Disney A Twisted Tale Series Retrospective - Part One
A Collection of "What If?" YA Stories Based on Disney Animated Classics...
A couple of weeks ago, Disney+ premiered the new Marvel animated series What If?, an anthology which provides a set of “What if?” stories changing established parts of the Marvel mythos. What if Captain America’s British girlfriend got the Super-serum instead? What if the Avengers were killed off by a mysterious force before they could get together? This sort of reimagining plays very well with fans, as it allows them to take familiar characters and see how they are shaped by new and intriguing scenarios. In 2015, Disney created the A Twisted Tale series, which applies this AU formula to the Disney Animated Canon. Each A Twisted Tale book is based on a Disney Animated Classic, with these stories changing elements at the beginning or end of the original story to create hundreds of pages of complications for our heroines and heroes to overcome. The A Twisted Tale series currently consists of eleven books - Six have been written by Liz Braswell, three by Jenn Calonita, and two by Elizabeth Lim. The eleven books adapt Disney Animation hits old and new (from Snow White to Frozen) with tones ranging from psychological horror to romantic fantasy, from epic quest narratives to dystopian actioners. However, all of them maintain a more serious and mature approach, with a greater sense of danger and threat. There are plenty of updates for contemporary sensibilities, such as more developed romantic relationships and several new female characters to even out the gender gap. Despite this, a lot of Disney’s upbeat fantasy charm remains intact, and fans will really enjoy seeing their favourite leads earn their happy endings.
In effect, the A Twisted Tale are professional fanfiction. It’s no surprise that Elizabeth Lim – the most acclaimed and successful of the three A Twisted Tale authors – openly admits she began her writing career creating fanfics. The genre of Fanfiction is associated with particular strengths and flaws, and both of these are abundant throughout the A Twisted Tale series. On one hand, the prose can be a bit clunky, the tone inconsistent, and the stories can have too many plot points and characters for their own good. However, at their best, they can be full of creativity and bold ideas, reminding us why we love these heroes, villain and sidekicks whilst developing them in new and intriguing ways. With a twelfth A Twisted Tale book (based on Tangled) arriving next month, now is a pretty good time to review the first eleven A Twisted Tale books. Part one of this article will cover the first five, whilst Part Two covers the last six.
(Note: These mini reviews contain mild spoilers, including revealing a few twists and providing details from the climactic moments of the books.)
1. A Whole New World
Based On: Aladdin
Author: Liz Braswell (with assistance from David Kazemi)
What If: Aladdin never found the lamp?
Plot: After an eventful meeting with the Princess Jasmine, homeless thief Aladdin is captured by the sinister vizier Jafar and sent on a mission to find a valuable lamp. When Aladdin finds the lamp, Jafar steals it, unleashes the genie inside, and uses his first two wishes to become Sultan and make himself the most powerful sorcerer in the land. As Jafar becomes increasingly unhinged in his attempts to secure complete domination of Agrabah, Aladdin and Jasmine team up and establish a resistance movement to defeat him, but how can they overthrow a ruler with almost unlimited magical powers?
The pilot episodes of a series can often be relatively weak in comparison to later ones, as the elements which work are not yet set in stone, and writers go through a process of trial and error to develop things. In this context, it is not surprising that 'A Whole New World' is a pretty flawed start to the A Twisted Tale collection. 'A Whole New World' spends several chapters following the set-up of the original film, before Jafar takes the lamp. This overlong build up slows the story down substantially, as we wait for the advertised twist to actually come into play. When it does, things become considerably more action packed, but the first 70 pages or so could have easily been edited down. This problem was fixed in future A Twisted Tale books, which find more creative ways to introduce us to the action.
