Disney's The Little Mermaid (the series) premiered in 1992, and was Disney's first venture spinning off a classic movie into a television series. While the later 1990s saw Disney sequels and tv series becoming very common, they weren't so once upon a time, and this TV series was pretty much breaking new ground.
The show is a prequel, and focuses on a fifteen-year-old Ariel's underwater adventures, where she's depicted as much more playful and ignorant of the ways of humans than she was in the film. Each episode has Ariel and her friends having adventures in their underwater realm, wild and carefree, giving the show a more lighthearted tone than the film. When at its best, the show hit some wonderful emotional beats and character moments.
Thirty-one episodes were made in all, and my favourites tended to be the ones where we learn more about Ariel, her sisters, her friends, her father, and life under the sea. There are moments of contradiction and continuity errors, but that's to be expected since Disney continuity ebbs and flows with tide.
Quite a number of actors who provided their voices for the film returned to voice the same characters in the series, such as Jodi Benson for Ariel, Samuel E. Wright for Sebastian and Kenneth Mars for Triton. However, some characters had to have new voice actors, such as Flounder and Ariel's sisters.
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Like the film, some of the episodes of the series are musical and feature the characters singing. Some of the songs of the first season were released as part of a tie-in album titled Splash Hits (1992). However, there are other songs from the series that were not released officially at all.
The songs below are listed in order of appearance in the series.
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Some of the series episodes have been released on VHS and laser disc, which have been discontinued though second-hand copies still circulate ebay and other online marketplaces. The the full, complete series has yet to be released officially on any format.
In 1993-4 a set of season 1 episodes were released on video, packaged as Disney's The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Undersea Adventures, which featured two bundled episodes per video.
This set was also released on two laser disc volumes, but featured four bundled episodes per disc. Volume 1 had "A Whale of Tale", "Urchin", "Stormy the Wild Seahorse" and "The Great Sebastian", while Volume 2 had "In Harmony (The Evil Manta)", "Charmed", "Ariel's Gift (Red)" and "Trident True".
In 1995 a set of Season 2 episodes were released, this time packaged as Disney Princess Collection: Ariel's Songs and Stories, which featured a completely new title sequence and opening song ("Let's Play Princess"). This set was also released on a single laser disc that contained all four episodes.
As far as I can tell, the two above sets were the only official US releases. But in some other regions of the world, there were at least two more video releases, along with alternate packaging for a bundled "Wish Upon a Starfish" and "Metal Fish" :
Some episodes also ended up being repurposed for that period in the 2000s where the Disney Princess franchise released a whole bunch of hodge-podge DVDs for the very young market. They're all episodes that had already been released on home video previously, though I suppose it's good that they've been digitized.
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Disney sequels and TV series are old-hat by now, so it's hard to explain just how exciting it was to see Ariel on TV for the first time, when by all accounts we'd only ever seen her in a single movie that was done and over with. There had been other Disney TV shows before, but none as a direct tie-in to a movie property, plus the first direct-to-video sequel The Return of Jafar was still two years away. This The Little Mermaid TV series (and boy does it bug me that it doesn't have a distinct title to differentiate it from the film) broke new ground, and kept the fandom going with its charming stories, characters, and songs, which was additionally appreciated by me as a non-Western fan who didn't have access to other media like the theme parks or merchandise.
How many years on, it's disappointing that the series still hasn't gotten a proper and complete release, though this is true for most TV shows from that era. As it is, only the films get their rereleases, while the series stays a memory on the internet, and if lucky in reruns on TV. It's not even as though the series is one of those spin-offs that has been quietly swept under the carpet. Its images and music still get used in compilations, theme parks, and in the Disney Princess franchise, but its presence is doled out in teeny tiny snippets.
It may be nostalgia speaking, but I think the series is tremendously charming, even with all its flaws. Sure, there's a soft reset from episode to episode, the scale of Ariel's world is dialed down from the movie even when threats she faces are supposed to be even greater than Ursula (see: the Evil Manta, the Sharkanians), and there is no recreating the otherworldly magic of Atlantica on a TV budget. But there is a sense of care and love in the stories written for these beloved characters, some of its plots are genuinely compelling, its worldbuilding is occasionally fascinating and hilarious, and it doesn't feel as dialed down for younger audiences as some other media (nothing wrong with that, but with the film having such a wide audience, it's much more satisfying when the series attempts to recreate that as well). So it's a crying shame when the series doesn't get as wide an audience as I feel it deserves.
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