A Study in Contrasts: Elsa and Regina on Once Upon a Time

10301601_710917885630375_897088975289582442_nby Aaron Einhorn
I’m a Disney fanboy. I make no excuses for it. I love Disney, always have. And I jumped on the Frozen bandwagon early (thanks to a sneak peek screening). So, last night, Christina and I sat down to watch as Frozen invaded Storybrooke in Once Upon a Time. Overall, we quite liked the episode, and the casting (even if we found Kristoff a bit too scrawny.) But what I found really interesting to think about were the similarities and differences between Regina and Elsa.

Similarity wise, they’re both queens – not Princesses, but Queens. And that’s a distinction that matters. They aren’t just “of noble birth” (which Regina isn’t, really) or just used to having wealth and power, but they’re both accustomed to ruling – something that Princesses aren’t.

They’re two of the only outright magically powered characters on the show. The only others are mostly inhuman (Rumple, Red, the Fairies) – even if they were human once – and the third is Emma, who is her own unique thing.

But where their similarities end, their differences are all the more interesting, because they’re such opposites. Visually, Elsa is taller, fairer of skin, light-haired, and wears light blues and whites. Regina is shorter, dark-haired (and wears it short), and favors dark colored clothing.

10685582_710780718977425_5943111331391290055_nIn terms of their magic, there is the obvious contrast. Regina’s favored magic is fire, while Elsa is all snow and ice (although they both have a curious penchant for affecting hearts).

But their personalities are where they are most strikingly different. Regina’s single biggest flaw has always been her inability to accept personal responsibility. Everything – everything – is someone else’s fault. And she’s not wholly wrong – Regina has certainly been the victim of master manipulators and tricksters, along with the most wretched set of circumstances. Regina isn’t a monster in her mind – she’s the victim looking for justice, and whenever someone else calls her a monster, she lashes out, looking for revenge.

Elsa on the other hand internalizes her fears and doubts, and sees herself as a monster when others don’t. While Anna tells her that she loves her, and that the things she’s done aren’t her fault, Elsa is the one to say “I’m a monster, I should be left alone.” Elsa can’t give herself the slightest allowance that, maybe, someone else is to blame for the circumstances.

They’re both wrong, of course, being at opposite ends of the spectrum instead of finding a healthy middle.

And of course, they come from the entire range of Disney’s animated films, with Snow White being the first animated feature film from Disney, and the first Princess movie, and Frozen being the latest (at least until Big Hero 6 arrives in a few months.)

Still, it has me really looking forward to seeing what this season will bring. And that doesn’t even touch on the other elements that I hope to see developed this year. I want more of Emma and Hook. I want more of Gold and Belle (and yeah, I am exactly fanboy enough to have appreciated his outfit, her gown, and the song). I want to see where Regina’s scheme goes (and I’m happy to see Sidney Glass back). And the hat… oh, the hat. Yeah, I’m sold.

I don't expect to see a certain mouse wearing this hat... but I'm sure it's the same one.

I don’t expect to see a certain mouse wearing this hat… but I’m sure it’s the same one.

Bring on more episodes!

Re-Focusing the Disney Villains

by Aaron Einhorn
It turns out that not twelve hours after writing this I was back in the theatre with Christina and the girls, watching Maleficent a second time. I am happy to say that, on a second viewing, I enjoyed the film a good deal more. Knowing that what I was going to see was a “She’s the misunderstood hero,” film, instead of watching Maleficent’s Start of Darkness made it a far easier film to enjoy the second time around, and everything I found charming the first time around was that much better without the baggage of expecting to see Maleficent actually be a villain.

That said, I still felt like, ultimately, Disney made a misstep with the film – because while Maleficent is a fun movie – and quite possibly a very good one – it is also one that more or less destroys Maleficent ‘s reputation as a villain. And while I applaud the trend seen in both Frozen and Maleficent to show female characters who actually have agency in their films, instead of being objects to be rescued or at best aides to the Hero (and bonus points for putting actual magical power into the hands of the protagonist, instead of keeping magic as something to be doled out by the wise and often inhuman mentor) – I still feel that ultimately, Maleficent has more worth as a brand as Villain than Hero.