Braswell sets out the A Twisted Tale agenda by taking one of the lightest Disney fairytale films and turning it into a grim and gritty dystopian action thriller with strong horror elements. This is primarily driven by the greatly increased villainy of Jafar, who turns from “an almost humorous villain to a madman of demonic proportions” as he uses his ill-gotten magic to convert people into zombies and slowly break someone’s neck in graphic fashion. This story also has no problem killing off the supporting cast – in fact, it’s easier to count the Aladdin characters who are ALIVE at the end. However, there is something that feels a little bit jarring about this, as if the primary purpose is to shock readers. Given that Genie is the heart and soul of the original film, it is disconcerting to see him reduced to a prisoner only able to provide brief flashes of anachronistic comedy that are mostly supressed by the weight of a tragic backstory (Aladdin commenting that they could be friends “in another time” makes this feel even more frustrating!) The energy, zaniness and warmth that made Robin Williams’ performance so great in the 1992 film has no place in this story, which is a real loss. Later A Twisted Tale stories toned down the violence, but this turned out to be a strength, as they were able to emphasise characters and atmosphere in a way that did not undermine the tone of the source material.
The changes to the source material affect Aladdin and Jasmine as well, as the primary source of their conflict in Disney’s Aladdin story (Aladdin trying to pretend to be someone he isn’t) is no longer relevant. However, the two are still able to retain their likeability, allowing us to root for a happy ending despite the far greater hardships they face. Jasmine feels like the most interesting of the two primary protagonists by some margin, as working with Aladdin and his friends gives the previously sheltered princess an opportunity to display her capacities as a revolutionary leader. The mistreatment of Aladdin’s supporting cast means that we get two original secondary leads belonging to Aladdin’s community of “Street Rats” - the tough and streetwise Morigana and the more introspective Duban, whose desire to protect his family from Jafar drives him to increasingly destructive acts of retaliation. They are competently written characters, but never threaten to steal the spotlight from Aladdin and Jasmine.
However, 'A Whole New World' also introduces one of the most interesting facets of the A Twisted Tale series, as it explores the differences between good rulers and bad rulers. Jasmine must come to terms with her father’s failures as sultan, and the fact that his inability to truly focus on the day-to-day royal responsibilities enabled Jafar’s coup. However, despite her passion for improving the world and substantial political knowledge, Jasmine’s desire for revenge on Jafar represents a threat to the clear-headed approach needed to succeed as a ruler. Meanwhile, the damage caused by Jafar’s magically enhanced tyranny is depicted effectively - his attempts to win over people by generating showers of gold coins merely causing hyperinflation, and he soon stars to resort to increasingly extreme forms of magic to maintain loyalty without having to earn it. There are also some interesting meditations on the ethics of revenge and the value of community, with Aladdin and Jasmine’s mission allowing them to open up their previously isolated existence. The world of Agrabah truly comes alive in the story, with the geography of the city explored in great detail, and Aladdin and Jasmine relying on people from all corners of society to assist them. In the opening dedication to the book, Braswell credits David Kazemi with assisting her in depicting Agrabah, and his contributions provide the authenticity which allows an otherwise incredibly brutal story to remain somewhat enjoyable. Despite its many flaws, 'A Whole New World' succeeds in the most important test for YA dystopian fiction, as it captures the visceral appeal of seeing a group of misfits stand up to a corrupt ruler and change their world for the better. 'A Whole New World' is a pretty rough pilot for the A Twisted Tale series, but its commitment to taking risks and being willing to explore the less appealing aspects of Agrabah proved to be major advantages for the series going forward.
2. Once Upon a Dream
Based On: Sleeping Beauty
Author: Liz Braswell
What If: Sleeping Beauty never woke up?
Plot: Princess Aurora lives in a decaying castle in a mysterious post-apocalyptic kingdom, looked after by the sinister fairy Maleficent. When she learns a few disturbing truths about the woman who she regarded as a mother figure, Aurora runs away from the castle and meets the dashing Prince Phillip. Phillip reveals Aurora is actually stuck in an enchanted sleep caused by Maleficent and tells her that when he defeated Maleficent in battle in the real world, she seized control of Aurora’s subconscious and trapped the entire kingdom inside her nightmare world. With the help of the eccentric fairies Flora, Fauna and Merryweather, Aurora and Phillip have to escape Maleficent’s world before Maleficent regains the power needed to take control of Aurora’s real-world body forever.
