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When Once Upon a Time goes on a magic-carpet ride in season six, it won’t look exactly like the Aladdin that Disney fans know and love.
“[Jasmine] is a strong character with an agenda all her own,” co-showrunner Adam Horowitz tells The Hollywood Reporter, but he notes that how the character will be introduced will be a “surprise.”
Horowitz and fellow co-creator Eddy Kitsis could not say if the show’s newest Disney characters — Aladdin (Deniz Akdeniz), Jasmine (Karen David) and Jafar (Oded Fehr) — would stick around for the whole season, but they did reveal that they will intertwine into the “Savior mythology.” As seen in the season six Comic-Con footage, Aladdin is also a Savior, which will be explored in “Savior mythology” with Emma (Jennifer Morrison) and company.
Below, Horowitz and Kitsis discuss how a band of new characters from the Land of Untold Stories will be used to help develop the core characters’ storylines, how the Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla) is the most “formidable” villain yet, and the changes to expect as the show shifts from half-season arcs to one full season featuring Dr. Jekyll (Hank Harris) and Mr. Hyde (Sam Witwer).
Did you have any clearance issues with Disney to get the Aladdin characters?
Kitsis: No, Disney has been really supportive since season one. The greatest thing about Disney has not only been their support, but they oftentimes will let us use their characters or talk to the people behind them. We’ve had the Frozen characters, we’ve had Ariel, and we waited until the right moment to do the Aladdin story.
Horowitz: The Disney feature animation side has been really generous with us and they look at the show, I think, the way we present it. We like to call it the Disney cul-de-sac. These characters can come in here, go for a spin, we play with them a little bit, and then we set them back and try not to damage them.
Did you have big plans for Aladdin and company from the beginning of the show, or did you imagine something with the Jekyll and Hyde storyline as you were brainstorming the season?
Horowitz: It’s been a long time coming. We talked about using these characters pretty much since the first season, internally. It was always about the right time and when it would fit into the storytelling the way we wanted to. With the Land of Untold Stories and with Jekyll and Hyde I think you’ll see that the Aladdin, Jasmine, Jafar story folds in neatly.
Aladdin had many other beloved characters, including the late Robin Williams’ Genie and Abu. Any plans to bring them in?
Horowitz: There certainly are nods to the film that we all love so much, that we’re peppering in throughout. We’re, right now, focusing on those three.
Kitsis: Obviously, I don’t think we would touch the genie. I would like to see a monkey, but I can’t promise anything. I think, whereas some stories, like Frozen, we were very faithful to Frozen, I think you will see Aladdin will have its own Once twist.
Would you say it’s a darker twist than the Aladdin we know? Jafar’s a pretty dark character — he’s one of the most evil villains of the Disney universe.
Horowitz: I think it’s the Once Upon a Time tone, which is to say that dark things happen, but it never gets bleak, which is the difference we always draw. Despite how dark and scary things can get, there’s always a hopefulness at the core of the storytelling. I think with the Aladdin story and how it meshes with the Once Upon a Time story, the same will hold true. We’re not going to pull any punches with Jafar in terms of being a really dark and evil character.
Does Aladdin and Jasmine’s love story remain true? Is that part of the arc, or is it more about just putting those characters into Storybrooke?
Kitsis: I would say that it’s a little of everything. I think that their love story is such a central part of their story that we want to honor that. I think that we’re going to open up a new avenue for Aladdin and Jasmine in our little cul-de-sac.
How do the Aladdin characters impact the world of Storybrooke as we know it, especially as the Land of Untold Stories characters come in?
Kitsis: [In the opening scene showed at Comic-Con] we learned that Aladdin was another Savior. We find out that Emma is not the first, or the only. I would say that the fact that there’s another Savior out there and last year we dove into Dark One mythology, I’d say this year we’re going to dive into Savior mythology. That’s kind of how Aladdin would impact our characters.
Horowitz: In the Comic-Con footage, what we didn’t show was anything with Jasmine. That’s something we’re really excited about. The way we introduce her, we want to keep a surprise for now. When we do find her, she is a strong character with an agenda all her own, that we hope makes her another super-strong, empowered Disney princess on this show that is going to be special in her own way. We loved the character in the movie, and we were super excited to find something fun for her to be doing. That’s one of the surprises we’re excited to unveil this season.
Could there be more Saviors out there that bring the light to Storybrooke?
