Once Upon a Time: How the TV Storylines Compare to Their Source Material (2023)

By Parvanae

Once Upon A Time reimagined many Disney and fairytale heroes and villains. However, some of these reimaginings fell short of expectations.

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ABC’s Once Upon A Time explores the Disney princess films with a twist: they all know each other, but they are cursed to a small town called Storybrooke, Maine. The plot is truly genius in that the backstories and connections between all the Disney characters are mind-boggling. During its seven seasons, stories that aren’t told in the films are brought to life. The fantasy TV series is a dream come true in ways Disney fans hadn’t imagined prior to the show.

Yet, in any reimagining, character development can be tricky. Some characters improved significantly while remaining faithful to their cartoon counterparts. At the same time, some characters were initially improved, but flat lined or reverted. For these characters, their development is mediocre, even boring, unfortunately. At the other end of the character spectrum are the characters who were completely ruined. These characters were either strong villains or heroes, but are the result of a story going on without any respect to letting that character go. What is most unfortunate about the mediocre and ruined characters is they are truly great characters that deserved more.

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9 Snow White / Mary Margaret (Improved Significantly)

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The 2D-animated Disney Princess film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a masterpiece for its time, but the way she is portrayed in Once Upon a Time is rather awful. She is forced to clean her own home because of a jealous stepmother who then hires a hit man to kill her? The outrage against the animated feature is justified. For Once Upon A Time to be a compelling story, it was crucial that the leading lady and main story revolve around Snow White remaining kind but also being tough as nails. Ginnifer Goodwin portrayed this revamped version of Snow White to perfection. Disney fans needed to see a leading woman who wasn’t taking care of anyone out of obligation or fear. Snow White in Once Upon A Time is the best Disney portrayal of the first princess.

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8 Prince Charming / David Nolan (Mediocre)

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Another character from Snow White is Prince Charming. In the animated film, Prince Charming appears at the beginning of the film, after hearing Snow White singing into the well, and at the end to break the Evil Queen’s curse. Even though Snow White’s story being retold through a more progressive lens is what made Once Upon A Time so successful, it’s questionable why her Prince was given a mediocre arc. Charming, as he is referred to in the show, is a dedicated husband, father, and sheriff. However, his story in the cursed land is that he is in a coma that can only be broken by true love’s kiss. Additionally, it’s revealed that he is actually the “good twin” that replaced his arrogant brother. His real father, a king, tried to kill him in the cursed land because he blamed Charming for the death of his twin brother. The storyline is so bizarre that it could have been a stepping stone into deeper character development, but Charming virtually remains the same throughout the show.

7 Evil Queen / Regina Mills (Ruined)

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Like Snow White, the Evil Queen was given a compelling story line. She was the absolute best villain to guide Once Upon a Time. From her fantastic outfits to her need for revenge at all costs, Regina was ruthless. She did not care whom she had to hurt to get her way, she kicked butt. Yet, the main storyline for one of the best villains on the show was that she continually lost those she loved. The romance between Robin Hood and Regina was an epic love story, until Robin was killed in the series. Regina had a complicated relationship with her mother, yet as soon as they patched up their relationship, her mother died. Regina consistently lost, and for a character that has grown the most of any, she remained the proverbial loser only to get her happy ending in the season 7 finale. Even Lana Parrilla, who plays Regina, revealed to Huffington Post that she foresaw Regina having a lonely road for a while.

6 Mulan (Improved)

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For fans of the animated feature Mulan, it’s difficult to imagine one of the most empowering women characters becoming more powerful. Yet, Once Upon A Time delivered their portrayal of Mulan on a golden platter encrusted with the finest gems. The primary way in which Mulan became tougher is they wrote her as a warrior first and foremost. She was dedicated to protecting Aurora because of her devotion to Prince Philip. However, more than that, she trained Merida. One strong warrior training another equally strong? Absolutely! The love interest for Mulan even makes more sense in the context that she is written to be an independent and dedicated person. So, for her to be the love interest for Red Riding Hood is remarkable. Both characters are no-nonsense and without family, but become leaders in their own corners of the magical world. Two powerhouses uniting at the end of the series, when Mulan has already been established as a loyal soldier is the perfect ending to her story.

