The Little Mermaid premiered in the fall of 1992 with the animated prime time special called "Whale of a Tale", then moved to Saturday mornings. This series originally ran on CBS, with an original run from 1992 to 1994. It was later shown in reruns on the Disney Channel and Toon Disney.
The show had aired on the Russian version of The Disney Afternoon block, and is one of few shows not to air in the US version of the Disney Afternoon but to air on the block in other countries.
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", while the closing theme to the show is an instrumental version of "Under the Sea". The overture for the stage musical of The Little Mermaid is similar to the TV series' opening theme.
The Little Mermaid television series is a prequel to the eponymous film. 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 and Flounder. Various episodes highlight her relationship with her friends, father and sisters, and usually involve Ariel foiling the attempts of various enemies that intend ill harm to her or to her kingdom.
Most episodes revolve around Ariel's adventures in and around her home of Atlantica. While some have her encountering and solving a problem (sometimes of her own making) that arises, others show Ariel facing off against various villains. Some, but not all, episodes feature a musical number relating to the plot of the episode. As in the film, Ariel has a love for human things and is often shown adding to her collection. Likewise, she often clashes with her father due to his prejudiced regarding humans and human culture. However, at times, they do see eye-to-eye, as in the episode "Stormy". Ariel is shown attempting to ride a wild seahorse that her father warned her was dangerous. After Ariel is injured, she admits he was right about the danger; Triton later offers her a tamer sea horse more appropriate to her skills. Ariel's relationship with her siblings, specifically Alana and Arista, is shown in more detail.
One of the most notable episodes is "Metal Fish", in which Ariel encounters an animated version of Hans Christian Andersen, who was the real-life author of the original "The Little Mermaid". The episode also introduces Archimedes, a self-proclaimed scholar of human culture, whose knowledge is far more accurate than Ariel's. Mr. Andersen is shown exploring the sea in a primitive submarine capsule, which begins to leak air after an accident. Ariel confronts her father with the fact that, despite his hatred of humans, he, as well as all merpeople, are half-humans in an attempt to appeal to his compassion and better nature in order to save Hans's life when his ship is stranded at the bottom of the ocean. The ploy, unsurprisingly, works, as Triton has always been depicted as a compassionate (if a somewhat conservative) monarch. Mr. Andersen's encounter with the merpeople appears to inspire the original tale. A voice-over at the end of the episode talks about the real Hans Christian Andersen, while the image on the screen shows Ariel sitting on a rock in the style of the Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen Copenhagen harbor. If this is to be chronologically accurate, this places the time frame in which this series takes place at around 1836 when the story was first written or shortly before 1837 when the story was actually published.
Prince Eric (voiced by Jeff Bennett) - Ariel's future husband. He appears occasionally but is never seen by Ariel or her friends, preserving the continuity that they first encounter each other in the film.
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 calf whom Ariel adopted and secretly raised in the palace.
Simon (voiced by Brian Cummings) - A lonely, but friendly lavender colored sea dragon whom Ariel, Sebastian, and Flounder befriends with.
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.
Emperor Sharga (voiced by Jim Cummings) – Ruler of the Sharkanians, the shark-people who live in Sharkania similar to the merfolk who live in Atlantica. Sharga wishes to take over Atlantica someday.
The Ancient Seaclops (voiced by Jim Cummings) - An ancient one-eyed sea monster whose primary objective is to sleep every 1,000 years and wants to see it through more than anything else. He gets very angry when he is woken up so abruptly by any loud noise and appeared in the episode "Calliope Dreams".
Dudley (voiced by Dave Coulier) is an elderly sea turtle who serves as an assistant to King Triton other than Sebastian he walks on the Ocean floor unlike other sea turtles.
Hans Christian Andersen (voiced by Mark Hamill) - A fictionalised version of the author Hans Christian Andersen, who appears in the episode "Metal Fish" where he rides a fish-shaped Submarine and sees Ariel, which inspires him to write the story "The Little Mermaid".
Archimedes (voiced by Rod McKuen) - A merman who knows about human things, appearing in "Metal Fish".
Howling Hairfish (voiced by Jim Cummings) - A type of lycanthropic fish and the Atlantican equivalent of a werewolf (or any other terrestrial lycanthropic creature) that when a normal fish gets bitten becomes cursed. The cure is that a school of silver fish will turn a Howling Hairfish back into a normal fish. The only Howling Hairfish that speaks is Flounder who turned into a Howling Hairfish.
Edan Gross, the fourth person to voice Flounder after Bradley Pierce, went through puberty and his voice went to a deeper tone, but the voice director wasn't going to replace him due to obvious reasons. From then on, Edan continued to voice Flounder for the rest of the series, regardless of how low his voice was.
Though Ariel doesn't see Eric's face during the series which was done on purpose to keep it canon to the movie, he unknowingly changes her perception of humans for she was initially fearful of humans but when she saw him free a dolphin from a net her perception of humans greatly changed.
Eric would see Ariel at some point after the battle of pirates or an adventure he goes to. He would see her tail quickly dive underwater and some of her red hair but not the face. Eric would tell Grimsby about what he saw however, Grimsby refuses to believe him.
Grimsby is voiced by Kay E. Kuter in this series and the sequel film 6 years later after Ben Wright passed away before the first film premiered in theaters.
Unlike the Little Mermaid movies, which were released on DVD, this TV show was only released on home video on VHS, and thus for a time faded from existence shortly afterwards in terms of official airings. However, the show has since been broadcast on Disney Junior, as well as made available on the network's streaming service as well as Disney+ streaming service (though not every episode of the show is available on the latter streaming service).
Despite the series being a prequel, it carried many inconsistencies to the film:
In "Wish Upon a Starfish", Sebastian discovers Ariel's sea cave full of treasures, whereas the first film depicts him finding out about Ariel's collection for the first time.
Ursula's relationship with Flotsam and Jetsam in the series is vastly different from the film's depiction. In the film, she is shown to be very fond and caring for the two eels, whereas the series depicted her being abusive and careless towards them.
In the film, Flotsam and Jetsam are shown to be as intelligent and crafty as Ursula, whereas the series depicted them as comically unbright.
With the exception of "Heroes", all episodes featuring Ursula depicted her interacting with Ariel. While the first film depicted Ariel meeting Ursula for the first time and not knowing what to expect out of her, the series shows Ariel having met Ursula many times.