Setting one of the A Twisted Tale stories in the world of dreams lends itself to some pretty terrifying possibilities - There are few things scarier than a world where you can’t control anything, and literally everything could happen to you. However, 'Once Upon a Dream' is a little too focused on action and adventure to truly be a horror. The main inspiration is probably the sci-fi self-discovery of The Matrix, with Aurora’s ability to “manifest” items in the dream world becoming a major plot point. However, 'Once Upon a Dream' is a pretty atmospheric and sinister story, playing out in the troubled psyche of a character traditionally seen as the least developed Disney princess. One of the most provocative things about 'Once Upon a Dream' is its decision to focus on Aurora’s battle against depression, stating that Aurora was perfectly willing to “end it all” when she touched the cursed spindle. The concept of a suicidal woman rediscovering her will to live whilst trapped in a mysterious dreamworld formed the basis for Matt Haig’s recent hit novel The Midnight Library, and it’s amusingly prescient to see it used first in a Disney YA fantasy thriller. However, Braswell does not share Haig’s interest in using the premise to highlight the many possibilities of life, and instead focuses on putting Aurora through a series of brutal tests, involving creepy children, sinister wood nymphs and a seemingly endless singing contest with a mysterious mechanical bird. Although most of the scary elements are simply grotesque and unsettling rather than gory, Maleficent gets to be nastier than ever, murdering several innocent characters in bloody fashion and later straight up disembowelling someone. However, the limitations of the YA approach are highlighted when adult topics get invoked in rather inappropriately superficial manner, such as Merryweather mentioning the threat posed by rapists, and Phillip frequently providing unspecified swearwords when things get especially frustrating. As annoying as this can be, the story still maintains a degree of charm that allows us to enjoy it despite the heavy subject matter.
For all the dystopian surrealism of Aurora’s dreamworld – with constantly changing landscape, and even a dream within a dream interlude - the story is pretty simple one of a heroine and hero coming up against a purely diabolical witch. The exploration (and ruthless dismissal) of the possibility Maleficent might be a mother figure to Aurora, and her elaborate fake narrative – designed to cast herself as the person rescuing a devastated kingdom from Aurora’s corrupt parents – feel like an explicit jab at the overly sympathetic reinterpretation of the Mistress of All Evil in Disney’s two Maleficent movies. 'Once Upon a Dream' retains the Maleficent movies’ emphasis on “revising” the problems with the original Sleeping Beauty narrative, but does this by forcing Aurora to take control and deal with Maleficent’s malign influence herself. It’s telling that the climax of 'Once Upon a Dream' involves Aurora leading the fight against Maleficent’s dragon form, with an impressively bold solution to the issue of Aurora’s enchanted sleep that is only possible in a dreamworld. It’s great to see Aurora become an action heroine at the climax, but this is still handled in a relatively grounded manner that avoids being pure wish-fulfilment. A late line where Aurora points out that getting help from Phillip DOES NOT make her a damsel in distress is genuinely cheer-worthy, especially in the context of a character who spends the story discovering strengths she never knew existed.
Prince Phillip is no longer the unrealistically perfect male lead of the original film but remains a likeable and charismatic secondary protagonist – the sunnier, goofier aspects of his personality are wisely played up to make him a strong source of comic relief. However, these are also set against an unexpectedly vulnerable and destructive side which Phillip is forced to reveal at an incredibly inopportune moment. Aurora’s fairy guardians do not drive the action as much, but they still try to use their knowledge of magic to help Aurora in both the real world and the dreamworld. Aurora’s parents barely get anything to do, but Phillip’s dad King Hubert is given a more prominent role, with his macho personality enabling him to survive in the dreamworld, but also causing him to become increasingly detached from the world around him. There are a few original characters in Maleficent’s decaying Thorn Castle, but all of them leave the story when Aurora runs away. The one standout new character is Lianna, a servant created by Maleficent to be Aurora’s lady in waiting in the dream world. Lianna’s arc challenges the good/evil dichotomy of the narrative, with a conclusion that is clearly aiming to be a full-on tearjerker. However, her scenes mostly emphasise her seeming detachment and make her feel a bit too flat, which reduces the tragic impact of a character learning to defy her programming regardless of the cost.
