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When a movie or television series is wonderful, fans naturally demand more of it, which frequently leads to the creation of prequels, sequels and spinoffs. While some are adequate continuations, others surpass the original. This fall, ABC is giving viewers more of what they want with the Once Upon a Time spinoff Once Upon a Time in Wonderland.
At Comic-Con International, the cast and creators of the upcoming series gathered to take fans on a journey down the rabbit hole and into this new world. The panel began with a screening of an abbreviated version of the pilot.
The episode opens with Alice in a mental institution, where her father had her committed because of her crazy make-believe stories. Through flashbacks, we see Alice spend time in Wonderland and other fairy-tale worlds, where she falls in love with a genie named Cyrus. As happens in so many tales, however, Alice’s true love dies.
She goes back to the “real” world, and we now see Alice has given up on life due to her broken heart. Fortunately, the Knave of Hearts and the White Rabbit go to Alice and bring evidence that suggests Cyrus is alive. Using (surprisingly) ninja-like fighting skills, Alice breaks out of the institution, and all three travel through a magic portal back to Wonderland in search of Cyrus.
As the lights came up, those involved with the show took the stage: creators Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz (Lost and Once Upon a Time), executive producer Zack Estrin and stars Sophie Lowe (Alice), Peter Gadiot (Cyrus), Michael Socha (Knave of Hearts) and Emma Rigby (Red Queen).
The creators began by talking about their outstanding – and primarily foreign-born – cast, with Kitsis saying, “We asked ourselves, ‘Who are the people who could really embody these roles?’ And so, as you see, we decided to just go to England and Australia.”
They also announced that one more villain other than the Red Queen (who supposedly kills Cyrus in the pilot) would be essential to the show over the season: Jafar, Aladdin’s primary antagonist. The moderator suggested that the creators consider actor Naveen Andrews for the role. The two smiled and admitted that it was a great idea, and that they had loved working with him on Lost. Andrews then walked on stage to loud cheers from the audience.
“Welcome back to the island,” Horowitz said to the actor.
The creators proceeded to explain that this would be a different kind of Jafar than people may be used to. “He’s going to be very frightening … but he’ll still have the serpent staff,” Kitsis said, to more applause.
Another change that viewers can expect is the format: The series is planned as one season-long story, meaning that all will be resolved by time of the finale. Kitsis said they are going to cover a lot of ground, including, “how Alice got to Wonderland, why she went to Wonderland, who her father is, how she ended up in that insane asylum, how her backstory relates to the other characters, why Jafar is in Wonderland, and how the genie got in the bottle.”
“We intend to be all killer, no filler,” he promised.
He added that while the program is considered a spinoff, “it really is its own adventure. People who have never even seen Once Upon a Time will be able to follow it.”
One similarity that viewers will note between the two shows is the presence of fairy tale “mash-ups,” such as introducing a genie to Alice’s mythology. The creators said they enjoy doing it, and gave another example, in that the Knave’s story leads to the Enchanted Forest.
Questions from the audience came next, and an avid young reader asked Horowitz and Kitsis if the Dormouse or March Hare will be seen. While impressed with the child’s knowledge, the creators confessed they are still early stages of writing, but said that they hoped to include them. The two did promise appearances by the Cheshire Cat as well as the Caterpillar, who is voiced by Roger Daltry.
As a consolation, Horowitz and Kitsis signaled that viewers will see the Queen of Hearts, the Evil Queen’s Mother from Once Upon a Time (played by Barbara Hershey).
Another question dealt with the format of the individual episodes, with the audience member asking if viewers will see world-hopping or flashbacks every week. Horowitz assured the attendee there will be “hopping” to many surprising worlds, adding, “We will have flashbacks in every episode. One episode may be how Cyrus became the genie, while another might be what made Jafar evil. But we will probably be flashing back between different worlds, while our present-day world – instead of Storybrooke – will be a post-curse Wonderland.”
The audience gasped audibly at this notion, which appeared to be the cue for the panel to conclude.
Once Upon a Time in Wonderland premieres Thursday, Oct. 10 on ABC.