Disney Junior's Ariel Enters The Little Mermaid Multiverse

Several months ago, I expressed concerns about Disney retconning their version of The Little Mermaid with the prequel novel to the live-action adaptation and the rumor of an accompanying animated series. Today, Disney confirmed that rumor at the Annecy Animation Festival. Featuring cutesy CGI animation in the style of Doc McStuffins and Sofia the First, Disney Junior's Ariel boasts a brand new design for the character, which vaguely resembles Halle Bailey from the live-action movie, with a seashell and pearl-accented outfit that is similar to the Merroway Cove mermaids from Sofia the First. She is accompanied by a younger-looking version of the 1989 animated Flounder as opposed to the more realistic CGI one from the new film, which has raised some eyebrows due to the mixing and matching of designs between the movies. Another concern is how much younger Ariel and Flounder look in this version compared to the other three opposing narrations of how they met, which were usually within a year to a couple of years prior to the main film. Showing them as childhood friends at such a young age presents a fourth option for this scenario, which really throws the show into multiverse territory.

As its own separate property, it sounds like a cute idea. The animation style blends well with the mermaids feature in Sofia the First or Elena of Avalor, so there is potential for a crossover with some of my other favorite shows. Another thing it has in common with Elena of Avalor is that this version of Ariel has a similar ability to the one Elena unlocked in The Magic Within special. Like Elena's dress, Ariel has an enchanted tail that shimmers and changes colors based on her mood. The series takes place in the Caribbean-inspired kingdom of Atlantica, which until now had not been referenced in any of the live-action properties, and will follow Ariel's exploration of human artifacts like "a big floppy hat, squeaky rubber duck, and whisk." It sounds like the series will chronicle how she began building up the massive collection of human things in her grotto, which is a pretty neat idea for a preschool series, especially if each episode focuses on a single item and educates children about its functions. I could see it having a more formulaic structure like Doc McStuffins or the new Netflix series Princess Power, which, unfortunately, do not hold much appeal for older audiences.

My biggest concern about this show is that it has the potential to make everyone forget the wonderful animated series from the '90s, which is already beginning to fade into obscurity. The Little Mermaid: The Animated Series had beautiful songs, animation, and stories, and gave us a chance to get to know Ariel's sisters better. One of the biggest discrepancies between the live-action and animated Little Mermaid movies was the names and appearances of Ariel's sisters. Disney Junior's Ariel is touted as featuring fan-favorite characters like "King Triton, Ursula, Sebastian, and Flounder as well as exciting new additions." It's possible the new series will exclude her sisters entirely, but that would be disappointing considering how much less screen time they got in the remake and how estranged they were as a family in their later years according to the prequel novel, Against the Tide. Since both this series and Against the Tide are meant to be prequels to the live-action adaptation specifically, I also wonder if the new series will reference anything about the Protectors, Residents, or MerSongs that were introduced as important lore in the novel or if it was actually a complete work of fanfiction, in which case it should never have used the Disney versions of the characters in the first place.

Another new element that this series introduces into the world of The Little Mermaid is Caribbean culture with the help of Dr. Patricia Saunders, a cultural consultant on the show, and Sean Skeete as the Caribbean music consultant. This implies that the musical numbers from the series will be more Caribbean-inspired as opposed to the musical theater-style songs we've heard in the previous animated movies and series. While I'm all for representation, I find it a bit odd that they need a cultural consultant for a fantasy show about mermaids that takes place in the ocean. Considering how many changes the newer properties have made to the animated Little Mermaid series of the early '90s, it is my opinion that this show would work better as an original property with new characters like Elena of Avalor, which focused on Aztec lore, to give preschoolers a chance to dive into the mythology and lore of Caribbean and mermaid culture. I'm also surprised at the use of the name Atlantica for Ariel's kingdom, which was previously interpreted as an underwater Mediterranean kingdom in the animated properties, whereas the more Caribbean-inspired kingdom from the live-action remake was referred to as Carinae in the tie-in novels.

The announcement of Disney Junior's upcoming Ariel series raises a plethora of concerns and questions for fans of the franchise. While the animation style and design of the characters appear to be cute and appealing for preschoolers, the potential multiverse plotline and discrepancies with previous renditions of the story could be jarring for long-time fans of  Disney's The Little Mermaid and its related properties. The addition of Caribbean culture and music is an interesting development, but it is unclear if it will fully integrate into the story or simply serve as a surface-level representation. Ultimately, the announcement of this series feels like a missed opportunity to create an original property that explores Caribbean and mermaid culture in a way that is more authentic and respectful. While it remains to be seen how the series will address these concerns, it is important for fans and creators alike to continue to push for meaningful representation and accurate portrayals in media. How do you feel about Disney Junior's Ariel? Do you think it will be a necessary update for modern children to the original animated series, or would you prefer to see newer mermaid properties such as Rainbow's Mertropolis, which is currently in the works? Let me know in the comments!