For all its flaws, 'Once Upon a Dream' is still one of the most interesting and audacious A Twisted Tale stories. Aurora won’t replace Elsa as the defining “Disney Princess with Mental Health Issues”, but her is still powerful and even inspirational. Aurora’s character development makes 'Once Upon a Dream' work as a Sleeping Beauty story which manages the difficult feat of taking a seemingly passive protagonist putting her character development front and centre, and this is a pretty impressive achievement. Making us reassess characters who we had previously dismissed as bland, and bringing some creative and even unsettling ideas, 'Once Upon a Dream' really shows what the A Twisted Tale series can be capable of.
3. As Old as Time
Based On: Beauty and the Beast
Author: Liz Braswell
What If: Belle’s mother cursed the Beast?
Plot: The Enchantress Rosalind belongs to the “Charmantes”, a race of individuals with magical powers. As prejudice against the Charmantes becomes increasingly brutal, she lays a terrifying curse on the son of the local king and queen, turning him into a monstrous Beast. Years later, Rosalind’s daughter Belle gets imprisoned inside the Beast’s castle. When Belle finds out that her own mother was responsible for cursing the Beast, she has to discover what provoked her into bringing about this curse. As Belle and the Beast investigate the persecution of the Charmantes, Belle beings to develop feelings for her captor…
One of the most frustrating issues with the 2017 live-action remake of Beauty and The Beast is the fact that it gives a larger role to the Enchantress who cursed the Beast, but fails to develop her in any way, making her decisions feel purely arbitrary and thus even more problematic. 'As Old as Time' (which came one year before the remake) takes a far more thorough approach, embedding the enchantress firmly into the narrative, and this prevents it from feeling like too derivative a reimagining. 'As Old as Time' is so long that is split into three parts. The first part of the story intercuts between copying the set-up of the source material and outlining the backstory of Belle’s parents, with the latter section being unsurprisingly far more interesting. The second part diverges into mystery, with Belle and Beast investigating the story of Belle’s mother and the disappearance of Ms. Potts’ husband. The third part is a straightforward action-driven climax, with Belle getting imprisoned in an asylum and having to rescue her parents, whilst Beast is forced to confront the local townspeople himself. Fortunately, the changes in tone feel reasonably natural, and the story consistently maintains a Gothic fantasy atmosphere that feels true to the source material.
The depiction of the Charmantes aims to draw parallels to the historic persecution of racial minorities in various societies, with acts of violence committed against them on the street, signs barring them from inns, and increasingly suspicious disappearances. However, the portrayal of these individuals born with special magical gifts feels more effective as a metaphor for autism and other conditions of neurodiversity. It’s a problematic analogy (like most fantasy metaphors) but it highlights how easy it is for people to turn against those who have “different” powers and abilities. There is also a plot point involving Beast’s kingdom being ravaged by a deadly pandemic, which feels uncomfortable in 2021 for obvious reasons. Keeping with the focus on institutionalised persecution, the memorably sinister asylum keeper Frederic D’Arque is upgraded to being the primary villain, with Gaston feeling like comic relief in comparison. D’Arque’s sadistic methods, callous attitude, and his desire to “Cure” himself of his own secret Charmante powers lead to some impressively disturbing moments, but it’s easy to see why he was only given two scenes in the original film – he still feels fairly one-note compared to the best Disney villains. Meanwhile, the Enchantress is given the opportunity to fully come to life as a character. Compassionate and eloquent, but capable of causing great destruction when wronged, Rosalind is the first truly developed original character in the A Twisted Tale series, and the backstory for her and Maurice represents a marked change from the disrespect shown to the parents in Braswell’s first two books.
