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Although Once Upon a Time may be filled with fairy tales, magic and true love’s kisses, the one thing the television drama is not, creators Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis told Spinoff Online, is light and fluffy.
“I constantly read people that are like, ‘It’s so light, like Disney!’ [The Evil Queen] ripped her father’s heart out to enact a curse, and [Belle] cut her fiancé. How much darker can you get? Throw in cancer?” Kitsis said over the weekend at WonderCon in Anaheim, California.
For those not tuning into ABC on Sunday nights, Once Upon a Time is an hour-long drama from Horowitz and Kitsis, Lost alums and screenwriters for Disney’s Tron: Legacy. Set in Storybrooke, Maine, the show revolves around the townsfolk who are actually Snow White (played by Ginnifer Goodwin), Prince Charming (Josh Dallas) and other fairy tale heroes and villains. The Evil Queen (Lana Parilla) has cursed them to forget their existence in the Enchanted Forest and live unhappily ever after in Storybrooke, where she reigns as the mayor. However, the curse begins to fail as Snow White’s long-lost daughter Emma (Jennifer Morrison) comes to town and takes over as sheriff.
Flashing back and forth between Maine and the characters’ storybook pasts, a la Lost, the show became a surprise hit for the network, which quickly ordered a full 22-episode season. Asked about the potential for a second season, however, Horowitz and Kitsis laughed.
“It’s going to be all animated!” Kitsis joked.
“Lots of puppet shows!” Horowitz added.
Joking aside, although the series debuted to high ratings, the two executive producers said that ABC hasn’t said whether it will renew the fairy-tale drama.
“We haven’t officially heard anything,” Horowtiz said. “We’re very optimistic and hopeful, and we have some ideas for what we would love to do if we’re blessed with a second season.”
“And those would be great discussions for Comic-Con!” Kitsis said.
The show has also incorporated multiple nods to ABC’s parent company Disney, from Belle (Emilie de Ravin) sporting the same name and dresses as the heroine in the animated Beauty and the Beast to Mickey Mouse’s hat from “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” short in Fantasia appearing in the background of a recent episode.
However, the drama’s dark tone has led to some tensions with Disney, most notably when one of Snow White’s dwarves was stabbed in a courtyard.
“Obviously at first when they heard there was eight dwarves and we killed one, they wanted to talk to us about that!” Kitsis laughed.
“We had a discussion,” Horowitz said.
Despite that, the creators said working with Disney has gone smoothly, and they have the company’s full support to mess with or incorporate parts of their mythology wherever they see fit.
“They’ve been great, they’ve been very supportive,” Kitsis said. “Even in the pilot, I think it was the first time they showed Snow White giving birth or wielding a sword on TV — this was the beloved franchise of Disney and they said, ‘OK, go have fun!’ We’ve had Disney references from the beginning, even in the pilot when Emma wishes on the blue star, because we can and because they’re fun and we’re fans of Disney.”
That balancing act between the show’s darkness and the lighter Disney moments is one of the main challenges of writing Once Upon a Time, the two admitted.
“It’s tricky, but it’s what’s fun to us about the show, which is to tell different kinds of stories but have them fall under the umbrella of one tone,” Horowitz said.
The two said the remainder of the reason will delve into Snow White’s dark side, and finally reveal the reason the Evil Queen is evil and bring in her mother, played by Black Swan actress Barbara Hershey.
“You can see what happens when there’s a void in your heart and you try to fill it!” Kitsis said. “We’ve seen that with the Evil Queen throughout the season, and now we’re going to see that with Snow, because magic comes at a price.”
“The Evil Queen is a character with a lot of pain, and we’re going to see where a lot of that pain came from,” Horowitz said.
Explaining that this was a theme leading back to the first episode, Kitsis said the Evil Queen was warned when she invoked the curse that she would have a void in her heart. “And I think if you look at the series, everything she does is trying to fill that,” Kitsis said. “Evil isn’t born, it’s made.”
The two also promised that viewers will see more of Emma investigating Storybrooke after an entire season of being manipulated, lied to, and led around by the nose by both Rumpelstiltskin (Robert Carlyle) and the Evil Queen.
“When she came onto the show, we always say she’s a character looking for home,” Kitsis said. “She’s never had one so she doesn’t know what that is. For the very first time she’s let two people into her heart and bring her wall down: Mary Margaret and Henry. Any time you let someone in emotionally they can affect you and the way you look at things. When your emotions are affected, your judgment is clouded.”
“And Emma’s a character who isn’t one who will let herself be pushed around,” Horowitz said. “If she’s being pushed around, you can bet she’ll push back.”
They also revealed a desire to have an episode set entirely in a single realm, saying that was one of their goals for a potential second season.
“Which one, I don’t know, whether it’s Storybrooke or the Enchanted Forest,” Kitsis said. “It is something we’ve discussed.
“It has to be the right kind of story,” Horowitz added. “You’re not just doing it for the gimmick but because the story really wants that.”
Horowitz and Kitsis said that whether the show concludes this spring or is renewed for additional seasons, they do have a rough plan for the end of Once Upon a Time.
“I think we have an idea of what the end is,” Kitsis said, “but on this one we want to give ourselves the freedom to see where the show takes us, because sometimes ideas you have three years before are no longer relevant three years later. We have a general idea of where we’re going, so it’s not willy-nilly, but we have freedom of how we get to that destination.”
Once Upon a Time airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.