Sugar said…
I think Disney is just taking advantage of the "Little Mermaid" fame since they don't want to bet on a brand new mermaid series for preschoolers with no connection to their newly released movie.
In any case, at this point I would take everything similar to the multiple series of "Spider man" that exist from their adolescent versions to children's ones And it just doesn't make any sense that Peter Parker, who was bitten in his teens, has also been a hero since preschool age.
Lisa Dawn said…
Yeah, they're definitely banking on the fame of the movie, but I personally would prefer a new mermaid universe along the lines of Sofia the First so they can get really creative without making a mess of things. I'm eager to see the upcoming Mertropolis series, which sounds more along those lines!
I don't really think this is meant to be a prequel to the live action movie or part of some kind of multiverse. I would assume that, though inspired by it, it's just meant to be another version of an established property. Spidey And His Amazing Friends was brought up as an example as only that series would have Peter Parker be a kid superhero rather than a teenage/young adult superhero like in other projects.

The part about a Caribbean consultant isn't really surprising. The show is produced through the Disney Junior Educational Resource Group, and shows produced through there that have diversity in them usually bring in consultants to make the representation is good. For example, Respectability has consulted on both Fancy Nancy (which had Lionel's autistic cousin Sean) and Firebuds (with Jazzy being in a wheelchair). It's not just for shows as relatively realistic as them. Shows with more out there or fantastical elements still have consultants on them. For example, Eureka takes place in prehistoric times and has humans interacting with dinosaurs, yet still has scientific consultants on hand. There's also a show like Alice's Wonderland Bakery, where it has a fantasy edge, but still has a cultural consultant on hand (Yuuko Uchikoshi).

Probably the part with Ariel's sisters is something that is reasonable to take concern with. It's worth noting that projects that serve as followups or adaptations to movies are usually produced by different teams, and thus may add, subtract, or change up elements from the original (and it'd be rare to bring back people who worked on the movies to work on the shows). Case in point, the original Little Mermaid series was made by Disney Television Animation while the 2 DVD sequels were made by DisneyToon Studios, and thus have different canons to them. This series will be produced by Wild Canary, and thus will probably have its own canon.

According to this LinkedIn post, this series will be animated by Icon Creative Studios. They've animated many Disney Junior shows, including Elena Of Avalor, Firebuds, Alice's Wonderland Bakery, The Rocketeer, and Star Wars: Young Jedi Adventures (the latter two also produced by Wild Canary like this show).
Anonymous said…
When thinking about the announcement of this show, it makes me wonder that, the older a movie is, the more likely it is to get a Disney Junior show, or at least have more prominence in Disney Junior shows. Let's look at some movie based Disney cartoons that have come out within the past few years, as well as those that will come out sometime in the future. We all know about Tiana from The Princess And The Frog and Moana from her 2016 movie getting shows for Disney Plus. Granted, we haven't heard much about them since then, but since these movies are relatively recent about 10-15 years old, it's no surprise that they would get the streaming treatment. We of course have Monsters At Work, which is based on Monsters Inc. There's a roughly 20 year gap between the original movie and the series, and thus would get the streaming treatment, and have its TV airings be on Disney Channel. It seems like if we go older than 20 years, Disney movies would most likely get Disney Junior shows as some kind of follow-up. We have Alice's Wonderland Bakery being based on Alice In Wonderland, a movie that's over 70 years old, that follows the great granddaughter of Alice from the movie. The Rocketeer movie of the early 1990s would get a Disney Junior show of the same name in 2019 focusing on a young girl named Kit Secord, who's a descendant of the original movie's protagonist. The Lion Guard came out 21 years after the original Lion King. Jake And The Neverland Pirates is based on the Peter Pan movie that came out almost 70 years prior. Also, while there isn't exactly a new Hercules series, Thalia and Calliope (still voiced by Roz Ryan and Lilias White) are recurring characters in Mickey Mouse Funhouse in the Greek inspired world of Myth. That show came out almost 25 years after the movie. It's no surprise that this Ariel Series is made for Disney Junior.
A special event called Disney Junior Playdate is unfolding this weekend, which is dedicated to all things Disney Junior. The article mentions the voice cast for the series. To quote it:

"Mykal-Michelle Harris (Raven’s Home) has been cast in the lead role of Ariel in Disney Junior’s Ariel, an animated musical series for preschoolers inspired by the beloved story of “The Little Mermaid.” Broadway, film and television stars Taye Diggs (Rent) and Amber Riley (Glee) will voice King Triton and Ursula in the series, which follows 8-year-old mermaid princess Ariel as she and her friends embark on fun-filled, action-packed underwater adventures throughout their Caribbean-inspired fairytale kingdom of Atlantica and beyond. In addition to Harris, Diggs and Riley, the series stars Elizabeth Phoenix Caro (The Christmas Chronicles) and Cruz Flateau (SuperKitties) as Ariel’s friends Lucia and Fernie, respectively, and Gracen Newton (Puppy Dog Pals) as Flounder."


Popular posts from this blog

Review: Unicorn Academy (Netflix)

Review: My Sweet Monster

Princess Fashion

Review: The Spanish Princess/White Queen Trilogy

Fans "Wish" Disney Had Used These Abandoned Concepts

Review: The Princess Twins of Legendale

Disney's Descendants Makes Even Less Sense Thanks to The Rise of Red!

Review: Time Princess - Shadows of London Visual Novel

Deconstructing the Wicked Stepmother

Why Didn't Sofia Meet Pocahontas?