The mystery elements are competent – Anyone with a basic knowledge of the film will be able to guess most of the whodunnit elements fairly quickly, but it’s still interesting to see our leads discover the truth for themselves. Even with the investigation distracting Belle and Beast from their romance, they still have a strong chemistry, with an attempt to make meals in the kitchen and a storytelling session allowing them to enjoy some charmingly mundane moments in each other’s company. Beast’s insecurities remain central to the story, as the curse leads to the prospect that he may devolve into a completely feral state – not exactly ideal when trying to expose D’Arque’s misdeeds. The issues over killing an irredeemably evil villain were previously explored in 'A Whole New World', but are handled better here, in part because it allows the Beast/Gaston contrasts to be emphasised in a story which otherwise gives the latter very little to do. Belle feels a bit less intriguing in comparison, but she still retains the attributes that made her appealing first time around, whilst the Enchanted Objects get to be their usual lively selves, but with increased emphasis on the difficulty of their plight. Some of them even maintain hostility towards the Charmantes, which generates a dose of conflict in an otherwise tightly knit group of sidekicks.
Ultimately, it’s the final chapters that are most provocative. Most of the A Twisted Tale stories adopt a very modern “maybe later” approach to “Happily Ever After”, but 'As Old as Time' makes it feel genuinely subversive. Without going into spoilers, it demonstrates Beast’s character development without getting entirely rid of the vulnerabilities that made him so compelling in the first place. It represents an interesting way to conclude a story which alternates between being a straight adaptation of the Disney film, and a more unconventional fantasy tale. At times, the inability to completely escape the Beauty and the Beast template can feel like its dragging 'As Old as Time' down, but there are still enough interesting ideas and effective character development to make it worth checking out.
Based On: Mulan
Author: Elizabeth Lim
What If: Mulan had to travel to the Underworld?
Plot: During the battle with the Huns, Captain Li Shang is mortally wounded whilst trying to protect Mulan. Whilst keeping vigil over Shang’s body, Mulan meets the ghost of his late father, who tells her that Shang’s soul is heading to Diyu, the Chinese underworld. When Mulan asks to enter the afterlife so she can save Shang, Shang’s lion guardian ShiShi comes to life and brings her into Diyu. In order to escape the underworld and return Shang to the human world, Mulan get to the 100th level of Diyu by sunrise, but she faces several obstacles on her quest…
For 'Reflection' – the first A Twisted Tale story not created by Liz Braswell - new author Elizabeth Lim finds a creative way of escaping the shadow of her source material. Whereas the film mostly focused on real world battles, 'Reflection' does a 180 and brings Mulan into a fantastical world of fire monsters, shapeshifters, and mountains made of sword blades. Taking Mulan into the underworld is a big risk that pays off, as it allows 'Reflection' to escape the shadow of the original film, whilst keeping the themes and characterisation that were key to its appeal. Mulan and Shang remain at the centre of the story, but apart from this, 'Reflection' avoids leaning on the source material too much. Mushu gets some amusing lines in the set-up, but he and Mulan’s fellow soldiers leave the story almost entirely when she enters the underworld. This means that 'Reflection' needs to rely on a new cast of supporting characters, and they have to be strong enough for us to not miss the originals. Fortunately, Shang’s spirit guardian – a boisterous lion named ShiShi - is an effective protagonist in his own right, loud and overconfident but ultimately a passionate ally for Mulan and Shang. We also learn more about Shang’s father and Mulan’s ancestors, with Mulan’s often embarrassing deceased relatives providing both comedy and tension as she tries to continue concealing her grand deception. The decision to fully explore the Chinese underworld allows Lim to celebrate an aspect of Chinese culture that will be unfamiliar to most readers, and she does a very good job establishing a vast and complex world, which is a fascinating mix of the fantastical and the mundane.
