The Little Mermaid premiered in the fall of 1992 with the animated prime time special called "A Whale of a Tale," then moved to Saturday mornings. This series originally appeared on CBS, with an original run from 1992 to 1994. It was later shown in reruns on The Disney Channel from October 2, 1995 to 2008. Some of the episodes contain musical segments, featuring original songs written for the series. The opening theme to the show is an instrumental combination of the songs "Part of Your World", "Under the Sea", and "Kiss the Girl". The overture for the stage musical of The Little Mermaid is similar to this.
The Little Mermaid television series is a prequel to the movie of the same name. The story is set before the events in the 1989 film, and follows Ariel's adventures as a mermaid still living under the sea with her father, Sebastian the crab and Flounder the fish. Various episodes highlight her relationship with her friends, father and sisters, and usually involves Ariel foiling the attempts of various enemies that intend ill harm to her or her kingdom. A prequel film, The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning, was released in 2008 containing events that contradict the television series (such as Ariel's youth and first meeting with Flounder), making the TV series and film independent continuities.
After the success of the 1989 movie, The Walt Disney Company planned to produce a children's television series for its Disney Channel cable outlet called "The Little Mermaid's Island." The proposed series would feature puppets from Jim Henson's Creature Shop interacting with a "live" Ariel. As the video release of The Little Mermaid soared in sales during 1990 and early 1991, Disney quietly dropped plans for "The Little Mermaid's Island" in favor of a more ambitious plan: an animated weekly series for the CBS network. The new show would concern the adventures of Ariel and her friends before the events in the movie.
Jamie Mitchell, an artist and graphic designer who worked on Disney's Adventures of the Gummi Bears, was named the producer and director of the new series. Patsy Cameron and Tedd Anasti were the story editors and wrote almost all of the episodes for the show's second and third seasons. Their previous joint work included Hanna-Barbera's The Smurfs, the animated Beetlejuice and Disney's DuckTales. Some of the artists and technicians on the feature film also contributed to the TV series. Mark Dindal, chief of special animated effects for the movie, was a consultant for special effects on the TV show. Robby Merkin, who worked with Alan Menken and Howard Ashman on arranging the songs for the movie, worked as the arranger and music producer for the first season of the TV show.
Conscious of the worldwide acclaim for the movie's superior artistry, Walt Disney Television Animation auditioned the best overseas animation studios. In the world of TV animation, farming most of the artwork out to Asian studios is an economic reality due to lower production costs and wages abroad. Studios in Korea, Japan and the Philippines contributed to the series.
Not everyone in the Disney organization was thrilled that the movie was now going weekly on television. Some of the feature animators who had worked on the movie complained privately and anonymously. These artists felt the television division should come up with its own ideas.
- Ariel (voiced by Jodi Benson) – She is the youngest daughter of the sea king who loves to sing and go on adventures. She also has developed magic in season 2 (episode 9) to save her world.
- Flounder (voiced by Bradley Pierce (season 1) and Edan Gross (season 2 and 3) – Ariel's best friend, a bright yellow and golden blue colored tropical reef fish who follows along on her adventures, and can be easily scared.
- Sebastian (voiced by Samuel E. Wright) – A small red jamaican crab who acts as the king's adviser, court musician, a teacher, a scout leader and a baby-sitter-like figure for Ariel.
- King Triton (voiced by Kenneth Mars) – He is Ariel's father and ruler of Atlantica who protects his kingdom with his magic trident.
- Scuttle (voiced by Maurice LaMarche) – He is a clumsy seagull who is friends with Ariel. He first appears in the episode "Scuttle". At first Ariel is afraid of Scuttle, but they become friends after he helps them rescue Sebastian.
- Aquata (voiced by Mona Marshall), Andrina (voiced by Catherine Cavadini), Arista (voiced by Mary Kay Bergman), Attina (voiced by Kath Soucie), Adella (voiced by Sherry Lynn) and Alana (voiced by Kimmy Robertson) are Ariel's six older sisters.
- Ursula (voiced by Pat Carroll) is a powerful cecaelian sea witch who occasionally antagonizes Ariel.
- Flotsam and Jetsam (voiced by Paddi Edwards) – They are Ursula's green moray eel henchmen who do her evil bidding for her they have One Eye White and the Other Yellow.
- Eric (voiced by Jeff Bennett) – Ariel's future husband. His first appearance is in the episode "Thingamajigger" and appears occasionally throughout the seasons with his dog, Max, as a puppy. Ariel first sees him saving a dolphin from a net, which technically makes this scene the first time she has ever seen Prince Eric, but does not know who he is.
- Urchin (voiced by Danny Cooksey) - He is an orphan young merman and Ariel's friend. He shares her love for adventure and is unofficially her adopted brother.
- The Lobster Mobster (voiced by Joe Alaskey) - A lobster gangster following the style of the 1920s gangster stereotype.
- De Shrimp (voiced by David Lander) - A prawn who is the Lobster Mobster's sidekick.
- The Evil Manta (voiced by Tim Curry) - An evil man/manta ray hybrid who repeatedly tries to take over Atlantica.
- Pearl (voiced by Cree Summer) - A spoiled, thrill-seeking mermaid whose actions often lead to Ariel, as well as herself, getting in trouble.
- Spot - A killer whale cub whom Ariel adopted and secretly raised in the palace.
- Gabriella - A deaf-mute Latina mermaid who dreams of becoming a singer. Gabriella's sign language is translated by her octopus friend Ollie (who is voiced by Gabriel Damon). This character is based on a real person who was a fan of the show and died during its first season.
- Moray Eel (voiced by Dave Coulier) - A moray eel salesman and con-artist who occasionally sells items to Ariel that alternately help her or get her into trouble.
- The Crabscouts (occasionally voiced by J.D. Daniels, Anndi McAfee, Bradley Pierce, Malachi Pearson, and Whitby Hertford) - They are crab children, consisting of two boys and one girl, who are under the mentorship of Sebastian in a scout-like troop.
- Flo and Ebb (voiced by Kath Soucie and Jim Cummings) - Alligator criminals who first appear in the episode "Beached".
- The Magical Wishing Starfish (voiced by Tony Jay) - A giant starfish with a beard and crown who only appears in the episode "Wish Upon A Starfish".
- Jim Cummings
- Anndi McAfee
- Kath Soucie
- Bradley Pierce
- Frank Welker
- Hal Rayle
- Ashley Peldon
- Charles Adler
- Neil Ross
- Nick Jameson
- Jesse Corti
- Tress MacNeille
- Scott Menville
- Alan Oppenheimer