Show Review: Once Upon A Time Season 1 (Spoiler-Free)
Rating:9.8 out of 10 stars
I watched Once Upon A Time for the first time with my sisters, and it was so good I was happy to watch it a second time with my roommate and suitemate. Most fairy tale retellings don’t impress me, but Once Upon A Time, especially Season 1, was able to tell the stories in a way that celebrated the old and emphasized the new.
After watching several episodes, I was shocked that anyone would rate this show PG. It is not appropriate for children–read on to find out why.
Season 1 of Once Upon A Time first aired in 2011 and concluded in 2012. It was created by Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis, and is an ABC television series now offered on Disney Plus.
Season 1 stars Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Morrison, Lana Parilla, Josh Dallas, Jared S. Gilmore, Raphael Sbarge, Jamie Dornan, Robert Carlyle, and Eion Bailey.
On her 28th birthday, Emma Swan is unexpectedly reunited with the 10-year-old son she had given up for adoption. After driving him back to his adoptive mother in Storybrooke, Maine, Emma’s concern for him makes her hesitant to leave.
Her son, Henry Mills, believes that the stories in his book of fairy tales are real. He thinks that the people of Storybrooke are fairy tale characters trapped by a curse and have lost their memories of their past lives.
Henry tells Emma that she is their only hope for breaking the curse, but Emma does not believe him.
Season 1 tells the stories of various characters, alternating between their pasts in a fairy tale world and their current lives in Storybrooke. It also follows the struggles of Emma and Henry against Regina, Henry’s manipulative adoptive mother.
Consistent, well-crafted structure
Subverting viewer expectations
Clever ways of connecting various fairy tales
Likeable, realistic characters
Impressive character development
Character names in Storybrooke chosen for meaning
Costume design reflects character personality
The graphics in Wonderland were shoddy
The title sequences always has a different shadowy sneak peak of what the episode is going to be about. Look for dark woods in the title screen to see the foreshadowing.
The structure of each episode includes flashbacks to a character’s past in the fairy tale world as well as glimpses of the character’s present-day life in Storybrooke.
The story that has happened in the past is usually linked strongly to what is happening in the present in any given episode.
Viewers have certain expectations based on their knowledge of the fairy tales. However, the creators of Once Upon A Time use this to their advantage by making stories seem familiar before repeatedly subverting viewer expectations.
These are not the bedtime stories kids everywhere grew up with. These are new, refurbished, refined and stunning.
The way that fairy tales intertwine is particularly clever, especially the way the Beauty and the Beast tale works.
Almost every single character has an in-depth back story, and many begin in Season 1. The story of Snow White and Prince Charming take center stage, but my personal favorite is the story of Red Riding Hood.
The characters develop both in the past and in the present. The most development is seen in Emma Swan, Mary Margaret Blanchard, and David Nolan.
The characters act realistically considering their personalities, and even though it is dramatic, the reactions of the characters are often reasonable considering their circumstances.
Character names in present-day Maine were chosen carefully for their meaning. For example, the name Mary Margaret Blanchard was chosen for Snow White because Blanchard is a French name meaning “white” and Mary and Margaret were names Snow used in her fairy tale past to conceal her identity.
The costume design fits the characters’ personalities perfectly. For example, Regina’s hair styles and costumes particularly reflect her flamboyant style and dark personality.
The drama is reasonable and understandable most of the time, but sometimes it is over-the-top. For example, when something terrible happens, the camera will often switch rapidly from shocked expression to expression in a way that seems overly contrived. People can be shocked, but not every character needs a close-up.
Overall, I really enjoyed Season 1 of Once Upon A Time. I would recommend this series for teens and adults.
Despite its PG rating, I would not recommend Once Upon A Time for children due to violence, suggestive content, and dark themes. Seriously. Hearts get ripped out and crushed, there is an affair, people get turned into animals and stepped on, a person is mauled and eaten, etc.
If you are interested in how I rate shows, check out my rating system.
This analysis contains spoilers for Elle: A Modern Cinderella. Continue at your own risk!
So, why bother writing a spoiler-filled analysis of a movie?
There are two possible reasons:
One is that the movie is so good that it deserves analysis for the sake of learning from it. That is not what happened here.
The other possible reason is that there are times in life when one watches a movie so cringy and horrible that one makes fun of it merely to make the whole thing bearable.