Mulan faces a variety of antagonists, including the imposing Lord of the Underworld King Yama, deadly demon bandits cursed to spend eternity in the afterlife, and a destructive fire demon called Huoguai. The most fascinating opponent is Meng Po, a shapeshifter who is in charge of making the dead forget their former life. She attempts to use this ability to stop Mulan’s mission prematurely, but we eventually find out she has a far deeper connection to Mulan than we expect. This pleasingly ambivalent characterisation is a pleasant change in a series which often relies on heightening the villainy of its antagonists. However, the main focus of the narrative is on Mulan and her insecurities, which are central to many of the strongest scenes. The climax uses the mirror motifs from the movie in skilful fashion, as Mulan has to negotiate her way through a maze of living reflections that try to distract her. For all the action and fantasy, Reflection recognises that the heart of the story is Mulan coming to terms with what truly drives her and reconciling the many conflicted parts of her personality. Pretty much every YA fan on the planet can relate to the power and value of this theme, and 'Reflection’s skilful use of it leads to one of the most powerful conclusions in the A Twisted Tale series. If other stories in the A Twisted Tale collection are like an explosion of Disney fanfiction energy, 'Reflection' is a candle – It may not be as spectacular, but its memorable visuals, strong action sequences, and engaging exploration of Mulan’s psyche all ensure that its magic continues to glow long after readers have lost interest in all the other books. Of all the A Twisted Tale stories, 'Reflection' is probably the one that stands out the most on its own terms.
5. Part of Your World
Based On: The Little Mermaid
Author: Liz Braswell
What If: Ariel never defeated Ursula?
Plot: After the mermaid Ariel failed to regain her voice from Ursula, the devious sea witch captured her father King Triton and turned him into one of her wretched “Sea polyps”. In the aftermath, Ariel was forced to replace him as Queen of Atlantica and has spent five years as its mute ruler. Meanwhile, Ursula (disguised as a human princess called Vanessa) has taken over Eric’s kingdom and bewitched him into forgetting almost completely about Ariel. However, when her old friend Scuttle tells her that Ursula is keeping Triton prisoner on dry land, Ariel makes herself human and sets out to investigate. During her mission, Ariel breaks Ursula’s magic shell, regaining her voice and freeing Eric from Ursula’s enchantments. Ariel and Eric team up to get rid of Ursula and save both their kingdoms, but Ursula’s dark magic means this will be quite a difficult challenge.
With its bold, adventurous tone, lively characters, and problematic storyline, Disney’s iconic take on The Little Mermaid is a pretty good fit for the A Twisted Tale series, and 'Part of Your World' takes full advantage of this. Braswell changes the structure again, with several relatively short chapters flitting between the characters (Ariel gets the most, followed by Eric and Ursula, but many secondary characters get a special chapter of their own as well). Fortunately, the main protagonists are strong enough to make this work. Ariel’s defeat has left her older and wiser, but her return to land gives her an opportunity to rediscover her fascination with the human world and regain the proactive, adventurous streak that made her so iconic in the original movie. Meanwhile, Prince Eric is given a genuinely intriguing personality, as his focus on music over the responsibilities of ruling has led to him gaining the nickname “The Mad Prince” (He also gains a ponytail for some reason). Eric tries to escape the tedium of marriage with “Vanessa” by composing operas, including one called 'La Sirenita' with a storyline that bears a remarkable resemblance to events that Ursula has brainwashed him into forgetting. There is a fascinating irony in seeing one of Disney’s most virtuous male leads being forced to come to terms with the fact he has enabled his kingdom to become a belligerent imperialist tyranny, and even when Eric tries to start setting things right, it is hard to restore peace with “Vanessa” still asserting her power. Our leading couple find themselves having to tap into their less endearing traits in order to confront Ursula, but their need to work together still leads to a pretty sweet relationship, and there are some interesting ideas about the struggle to balance happiness and responsibility – when you think about it, this theme is at the heart of almost every Disney movie, but for Ariel and Eric, these undertones are brought straight to the surface…
In order to properly unite, Ariel and Eric need to face a truly formidable threat to the worlds they represent, and Braswell’s take on Ursula is probably her best interpretation of a Disney villain. Ursula’s status as an evil counterpart to Ariel is never pointed out too explicitly, but her disdain for humans is a key motive, as she comments on our habit of polluting the sea the sea whilst being perfectly happy to ravage the underwater kingdoms from above. The twisted sense of fun Ursula has as “Vanessa” it easier to believe she would discard the power of the trident to focus on bringing chaos to dry land. The Cthulhu-inspired elements of Ursula’s dark magic are dialled up considerably, but Braswell isn’t afraid to play her schemes for morbid comedy – An amusing sequence depicts a failed attempt to steal a new voice from a teenage girl, adding notes of desperation and even vulnerability to Ursula’s quest for absolute power. By showing how Ariel, Eric and other characters react to Ursula’s uninhibited and casually vulgar villainy, Braswell ruthlessly shows why this unlikely icon is such a despicable individual, but we still enjoy seeing her wreaking havoc in the human world.
