The cast and creators of "Once Upon a Time in Wonderland" were on hand at ABC's TCA day to discuss the "Once Upon a Time" spinoff's trajectory and the addition of Jafar (Naveen Andrews) to the series' mythology.
So far, critics and Comic-Con attendees have only seen 19 minutes of footage from the show's pilot, which feature Alice (Sophie Lowe) in a mental institution with doctors interrogating her about her "delusions" of a visit to a place called Wonderland -- which is only seen in flashbacks -- and her lost love, a genie called Cyrus (Peter Gadiot).
The pilot presentation was enough to convince ABC execs to greenlight the fantastical series, but co-creators Adam Horowitz and Eddy Kitsis promised that the full pilot will take fans into present-day Wonderland, which will give viewers "a sense of the world now with Alice’s return," as well as introducing them to "Wonderland's" version of Jafar.
Andrews was enthusiastic about tackling the classic "Aladdin" villain, telling critics, "In the popular imagination I know, he exists almost as an icon, a sort of incarnation of evil ... But I think what we want to do is to present the audience with something they’ve never seen before. There has to be ambiguity and because everyone had a childhood."
Horowitz admitted that they "fell in love with the idea of the mash-up" of "Aladdin" and "Alice in Wonderland," so they were determined to add Jafar and "Aladdin's" genie mythology into the series. "For us, just on a pure, fun level, it’s Alice meeting Jafar!"
Kitsis added, "What we loved about the character of a genie is that you serve at the pleasure of your master. You are somebody who watches lifetimes of people ruin their lives and the things they hold dearest because they wish it away. They’re trying to find shortcuts. So we thought we loved the idea of a genie who thought, 'If only one day, I could get free. I would be able to live that life.” Our character of Alice had a really tough growing-up process. And so when you see the pilot, you’ll see [she and Cyrus] kind of complete each other in a way. And we just love the idea that somebody, who was curious enough as a child to follow a rabbit down a hole, would love a genie who could go to many different lands."
The show's initial order is for 13 episodes, which Horowitz said will encompass a "closed-ended story within this season. Should it work, we’ll hopefully move on to many more adventures with Alice and all these great characters."
When HuffPost TV caught up with the creators in Austin for the ATX Television Festival, Kitsis admitted that they were "very influenced by 'American Horror Story,'" since their first job was working for Ryan Murphy on "Popular."
"I loved ['American Horror Story'] so much and I loved that it had a beginning, middle and end," Kitsis explained. "And we had all of this 'Wonderland' crap [in our heads] that if we put in the main show, you would kill us. You’d be like, 'Go back to Snow!' So we were like, 'It deserves its own journey.'" While the plan was initially to hold the series until midseason to give them more time to work on it, Kitsis told HuffPost TV that the network liked it so much, they wanted it for fall: "So it's hard to be mad at them for liking something and rewarding you."
"Everybody’s goal is the same, which is just to make a great show and get as many people to hopefully enjoy it as possible," Horowitz agreed. "So we know this is the way to do it and we can’t disagree with them. So for us, it’s all about sticking to the plan, which was, to tell a complete story in Wonderland."
Luckily for viewers who missed the boat on "Once Upon a Time," the show is intended to be a standalone story.
"If you have seen 'Once Upon a Time' for two seasons and you love the show, you’ll be rewarded, but if you’ve never seen 'Once Upon a Time,' it doesn’t matter," Kitsis noted. "You’re getting your own journey and we don’t want it to be this show where every week, you’re like, 'Oh, this is the time to go see Rumple.' It’s got to live on its own and that’s what we are the most proud of, because when you watch it, it feels like it's in the 'Once' family, but it feels like a different band."
While "Wonderland" will exist concurrently with "Once Upon a Time," showing us a present-day Wonderland after Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison) broke the curse in Storybrooke, the spinoff also features Alice in what appears to be Victorian England.
Horowitz clarified, "The way we do it ... it’s not historical Victorian England -- it is fictional Victorian England," a literary world similar to the colorless world of Victor Frankenstein as seen in the "Once Upon a Time" episode "The Doctor." This means that Alice could potentially appear in modern-day Storybrooke or the Enchanted Forest, although the creator says that the dividing lines between the series are "very clear in our heads."
One of the biggest appeals of "Wonderland" for both viewers and star Lowe is likely a "kick-ass" Alice: "She’s tough mentally and physically ... she can look after herself."
"We just love writing strong females," Kitsis said. "We never wanted Alice to be a damsel in distress. We liked the idea that she is going to go back down that rabbit hole, sword in hand, to find her man."
Horowitz agreed that the main thrust of the show is "a woman who is taking control of her own destiny. And what we are really excited with this show is taking this strong woman and taking her into this insane land and seeing where it goes."
Executive producer Zack Estrin agreed, "We all know what happened to her in the book since she was this amazing character. But as writers and as actors, we are all really curious to know what happened to that girl when she grew up. How did those adventures in the book formulate this amazing, strong woman who you are going to see in the series?"
Kitsis describes the story as "an epic love story set in a very dark and twisted place," and the land will have its own "unique vibe ... 'Wonderland' is like a psychedelic romance, and it is trippy, and it is weird, and it is intense. But it also has some real characters and humor and romance."
- Barbara Hershey will be back in flashbacks
"Once Upon a Time in Wonderland" premieres Thursday, October 10 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.