This was that kind of movie. Kind of so bad it’s good…but not enough to justify seeing it.
Elle: A Modern Cinderella Tale was released in 2010. (Since it is not even that old a movie, it has no excuse for being so bad…)
It is a musical that rightfully is labeled with the genres of Comedy and Drama. However, it is comedic for all the wrong reasons and takes drama to a whole new level.
The movie starts with some music and outdated-looking animations. The music is not too bad, but the animations are kind of odd. For instance, cartoon main character is about to kiss a guy when poof! He turns into her arch nemesis Stephanie.
Imagine. You’re about to kiss your crush. You’re going in for the smooch, and then bam! You’re inches away from kissing the person you hate most in the world instead.
Then there is another time when a butterfly lands on her breast and turns into part of her clothes, which was a little uncomfortable. Then it ZOOMS in on the butterfly. I mean, even though this movie is aimed at a teen audience, this is supposed to be a movie kids can watch….it’s kind of weird for the camera to dive into her cartoon bosom, even if it is properly clothed.
Then the actual plot begins. Elle Daniels, a young singer/songwriter, flunks her audition for Berklee, an esteemed music college in Boston. Her uncle, who is technically not her uncle so much as her part-time caretaker for when her parents are travelling the country, tells her that her parent’s plane crashed, resulting in their untimely demise.
Not that one’s demise is ever timely…but this plot device–I mean disaster–was particularly ill-timed, being on the day of the big audition.
It’s the kids movie trope where the parents can barely be present during the movie, either because they are dead, busy, or oblivious (i.e. Frozen, Home Alone, Lilo & Stitch, etc…).
Elle’s uncle decides to tell her this in the middle of her audition, because why not destroy her chance to go to her top college? If he had waited, like, 3 minutes the audition would have been over, but no….it’s not only deaths that are ill-timed in this movie.
Elle blames herself. Now, she isn’t think clearly, but that is somewhat accurate because people often blame themselves for things outside their control. The problem here is not that she blames herself, but that she is inconsistent as a character. She wants to abandon her dream because it “killed” her parents, but then she ambitiously tries to get her songs on the radio, and then in almost the next scene she is back to adamantly saying she can’t be a singer. It comes off as unrealistic.
Now look at this picture really closely. This is live-action Elle. She looks high schooler age getting ready for college. That’s the magic of the glasses at work. Stay tuned to see her magically age.
Now, back to plot. After informing her of her parents’ deaths, her not-really uncle becomes her actual guardian and she begins to work as an intern for his recording company, Spunn Records. She acts as an assistant for the most obnoxious bubblegum pop trio in the world, Sensation.
We get to meet Sensation right away, because this Cinderella needs the equivalent of cruel stepsisters. They are laughable at best. Their makeup in the first scene is so poorly done that it looks like I could have done it better (even though I don’t wear makeup.)
They mess up Elle’s name by calling her every E-name that they can think of (Esther, Eleanor, Ellen, etc.). They say “Sensation” in a goofy, over-serious hushed voices. They walk while swinging their hips. I mean, look at the picture above. That is literally how they walk.
They made me wish they had been my childhood bullies because it would have been hilarious.
There are other times that they try to be funny, but it falls flat, such as when one of the girls says:
–Does this corset make me look fat? Really? Cuz I had like two M&M’s today.”
Now that was played for laughs, but if you actually think about it, it’s not a great joke. People with eating disorders probably wouldn’t appreciate that because it’s poking fun at people who are extremely weight-conscious. Of course, I don’t think this movie intended to poke fun at eating disorders, but the message a movie send its audience is important. The message it sends is that this behavior is funny, so you should laugh at it.
Anyway, Elle wants to sing, but her uncle thinks she isn’t ready. Apparently despite being her guardian and knowing her since she was little, he is not aware of the fact that she has talent. Either that, or he does not want her to move on after her parents’ deaths.
He has actual flashbacks to her childhood when he heard her sing, but no, she isn’t ready.
Next we meet Kit, Elle’s best friend, who encourages her to sing anyway.
Elle is not so sure. Because we need more exposition, apparently, Elle says of her relationship with her uncle:
–I’m the kid he didn’t ask for, and then has to send to college.”
Kit has some wild bobbing head movements throughout the movie.
Let’s try a experiment. Pick up your phone. Shake it slowly and repeatedly up and down, side to side. That’s basically the way her head moved the whole time.