Consider, if you will, the role of Maleficent in the Villain line. Look at the sample merchandise from the line, and see how prominent the Mistress of All Evil is – she is normally front and center, overshadowed only by Chernobog (who is given odd prominence considering how small his role in Disney mythology is. The only movie he’s a villain in is Fantasia, and there only for one segment. He doesn’t even have any lines.)

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Disney Vinylmation Figures – the Villains line has Maleficent front and center

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Maleficent is right there in the on-page logo of the Villains section of Disney’s online store.

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Maleficent in the “Dream Along With Mickey” show.

That doesn’t even begin to touch upon her role as a villain within the parks. Maleficent is the chief villain during the Dream Along With Mickey show in front of Cinderella’s Castle at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, her dragon form is one of the main attractions in the Festival of Fantasy parade, and she is the climactic moment in Fantasmic! in both Disneyland and Walt Disney World’s Hollywood Studios.

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The Dragon form in the Festival of Fantasy parade.

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The climax of “Fantasmic!”

Additionally, for the readers in Disney fandom, Maleficent was chief among the Overtakers (Disney villains trying to take over the parks) in Ridley Pearson’s first four Kingdom Keepers novels.

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Maleficent’s malicious gaze threatens the heroic kids.

Heck, when Disney’s House of Mouse did their House of Villains movie, Maleficent even gets to sing the line that should have been the Evil Queen’s. (Check the video below at the 1:00 mark)

Is it worth diluting all of this just to add a female character (who will never be a part of the Princess line) with magical powers for fans? Even if Maleficent is a huge hit, little girls are not going to be casting aside their Anna and Elsa dresses to don the dark fairy’s black dress and horns (and, in fact, Disney doesn’t offer a child-sized version of the dress at this time, although adults can purchase Maleficent’s gown – when it’s back in stock.)

And that’s when it hit me. Maybe it is intentional.

Maleficent is, when it comes down to it, a relatively late addition to the Villains line. Snow White (1937) gave us the Evil Queen, who was relatively ignored until she leapt back to prominence thanks to Lana Parilla’s delightfully wicked performance on Once Upon a Time. Chernobog originates in 1940’s Fantasia. Lady Tremaine, Anastasia and Drizella (yes, they have names) come from 1950’s Cinderella – and Maleficent doesn’t appear for another nine years after that.

That’s right, of the “Classic” members of the Villains line, Maleficent is the second-to-last addition, only followed by Cruella di Ville.

Consider that earlier villains have fared much better on Once Upon a Time than their more recent additions. Ursula only actually appears once – her other appearance was actually the Evil Queen masquerading as the Sea Witch. Maleficent appears a few times, played by Kristin Bauer van Straten ( True Blood), but she consistently plays second fiddle to the power of Regina or the main characters. But Regina, the Evil Queen? She’s practically the star of the show. And Captain Hook (whose on-screen relationship with Disney began in 1953) has become a show mainstay, and the romantic interest for our lead.

Regina

Who’s the fairest of them all? Well, there is certainly an argument for it to be this version of Regina…

Meanwhile, despite Maleficent’s prominence in the early Kingdom Keepers novels, by Books Five and Six, she’s barely present and she doesn’t appear at all in the final volume – while the Evil Queen, Chernobog and Tia Dalma all gets lots of attention.

Notice that it is the Queen's eyes we see now, not Maleficent's.

Notice that it is the Queen’s eyes we see now, not Maleficent’s.

Could it be possible that someone in the Disney hierarchy has decided to move the focus away from Maleficent, for whatever reason?

Could the Flanderization of Maleficent be, in IT-Geek speak, be not a bug, but a feature?

In any case, we can be certain that long before the Green Light was given on Maleficent, someone at Disney made a long and hard calculation on the decision to transform one of the most pre-eminent members of the Villains line into a hero. Perhaps it’s a desire to cash in on the popularity that Wicked gave to the Wicked Witch. Maybe it’s the decision to shift the focus of the Villains line to other characters. Or maybe they have something else entirely in mind. But I can’t believe that they made Maleficent into a hero accidentally. And being the Disney fan that I am, I’ll confess to being very curious to see how this plays out.