Once Upon a Time TV Poster Image

Once Upon a Time



Fresh take on fairy tales is moody fun for families.
Parents recommendPopular with kids
  • Network: ABC
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2011

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Themes include love, good vs. evil, parenthood, loss, abandonment, and a lack of fulfillment. 

Positive role models

Emma and Henry are committed to each other; some characters' loyalty to others shift.  Some bad guys are clearly evil despite appearing sympathetic. 


Car accident, bloody sword fights, explosions, destroying people's actual hearts, murder. Frightening creatures like trolls, eerie monsters. 


Couples shown getting dressed after implied sexual activity; shirtless men, bare-backed women visible. Some bed-hopping implied. Kissing. 


"Ass," "hell," "suck" sometimes used; "bastard" much less frequently.  


Emma drives a classic Volkswagen Beetle. 

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Some social drinking (beer, mostly).

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that although Once Upon a Time is inspired by classic fairy tales such as Snow WhitePinocchio, and revivals of popular stories such as Mulan, Braveand Frozen, it's not always age-appropriate for younger kids. The content is often violent -- including murder, sword fights, and death threats -- and much of the story is clouded in a sense of peril and shifting loyalties. There's some implied sexual content (including shirtless men, women buttoning up their blouses, and lovers escaping out of windows), some innuendo, and some iffy language ("hell," "ass," "suck"). The upside? It has multi-generational appeal, but parents may want to preview before sharing with tweens.

What's the story?

ONCE UPON A TIME tells of Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison), a tough-as-nails private detective who's confronted by 10-year-old Henry (Jared S. Gilmore), who claims to be her biological son. He spins a tale of a parallel world that was lost to a curse by an evil queen and about how Emma is the long-lost child of Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Prince Charming (Josh Dallas). As if this isn't strange enough, Henry tells her that she's destined to break the curse and return the residents of Storybrooke, Maine, to their fairy tale glory. Concerned for Henry's well-being, Emma moves to Storybrooke and befriends her new neighbors, all except Regina (Lana Parrilla), Henry's vindictive adoptive mother. As the clues fall into place in Henry's story and the town begins to awaken to its past, newcomers arrive, secrets are revealed, and unforeseen challenges rise up to block the residents' journey back to their true identities.

Is it any good?


The entertaining and imaginative series is a sharply written modern spin on fairy tales that combines drama, romance, and suspense in a truly magical way. It brings together far-flung favorite characters such as Red Riding Hood, Peter Pan, Rumplestiltskin, and more contemporary characters like Merida and Princess Elsa, taking generous liberties with the content of the original narratives to extrapolate new relationships and experiences among them. Purists might take issue with this aspect of the show, but it is this formula that creates some creative plot lines that drive the show through multiple seasons. 

This isn't your kids' fairy tale collection, however, nor is it a suitable bedtime story for the little ones. It's dark, intense, occasionally sexy, and at times too violent for younger kids. The constant plot twists and the characters' unpredictable motivations, can be worrisome, too. It does, however, promise a fun experience for older viewers craving something outside the repetitive realm of sitcoms, dramas, and reality shows. Overall, Once Upon A Time is a fun journey that will have you rooting for underdogs, cheering for true love, and embracing a world that is as clever as it is enchanting. 

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about this show's version of reality. Do the residents of Storybrooke lead lives that reflect your impression of reality? Do you think people turn to entertainment for a reflection of their own lives or an escape from it?

  • Teens: Do you like this show's interpretation of fairy tales? How do their stories diverge from the originals you know? If you could rewrite a classic tale, which would it be?

  • What do you think the intention of Once Upon A Time is? Does it offer any positive lessons you can relate to your own life? Does entertainment always have to have a point? Which of your favorite shows would you say has educational qualities?

TV details

Premiere date:October 23, 2011
Cast:Ginnifer Goodwin, Jared Gilmore, Jennifer Morrison
Topics:Magic and fantasy, Book characters, Fairy tales
Character strengths:Courage, Perseverance, Teamwork
TV rating:TV-PG
Available on:Streaming

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What parents and kids say

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Parent Written bytravelnurse74 November 13, 2011

Sexual Content is increasing drastically. Turning off

I think this show is just okay for adults and fun for tweens and teens. The show was going great (the language could be toned down - why can't they just say darn instead of da*n?) But my main issue was on tonight's episode, the Queen tells Henry she is going to her Saturday Meeting. Later they show her zipping up her dress talking about their "meetings" to a man in the shower and then leaves the hotel room saying "don't forget your socks under the bed." You later find out the man is the sheriff when he is under the bed getting the socks. I don't think this is necessary. It puts this family show, even for tweens in an awkward position of showing that men or women use sex for games/things they want. It would go over the head of younger kids but my 5th grader seemed to have an idea what was going on. I will be watching the shows ahead of time now and if any this unnecessary sexual content is shown again, we will turn it off. It is a shame. They could easily show this in a family friendly way for ages 8/9 and up but choose to gear it towards adults with language and sexual content. Problem is, it is a little too lame for adults but a little too much for kids. They can't teeter or they won't have any viewers. UPDATE: After watching one of the last shows, I have changed my stars from 4 to 2. The sheriff jumping out of the queen's window (instead of being at the humane society - nice, huh?) in the middle of the night. The blonde asking him why he is doing that with Henry there and his answer is "Well he is sleeping, he doesn't even know." Pathetic. Disgusting. My 10 year old said "I don't understand, what is going on, does he like the Queen?" Ugh. You can see this is going down a path of people using each other for sex. I completely understand why some shows have sexual content. We are not prudes. But again, this show could be an excellent family show and the sexual content is misguided and in no way makes the show any better. I hope many people write to ABC and the producers and ask them to clean it up and keep their tween/teen/family audience.
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Parent Written byMattemsam November 17, 2011

Started off well, now too much adult content/sex

I was excited for a show that I could watch with my tween daughter and thought the first few episodes were fine. However, recent episodes feature themes and materials that are more adult, i.e.: the mayor/evil queen having an affair with the sheriff, the concept of "selling" the baby of an unwed mother. And the bad language is unnecessary. It is obviously not an adult show, so why not make it truly family-friendly? Future episodes will be pre-screened. Very disappointed in ABC. Edited to add: the adult content continues. This show is not appropriate for my 12-year-old daughter.
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Parent of a 10 and 12 year old Written bybrown_eyed_girl October 28, 2011

Would be better if they could clean up their mouths!

We were hoping this was going to be a show the whole family could enjoy together. The premise appealed to both ages and genders. I was disappointed at the language in a show airing at this time. We'll probably watch again but if it continues to be an issue will pull the plug.
What other families should know
Too much swearing