She apparently cannot speak without her head moving like a bobblehead. I shall nickname her Miss Bobblehead for the rest of the analysis.
Miss Bobblehead gets such cringy lines as:
–It’s like, I get my east wisdom from the east.”
Not only does that sound super racist, it also is just really dumb. It ruins all the supposed wisdom of her previous comments.
When Elle goes to get the milky coffee, we meet Andy, a guy who takes an awkwardly long time making coffee and acts like Mr. Doodle from Sesame Street.
This is when Elle accidentally soaks Stephanie with it. Seriously, that’s the coffee up there. It is disgusting. That has to be like, 99% creamer.
It doesn’t look all that accidental even though it was obviously supposed to be. I mean, Elle certainly has the motive to launch a coffee-powered attack against her, and I wouldn’t have been convinced if Elle said it was an accident.
Anywho, Miss Bobblehead and Mr. Doodle like each other, but instead of saying so they use Elle as an intermediary. Elle is not a good intermediary, because she just lies to help Mr. Doodle out, saying,
–He said you should drink more coffee.”
Of course, since he works at the coffeeshop, that means she would see her more often, so it’s kind of just weak flirting made up by Elle to get the two of them together.
Ty Parker, who is played by Sterling Knight, comes in shortly afterwards for an interview.
At this point, my suitemate interjects with:
–He’s a precious being.”
Of course, that was a good enough comment to include here. She probably meant he is hot, but my brain doesn’t seem to register hotness. Because like, I don’t think of anyone as hot or attractive. But despite that, considering that characters half decent at acting were rare in this movie, I guess that does make him a precious being.
Anyway, Ty wants to try something new, and Elle’s uncle wants him to sing with Kandi Kane, a popular British singer. Ty is not so sure about this, and leaves without making a decision.
Meanwhile, the Sensation singers ask Elle to help them out with recording the next day, and she believes they want her to sing. Instead, they have her hold sweat towels and fetch water.
Afterwards, she tries on a bunch of clothes. She takes off her magic glasses, and voila! It’s like she ages at least ten years.
How old she looks is especially odd considering how she becomes the love interest for Ty Parker not long afterwards. (Like we didn’t see that coming.)
All dressed up now, Elle decides to perform in the studio. Little does she know, Ty Parker is spying on her like a creep…I mean just happens to be watching.
She plays a guitar with no hole in it, which looked odd to me for one that isn’t an electric or bass guitar, but apparently it is possible. The hole in the guitar is meant to help it project sound better, but it’s not technically necessary.
The song is actually not bad, and her voice is really good.
Ty Parker loves her voice and thinks she is Kandi Kane. I don’t know why. This is a movie with computers. If he was going to maybe be singing with Kandi Kane but wasn’t sure, why didn’t he look her up to find out more about her? Or even listened to one of her songs? Then he would no Elle’s voice was not Kandi Kane’s.
Elle does nothing to correct him, instead putting on a British accent and following him around on what’s pretty much a date. This is her dream come true. Ty Parker is her childhood celebrity crush. Ty is rich, so he could take her anywhere, but you know how paparazzi are, so he treats her to street food instead.
If you’ve watched Starstruck, Sterling Knight is basically the same character here but with a different name.
Because we need a reminder that this is a Cinderella story, Elle gets a text from her uncle.
–Elle it’s midnight. Where are you?”
She kisses Ty Parker and ditches him. The next day, the studio is in an uproar because Elle unknowingly recorded her own song over Sensation’s when she was practicing. Ty doesn’t notice the problem, and instead says that he will definitely sing with Kandi Kane.
His actual first meeting with Kandi Kane goes off very poorly. She’s snarky and has a real attitude. It’s clear that their personalities are not compatible from the beginning. This quote is evidence enough:
–Kandi Kane is a force of nature. RrrAW!”
I want to start using that. “P. A. Wilson is a force of nature. RrrAW!” It’s perfect for the first time I ever meet someone. “RrrAW!!”
Back at the studio, Stephanie breaks into Elle’s laptop. Any time someone comes by, Stephanie uses pathetic hiding skills to disguise herself. She finds out Elle was the one who recorded over Sensation’s song.
But why would that happen? I thought Elle was an intern there for six months? Does she really have no idea how recording equipment works? Wouldn’t she have to know how it works to record her song.
This is Stephanie’s “I’m being sneaky” face.
