“It was scary,” my 4-year-old daughter Petunia replied when my husband asked her if she enjoyed “Finding Nemo” after seeing it in the movie theater over the weekend.

“Tell me more about it,” he prodded her.

“It was sad,” she replied.

“Anything else?” he asked.

“Well,” she said with a thoughtful pause. “Nemo missed his daddy.”

It was a simple review, but one that pretty much sums up every Disney movie ever made: dead or absentee parent, terrifying and gloomy.

We’re taking both of our daughters to Disney World this fall, a trip my husband and I are anticipating as eagerly as Cinderella looking forward to midnight — which is to say we have every intention of delighting in the ball like we’re the chosen princess, but dread what we might see when the clock strikes 12.

Literally. I mean, has there ever been a Disney good guy who’s had an easy time of it? The whole lot of them must roam the streets of Orlando like a pack of wild, rabid dogs sniffing out random targets to take out their aggression on each night. How else do they work through the pain and memories of their otherwise miserable existence?

Why is it that if you’re a Disney character you have to experience unqualified tragedy before you can enjoy some semblance of happiness, and even then it necessarily means the second you meet someone with good looks and a moneyed family you give the shaft to the dwarfs who took you in, gave you a bed and a roof over your head when someone was looking for you in an attempt to cut your heart out of your chest with a dagger and leave you for dead in the woods?

It’s no wonder the Magic Kingdom is finally ready to start selling alcohol after remaining dry for its entire 41-year existence, which the Orlando Sentinel reported last week. After all, you’d think a little jungle juice would be necessary to mask the figurative heartache of such rides as Dumbo the Flying Elephant, which is named after a character ridiculed for his appearance who accidentally gets drunk and hallucinates, all while trying to muddle through life as a tortured circus animal after his mother has been locked up after being diagnosed as legally insane.

How about a few gulps of something strong and clear before climbing up the Swiss Family Treehouse? Because if your family got deserted on an island where the only inhabitable place for the six of you to live out the rest of your days was a tree that might have been more appealing had it been constructed out of Lincoln Logs, you, too, might need something to lull yourself to sleep every evening, not to mention make it through most of the daylight hours.

Petunia is over-the-moon excited about meeting Cinderella, and we’re tickled for her, too, although not so much for her attraction to the poor girl’s signature broom. There’s no shame in cleaning for a living, like Cinderella’s stepmother and stepsisters made her do, but we’re hopeful that Petunia will set her bar a bit higher than that of Disney’s signature princess who dances with and sings to rodents while mopping floors and almost instantly agrees to devote her life to a man whom she didn’t feel comfortable enough with only hours earlier to admit she was wearing a borrowed dress.

Please, God, let there be Jell-O shots during the line at Peter Pan’s Flight because if I really have to imagine an island full of lost boys, plus those poor brothers and their sister in particular, who are made to walk the plank of a pirate’s ship while a man-eating crocodile is waiting below, all while they are waiting pathetically for a little pixie dust and some sort of elf without a shadow to save them, I might just experience something resembling an emotional breakdown and go home with way more children than I arrived with when our vacation began.

Then there’s The Sea With Nemo & Friends, which we surely wouldn’t miss. After Nemo has a small taste of freedom for the first time in his life, he swims off like the big shot that he totally isn’t to touch a diving boat and then is all up in arms because a diver actually took him, thereby requiring his already-grieving, widowed dad to risk life and fin to schlep across the ocean and fend off sharks, jellyfish, a whale and angler fish in an effort to save him. A six-pack of beer and a few sips of whiskey should get us through that cheerful adventure feeling just warm and fuzzy enough.

Of course the alcohol in the Magic Kingdom will be limited to a “Beauty and the Beast”-themed restaurant and won’t be for sale until after our visit is over. But surely they make Disney-themed flasks somewhere so we can still make sure we’re the happiest people at the happiest place on Earth, very much in spite of those characters after whom the entire park and experience were created.


More at www.meredithcarroll.com.

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