5 Rumpelstiltskin / Mr. Gold (Mediocre)

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The character who had the longest life appropriately had the most names. First, Rumpelstiltskin was a coward who avoided war and became obsessed with power to become The Dark One. Over time, he transformed into The Crocodile and The Beast. In the cursed land, he had the moniker of Mr. Gold, the pawn shop owner. His storyline is as intertwined with other characters, such as Snow White. The way Robert Carlyle portrayed Rumpelstiltskin was worthy of an Emmy. Yet, the versatility of Mr. Gold became a broken record. Instead of allowing him to shift into a loving husband and father, his storyline throughout Once Upon a Time followed the same pattern of: being happy, then wanting more power, and losing his family, only to give up power — lather, rinse, and repeat. He continually hurt his wife and family with broken promises. Despite this shampoo narrative, Mr. Gold remained a good anti-hero.

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4 Belle (Ruined)

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Belle’s introduction in Once Upon a Time didn’t begin with a town girl sacrificing her freedom, but showed how important she was to her kingdom. Even though she gave up her title as princess to save her kingdom, she continued fighting for goodness, even seeking to make Rumpelstiltskin a better man. As soon as she dedicated her life to turning him good, it was the beginning of the end for her character. Belle is what TV Tropes refers to as ‘the action girl,’ but she vacillates between action and faux-action girl. She will act in hopes that her heroism and love will be enough to inspire Mr. Gold to become and stay good. Yet, the fault in this logic is that Belle inspires so many people, but can’t let go of Rumpelstiltskin. She continues to forgive him for how he constantly lies and breaks promises, which is admirable. However, when she walked away with her son, she needed to stand more firmly in that.

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3 Cruella de Vil (Improved)

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The transcendent Disney villain, Cruella de Vil sends chills down everyone’s spines simply by hearing her name. From her fabulous furs to the way she says, “Darling”, Cruella didn’t need a redemption arc. In fact, she needed to remain bad, especially since Maleficent and Ursula received redemption arcs. While the story of Cruella is rewritten in that she didn’t capture any puppies to turn them into coats — imagine trying to redeem that — she is able to turn dogs into violent animals. Though this is just the beginning of her story. She is violent, tenacious, and reminiscent of a younger Regina. Victoria Smurfit, who portrays Cruella, said upon discovering she was playing Cruella that she fell out of her chair, she was so excited, according to Access. From bitter rivalries to driving the classic Cruella car, Smurfit’s ability to make a despicable character unredeemable in a good way is pure genius. Once Upon a Time needed a merciless villain and Cruella over delivered in the best way possible.

2 Captain Hook / Killian Jones (Mediocre)

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Captain Hook’s story is rather unfortunate in that he went from a wide-eyed lad to a callous pirate to a lover boy. Though that could have been the point in casting Colin O’Donoghue as the formidable pirate. Yet, this digression from being vindictive to forgiving someone who mutilated him is not the Hook fans needed. Every form of Hook has been vicious with a lot of charm. But in Once Upon a Time, he falls in love and that’s the end of his arc. It’s the Phoebe Buffay from the cast of Friends effect: introduce a quirky character who is independent and confident, only to have them fall in love to have no more growth. Except Hook is a villain! He can definitely fall in love, like he did with Milah, Rumplestiltskin’s first wife, but he doesn’t have to remain the same person because of that change. To have such a prolific villain shift into a softer version leaves a lot of unexplored but exciting territory for character development.

1 The Wicked Witch / Zelena (Ruined)

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Another villain who was undeservedly given the shorthand of the stick was The Wicked Witch of the West, or Zelena. While The Wizard of Oz is public domain, the crossover impact had massive potential, especially with the Wicked Witch and the Evil Queen going head-to-head. The twists of Zelena’s story are truly edge-of-your-seat-worthy, but she was so whiny. She was written as a jealous sister, playing off the fact that her skin turned green when she was envious or felt like a side option. Granted, that storyline is worth exploring, but if Regina could work through losing everything, so could Zelena. Or, another possibility: Zelena could have taken a similar route as Cruella in being even more ruthless. Think back to how The Wicked Witch of the West is in The Wizard of Oz — she is vindictive and is going to get that little dog too.

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