See Stephanie in that picture above? No, you don’t. She’s hiding. Shh….
Sensation then joins forces with Kandi Kane (the force of nature) to make plans to humiliate Elle.
Ty Parker insists on getting to sing with the first “Kandi Kane” he met, who he doesn’t realize is Elle because she hides behind a big hat when he walks by. I feel like it would be less suspicious if she just wore glasses without the hat, because reverse-aging 10 years makes you less recognizable anyway.
Ty puts on a radio program with a friend, trying to get Elle to call in.
Then Miss Bobblehead and Mr. Doodle bond over Elle’s conundrum, and end up a couple immediately.
The couple then convince Elle to show up at a party where Ty Parker will be. At the party, she plays her song and Ty Parker recognize it.
Cue Kandi Kane and Sensation. They break into Elle’s room and find all her Ty Parker fan girl junk and set it up like a little shrine. It’s meant to horrify Ty, but he is the Prince so instead he is angry at them and goes after Elle.
So they also end up a couple after a little heart-to-heart chat. Ty also convinces Elle to drop the ridiculous idea that she is to blame for her parents’ deaths.
Unfortunately, Kandi Kane threatens to sue Spunn Records and Ty Parker into oblivion if Ty doesn’t go through with his initial plan to record with Kandi Kane.
She also makes him break up with Elle from one of the shortest relationships ever filmed. Elle is so distressed she attacks her hair with her hand. No, not really, but the acting is so overdone that running her hands through her hair looked a tad overzealous.
Elle at this point has given up on glasses all together. I guess she became resigned to the fact she couldn’t use glasses to make herself look younger forever. Or she just didn’t need glasses. Or she did some off-screen shopping for contacts. Overall message–you’re prettier without glasses.
(As someone who wears glasses, I disapprove.)
Then Miss Bobblehead and Mr. Doodle assume that Kandi Kane is involved, with no evidence whatsoever. After sneaking around in the worst acting of the entire show–think preschoolers playing ninja–they frantically whisper and then kiss for no apparent reason.
Soon after, they break into Kandi Kane’s room and find out she’s really from the Southern United States and her name is actually Brenda Smirkle. Not only does she drop the accent and explain the whole thing to her mother, she also has a laptop with her actual name on it.
Miss Bobblehead records the entire phone conversation and tells Elle’s uncle that Brenda Smirkle is not actually Kandi Kane, which makes the contract between the supposed Kandi Kane and Ty Parker is void.
Elle’s uncle also dismisses Sensation on the spot, probably assuming they are involved, again without evidence. Miss Bobblehead then humiliates Stephanie by pulling her hair off–apparently it was a wig.
That seems unnecessarily cruel, especially since Stephanie is so self-conscious about her wig. I mean, what if she lost her hair due to cancer or something? Kit didn’t even have any evidence that Stephanie was involved in the plot. And even if she did, Kit being one of the “good guys” does not justify her doing horrible things.
Elle doesn’t know all of this because she was on her way to Berklee at the time. Miss Bobblehead, Mr. Doodle, and Elle’s uncle show up to see her audition.
Then–gasp–what a shock! Ty Parker shows up for her audition, she wins the approval of admissions, and they are a couple again.
Again, the music is actually not bad. It is the only thing this movie did right.
If I had to pin down a moral for this story, it would be that glasses make one unappealing (ouch), and that it’s okay to humiliate people, lie, and break into other people’s rooms if you do it for the right reasons.
But wait! It’s not over!
There are still the characters’ post-movie futures to think about. That’s what credits are for, right? I’ve only included the weirdest ones.
For Miss Bobblehead and Mr. Doodle, there was this little nugget of information:
What the heck is undercover dating? Like a blind date where both involved are secret agents or wanted criminals? And how could they be the most successful private investigator service? Is anyone supposed to buy this?
Elle’s uncle apparently still doesn’t have time for a girlfriend. It was never established that he didn’t have time for a girlfriend before, but they found the need to point this out as the final word they give about his character.
It seems like something must have been edited out earlier on that would have made this make sense.
Or he was such a flat character they saved all his development for the end.
Then finally, the movie reaches its much-awaited end.
So…that was a bad movie. Thanks to my roommate for making me watch it. I forgive her, because at least it was enjoyable to make fun of the movie afterward.
Don’t watch it. It’s not worth your time. For actually good movies, check out my movie reviews.