3. It Has a More "Realistic" Storybook Romance.
One of the main themes of Wonderland, as with its parent show, is the power of true love. The unwavering devotion between Alice and Cyrus is certainly one of the show's charms. I'm usually a black-hearted old cynic, but the sparks in their eyes when they gaze at each other and the way the actors convey that uncontained joy of young love always melts at least the top layers of carbon.
Like Snow and Charming, these two often say they will "always find each other" - and they do. But something about their romance feels a little more "real" than the kinds of eternal devotion shown on OuaT. One of my favorite relationships on the parent show, between sweet young Belle and gnarled old Rumple, is nevertheless completely preposterous and a little bit icky. Though Snow and Charming are a better fit, there are times when they decide to hide things from each other - like when Charming is fatally poisoned but at first keeps it from Snow (yeah, he got better) - that feel weird, considering all they've been through and how many times they've already learned that honesty is the best policy.
Not that Alice and Cyrus are always 100 percent honest with each other, but they come clean a lot sooner and get over it with less drama. It's the kind of ideal that feels more obtainable, something we can all hope for from our true love: Knowing we're not perfect, accepting flaws, moving on.
2. It Has a More Kickass Heroine.
OuaT has its share of swordplay and fisticuffs, but, especially where the female characters are concerned, its most epic smackdowns tend to be magical ones. Not that I don't love a magical duel, but there's something more satisfying about watching characters trade physical blows. Snow White was a badass with a bow and arrow in the Enchanted Forest, but now she's pregnant in Storybrooke, and her pals won't even let her help track the Wicked Witch (Rebecca Mader). Emma has had her fierce moments, and of course Mulan is a serious warrior (though she's not seen that often). But no lady on the parent show is as consistently kickass as Alice, who strides about Wonderland with a fearsome sword on her back and never hesitates to use it - or to wade into a fight with arms and legs flailing. Not to mention, as pictured, beating down the attendants to escape from the creepy Victorian asylum her father commits her to.
By the time of the big final showdown with Jafar, she's knocking down an army of minions all by herself - and without any magical powers, just the strength of her belief in love to keep her going. Yeah, I guess that's corny, but beyond her physical fierceness is her mental toughness: When Jafar threatens to change the past so that Alice and Cyrus never meet, Alice doesn't cave in and give Jafar the info he wants or beg to keep her true love. Instead she bravely delivers the emotional smackdown, taunting that Jafar may have changed the laws of magic to make the Red Queen love him, but that love is still only an illusion. And what she and Cyrus have is real. So there.
1. It Ends.
Like I said up top, Once Upon a Time is beginning to feel like it's meandering without much purpose, other than to continue to remind us that Disney has its fingers on just about every big fantasy property out there. (I keep wondering when we're going to get a look at Star Wars World...you know it could happen!) Season 3 has brought us "the Curse" 2.0, and while the show is clever enough to build a mystery around that, bring in some new players and put some old ones in dire circumstances, it all feels like a bit of a retread.
By contrast, though I am sad to see Wonderland go, one of the best things about it is that the series finale, "And They Lived...," wrapped things up nicely, with Jafar getting his just deserts and an appropriately storybook wedding for Alice and Cyrus, with all their friends from Wonderland and London bearing delighted witness. By the end of the episode, it's hard to imagine where they would have gone next...and the realization dawns that we few fans are lucky indeed.
As co-creators Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz explained at the show's panel during the Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour last year, they planned to tell a story with "a beginning, middle and end" all along - and they did. Once Upon a Time in Wonderland had a perfect ending, and that's a rare gift indeed.
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