Once Upon a Time

TV review by
Emily Ashby, Common Sense Media
Once Upon a Time TV Poster Image
Parents recommendPopular with kids
Fresh take on fairy tales is moody fun for families.

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 91 reviews

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 379 reviews

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We think this TV show stands out for:

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

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

Positive Role Models & Representations

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).

What 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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult 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 s... Continue reading
Adult Written bySadman November 13, 2015

Fun, complex and not as bad some reviews seem to make it appear

Reading some of the reviews from 2011 I saw some overreaction to the very tame, very mild innuendo this show had early on. And people saying there was too much... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old December 30, 2015

What is wrong with people!?

I do not get people sometimes! Once Upon a Time has no sex, not much swearing, not much violence, no drugs! Do not listen to the people underneath who say it ha... Continue reading
Kid, 10 years old January 13, 2013


I LOVE IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I watch it on Netflix, and every Sunday too. A little violent, and a few characters have affairs (No nudity, woman have shirts on,).... Continue reading

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. 

Talk to your kids 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

Our editors recommend

For kids who love watching together

Character Strengths

Find more TV shows that help kids build character.

Themes & Topics

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