Katsis replied.
“Hey, I’ve always wanted a brother or sister,” added Raymond-James (who plays Gold’s son).
While there was no answer to that question, another audience member asked about a specific event in Gold’s past. As the possibility exists for the cast to see some mermaids in Neverland, the fan wondered whether the Evil Queen would encounter the same mermaid she needed Rumplestiltskin’s help with in Season 1.
Although many audience members seemed perplexe , the two creators were pleased. “That is a great question, and a great place to end our panel,” Kitsis said. “Anything can happen in Neverland. Watch Season 3.”
With that, the lights dimmed and attendees were treated to another video, this one opening with Grumpy the Dwarf eating lunch by the beach when a fork is stolen from his lunch box. He goes to look for the thief and finds a blue dress by the water. We then see a redheaded mermaid disappear into the ocean as a notice flashes on the screen: Ariel is coming.
Once Upon a Time returns Sunday, Sept. 29 on ABC.