'Once Upon a Time in Wonderland' borrows from 'Alice' as well as 'Aladdin'
To believe in something, to stand for something, can make a man look like a fool to skeptics and sophisticates, but that doesn't worry Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, creators of the hit ABC fairy-tale drama "Once Upon a Time" and now its spinoff, "Once Upon a Time in Wonderland," premiering Thursday, Oct. 10.
In a dark time, Kitsis and Horowitz have staked their claim in the light.
"When we started to do 'Once,' " he tells Zap2it, "[we learned that] everything that's cool in the world is something you have to s*** on. It's a lot cooler to say you hate something than to say you're for something. Everything was bleak and dark. Adam and I wanted to write a show that gave us the feeling we did when Charlie got the keys to the factory at the end of 'Willy Wonka.'
"The Internet has really allowed people to get a lot more attention for hating something than to be for it. Our shows are for believers. We want to be hopeful."
That doesn't mean that the former college buddies' shows are sentimental mush.
"We still get dark," says Kitsis, "but we provide light at the end of the tunnel. And we're not ashamed of that."
In "Once Upon a Time in Wonderland," Kitsis and Horowitz have once more put together a colorful tossed salad with ingredients from different stories. Obviously there are references to Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," but there are also elements from "The Arabian Nights" by way of Disney's animated film "Aladdin."
Set in Victorian England, the drama -- planned for one season but with a possibility of more -- stars Australian actress Sophie Lowe ( "Adore") as Alice, who has returned to the regular world from her adventures in Wonderland.
Unfortunately, all her talk of a Cheshire cat and a hookah-smoking caterpillar has her doctors convinced she's insane and determined to do a treatment that will erase her memories.
Alice is tempted, mostly because of her painful recollections of handsome Cyrus ( Peter Gadiot), a mysterious genie who captured her heart and then appeared to die in front of her.
But in the nick of time, the Knave of Hearts ( Michael Socha) arrives with word that Cyrus is alive. Alice then unleashes some impressive martial arts moves and breaks free to once again follow the White Rabbit (voice of John Lithgow) back into Wonderland.
Also starring are Emma Rigby ( "Prisoners' Wives") as the Red Queen and Naveen Andrews ( "Lost") as the nefarious genie Jafar.
"One of the things," says Horowitz, "in 'Once Upon a Time' that we fell in love with was the mash-up of how these characters (from different stories) interacted with other characters. So when we approached the 'Alice in Wonderland' story, we were looking for 'What is the way to tell our version of the story?' We wanted to tell what came next when she came back."
"The truth is," says Kitsis, "it started off with 'Who would Alice fall in love with?' We loved the idea of, here's an ignored little girl who followed a rabbit into a hole into a strange new land. Our Alice has father issues, which would be no surprise.
"What we loved about the genie is that he's a prisoner of the bottle. It's somebody who has gone all over many lands and many worlds and has watched people destroy their lives through selfish wishes and yearned for the day that he can live his own life.
"And we loved the idea of Alice meeting somebody like that. Basically, it's about how the two of them renew their souls."
It's unusual these days for TV storytellers to fuss much about the state of people's souls. But that doesn't bother Kitsis and Horowitz.
"The world is very cynical," says Kitsis, "but there are a lot of people who want to believe in magic. These shows, there are underlying messages about hope. For an hour a week - sometimes people want to follow something that's more hopeful than just a serial killer.
"That's how we feel. 'Once' and 'Wonderland' are for believers."
"What we wanted to do," says Horowitz, "is find ways to put on television unabashed hope. We're not afraid to get dark on the show and show bad things, but what we've always tried to do is find the difference between darkness and bleak. We never wanted to be bleak, darkness without hope.
"We always want to find within the darkness that there's a ray of light and that no matter how bad things get, there is a hope for a happy ending."