The supporting cast was always one of the strongest elements of the original film, and they are allowed to enjoy their share of memorable moments here. Sebastian gets less focus due to his role underwater but is still allowed to provide some much-needed comic relief, whilst Flounder and Scuttle are as supportive as ever. Eric’s advisor Grimsby and maid Carlotta get a larger role, both remaining a couple of steps ahead of Eric as they try to help out Ariel. New characters include Scuttle’s more sensible (but still eccentric) great granddaughter Jona, a spirited old tattoo artist named Argent, and Vareet, a perpetually frightened girl forced to work as Ursula’s handmaiden. The latter has a pretty big role in the story, but her background and perspective are underdeveloped. Vareet’s happy ending forms a pretty big (and heartwarming) part of the denouement, but properly showing how dire her life was beforehand would have made it even sweeter.
'Part of Your World' is a relatively “talky” story, with most of the big scenes being dialogue-driven confrontations and meetings. Fortunately, the characters are strong enough to ensure these have the tension and energy required, and the physical set pieces (including Ariel using the power of the trident to unleash a devastating storm) are worth the wait. The mission to rescue Triton provides some much-needed direction for the story - even with the king of the sea reduced to a rather icky MacGuffin – and Ursula’s increasingly nasty plans ensure that the level of jeopardy steadily rises. The final battle – set at an outdoor amphitheatre - is not as epic as the original film, but still feels impressively grim and gritty, with Ariel getting to outwit her tentacled arch-nemesis in rousing fashion.
However, the strongest parts of the story are often the simplest. The 'La Sirenita' opera is the most inspired element of 'Part of Your World' (and one of the cleverest plot points in the A Twisted Tale series in general) - the truth hidden in plain sight and dismissed as a tragic fantasy. The idea that the trivial human world is unexpectedly close to deadly and dangerous forces which it cannot possibly understand is also explored in other ways - a piece of seemingly innocuous scrap paper used by Vareet provides a terrifying warning of danger. Despite this, Atlantica still retains a lot of its charm, and several moments succeed in capturing the sense of wonder generated by bringing a mermaid and her magical world into contact with humankind.
Another powerful strength of 'Part of Your World' is the world building. The Mediterranean kingdom of Tirulina feels like a well-developed country, and the various surrounding countries (including Bretland and Ibria) also feel pleasingly authentic fictional counterparts to the traditional European powers – this is legitimately a world you want to travel around in more detail. However, this ginormous world and its many rules are also tied to some of the biggest flaws of 'Part of Your World', as there are plenty of times when this mythos is left underdeveloped and inconsistent – we hear a lot about Eric’s family, but they don’t seem to play any role in the story at all. There is also some confusion over the contrast between the longevity of mermaids and Ariel’s relative youth, which is exacerbated by lines saying Ariel’s mother died over a century before and a moment where Ariel contemplates the fact she had “probably been a little girl” at the same time as the elderly but energetic Argent. There is something to be said for making the mermaids semi-immortal like in the Andersen version, but Braswell probably goes a little too far and just creates confusion. However, these glaring flaws are balanced out by the fact that adapting The Little Mermaid plays perfectly to Braswell’s strengths, so she is able to make us suspend our disbelief for the entire novel. Retellings of Disney’s version of The Little Mermaid need a detailed exploration of the human world, strong chemistry between the protagonists and antagonists, and memorable tests of character to highlight their attributes, with Braswell succeeding in providing all of these. As a result, 'Part of Your World' is the one of the most purely enjoyable entries in the A Twisted Tale series.
(Part Two Coming Soon…)