Once Upon a Time was originally written off by Internet comics fans as an alt-world version of Bill Willingham’s Fables, but felt no slings or arrows as it became ABC’s highest-rated new drama of the 2011-2012 season. The complex saga of fairy-tale characters trapped in the modern world without their memories was a nonstop roller coaster that leavened linear storytelling with non-linear flashbacks and delved into themes of identity, belief, vengeance, betrayal, and true love. The basic cast of Snow White, Prince Charming, their long-lost adult daughter Emma, her forsaken son Henry, his adopted mother Mayor Evil Queen, and her ally/nemesis/ally/nemesis Rumpelstiltskin were joined each week by a strong, nuanced supporting cast who each had a turn living out their origins and defining their roles in the scary new world of quaint little Storybrooke.
The happy news three weeks ago was that Meghan Ory’s Red Riding Hood (a.k.a. Ruby the world’s greatest detective who’d rather be a waitress) would be upgraded to full-time regular status in season 2. This week Entertainment Weekly brought announcements of two more recurring characters being added to the show, neither of whom I’ve ever watched in anything: Jamie Chung as Mulan and Sarah Bolger as Sleeping Beauty. Those two are in addition to already existing recurring characters Dr. Jiminy Cricket, Ruby’s grandma restaurateur, the Blue Fairy, Amy Acker’s other fairy, the madder-than-mad Mad Hatter, Sidney Glass the queen’s tool, August “Pinocchio” Booth, the tormented Belle, my personal hero Grumpy, the blondish doctor who has yet to reveal his true Disney name, and a handful of other one-shot Disney properties such as Maleficent and Pongo.
I trust the showrunners know what they’re doing and will be adding new characters organically as the flow of the season allows them, rather than cramming them in all at once as if the series were a virtual clown-car of corporate merchandise mascots, all suffocating each other as they vie for our attention and the approval of their Disney overlords. I can only imagine this trend taken to an extreme as we run out of princesses by season 4 and have to start scraping the Disney barrel for too many unnecessary live-action reboots. The possibilities for casting and subplots abound:
* A Hawaiian girl named Lilo with a most exotic pet.
* Chernabog from Fantasia as the season 3 Big Bad, having conquered and assumed control of Fairy Tale Land while Mayor Evil Queen has been in absentia.
* Pocahontas as a lawyer representing for Storybrooke’s minorities and/or environmental causes, switching specialties every other episode for plot needs as TV lawyers are wont to do.
* Dumbo’s mother incarnated as an overprotective plus-sized mother of Henry’s new mute, big-eared friend.
* Bob Newhart and Zsa-Zsa Gabor reprising their roles as Bernard and Bianca, now retired adventurers who bicker sweetly while their rambunctious brood carry on the family business.
* Don Novello resumes as the demolitions expert from Atlantis: the Lost Empire, except now clad in his old Father Guido Sarducci costume.
* Aladdin’s magic carpet as a hybrid sports car, purple with gold trim, and as alive as Herbie the Love Bug.
* While I’m thinking about it, Herbie the Love Bug wouldn’t be unwelcome, either.
* Zach Braff as a small, jaundiced paranoiac who won’t stop ranting about the sky falling.
* Goofy as the world’s worst sports instructor, still making that terrified “YAAAA-HOOIE!” cry that never fails to make me chuckle.
* Robin Williams as a live-action genie. If this never happens, the show and its promises are all LIES.
Of course, a cast this size would require a budget of several million dollars per episode, possibly as much as one-tenth the cost of an episode of George Lucas’ Star Wars dream show. Cuts will need to be made somewhere to accommodate producer mandates. CG effects may be toned down somewhat in favor of placards that advise the viewers at home to “just use your imagination.” More time for extra commercials may be necessary, cutting episode running times down from forty-five minutes per episode to about ten. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Storybrooke open its very first Subway franchise.
The schedule for next weekend’s San Diego Comic Con includes a Once Upon a Time panel (Saturday the 14th at 11 a.m. — note it on your SDCC calendar app!) that will no doubt shed more light on what’s in store for season two, in addition to giving lucky fans a chance to express their gratitude to the cast in person. Personally, I’m crossing my fingers in hopes of a Grumpy and the Fairy spinoff. I’d claim myself a front-row seat for that, even if it was…for a price.