Kitsis: We are going to dive into that mythology. Whether or not there will be multiple Saviors, I can’t say.
You do have a lot of other characters coming in, like Monte Cristo and Morpheus. Will there be a laundry list of new faces coming in from the Land of Untold Stories?
Kitsis: In season one we met the Mad Hatter, Jiminy Cricket, Cinderella and a host of fairy tale characters and learned their stories. We’re going to find ourselves in a very similar situation where the people from the Land of Untold Stories have their stories paused. We have Emma and Regina trying to help them find happiness against Hyde and an Evil Queen, who’s lurking out there.
Horowitz: I’d say a lot of it is akin to some of the season one stuff. For example, the Hansel and Gretel story in season one was a one-off episode, but what was really important about it was how Hansel and Gretel’s journey affected Emma. That’s what we’re really focusing on. There’ll be some characters where there will be some greater emphasis on them, but there’ll be some where we meet them in an individual episode and it’s really more about: How does this reflect on Emma? How does this reflect on Snow? How does this reflect on the Evil Queen? They all will be drawn into these stories, hopefully, in ways where we’re seeing the development of our core characters and how they’re overcoming their own internal issues.
Because you’re shifting from the half-season storylines to a full season with Jekyll and Hyde and the Land of Untold Stories, are you able to flesh out characters’ storylines more? What changes happened from making that arc consistent throughout the season?
Kitsis: I think it’s much more like we did in season one and season two where there are mini-arcs throughout the season but longer character arcs. The audience got used to us going to a new land, spending 10 episodes there, defeating the villain and coming home. I think the audience will see that the Hyde-Jekyll, the Land of Untold Stories, doesn’t overwhelm the show. The show is back in Storybrooke, and it is fairytale characters in the modern world who need help.
Did that feel like coming home to you, to go back to basics with the one storyline?
Kitsis: It really is and, as a showrunner, every time the audience starts to figure out the show, you want to change it. We broke the curse in season one, but I think we can all agree that if Emma was still denying that there was something to this town, we would have been long canceled. It’s been a really great journey but, for us, season six, five years later, we’re really happy to come home and be able to tell stories the way we did in seasons one and two.
Will the Aladdin characters be around the whole season? Are you still deciding that?
Kitsis: You never know!
Switching gears to the Evil Queen, can she be defeated if she’s stolen someone else’s heart? Would they just have to crush the Dragon’s heart to get rid of her, or is she invincible?
Horowitz: The Evil Queen, in this new form, is quickly shown to be formidable in a way that we haven’t seen any villain in a long time, if at all. How to defeat her, if she can be defeated, is a very big part of the storytelling. Obviously, we don’t want to say what that is, but that’s something that our characters come face-to-face with quickly.
Kitsis: Thematically, we want the Evil Queen to really look inside herself. We’ve seen her be redeemed, we’ve seen her realize that she can’t just resort to the Evil Queen to get what she wants. This year, we really want to get in her head and wonder: Can you separate the darkness, or is that a part of you?
Who is in most danger from the Evil Queen? Is she out for blood or just trying to take her body back from Regina?
Kitsis: In the pilot episode of the series, she warned, “Enjoy this happy day — she’s going to rip everyone’s happy endings away.” I think she looks at Regina as someone who failed to do that. Who is in trouble? The entire family because she has her sights not just set on Regina and Snow, but also Emma.
How will the Emma, Regina, Evil Queen dynamic change throughout the season?
Kitsis: The Evil Queen is kind of like the snake with the apple. That’s what she’s offering up to Regina. This is a different Evil Queen. This is one that has just been separated, so she has all of Regina’s memories and thoughts and thinks that Regina has completely failed. Like any good villain, she is going to find your insecurities and exploit them.
What kind of place are Emma and Hook in now?
Kitsis: The last time Emma saw Hook, she kissed him and said, “I love you.” She said she wanted to tell him then when they weren’t dying, when they weren’t running, when there wasn’t extreme drama. We see that Emma is starting to try and put her life back together and keep her walls down and move forward. We’re going to see those two try to grow.
What does Belle and Rumple’s relationship look like post-sleeping curse?
Kitsis: Rumple and Belle are in a bad place. It’s going to get messy. Especially when there’s a kid involved. You can’t take a baby away from Rumple!
Once Upon a Time season six premieres Sunday, Sept. 25 at 8 p.m. on ABC.
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