Disney Jr.’s Ariel Is Black Too—And We Don’t Mind at All

Back in 2022, when Disney released its first trailer for the live-action remake of The Little Mermaid with singer Halle Bailey in the lead role, internet trollers nearly lost their damn minds. To date, the YouTube trailer post has received nearly 3 million dislikes, peppered with tactless (read: racially-tinged) posts from irate commenters.

Well, those in a state of discontent will just have to deal. Disney has resurrected Ariel in animated form, and in its newest offering, Disney Jr.’s Ariel, she is definitively Black.

Described as an animated musical series for preschoolers inspired by the beloved story of The Little Mermaid, this latest incarnation follows Princess Ariel, age 8, as she and her friends embark on fun-filled, action-packed underwater adventures. The new series features major talent, including Taye Diggs as King Triton, Amber Riley as the villainous Ursula and Mixed’ish alum Mykal-Michelle Harris as the young Ariel. And just in case some are still not getting the message that Disney’s mandate for diversity in its programming is top priority, Ariel’s two best childhood friends in the series are also merpeople of color.

Disney isn’t getting it wrong with casting. The series description states that the series is set in the Caribbean-inspired fairytale kingdom of Atlantica. Last time we checked, that area was filled with Black and Brown people.

DISNEY JR.’S ARIEL - Disney’s “Disney Jr.’s Ariel” stars Mykal-Michelle Harris as Ariel. (Disney/Frank Micelotta)
Mykal-Michelle Harris with Ariel doll. Image: Disney/Frank Micelotta.

In addition to the series, several new products inspired by the beloved Disney classic are available from Just Play and the LEGO Group, which feature the junior Ariel with cocoa brown skin and her signature red locks.

Disney also shares that “each episode highlights themes of self-expression, curiosity and resourcefulness and celebrates the multicultural elements of the Caribbean through food, fashion, language and folklore.” This goes hand in hand with Disney’s personal commitment to celebrate “an inclusive, respectful world. We create authentic and unforgettable stories, characters, experiences and products that capture the imagination of our global audiences.” The series cultural consultant, Dr. Patricia Saunders, a professor of English and hemispheric Caribbean studies and director of graduate studies at the University of Miami, is also a woman of color.

As a woman who had to wait until I was grown to see a Black Disney princess in the form of The Princess and the Frogs Tiana, knowing that young girls today can see themselves reflected as princesses in a world where the only Black trauma is Ursala’s never-ending power grab attempts, it’s a refreshing change. After all, I have never seen a mermaid: they could all be Black. Wanting its world of princesses (who were lily white until Aladdin‘s Princess Jasmine in 1992) to reflect the many young girls (and people across the globe) who love these Disney royals, the live-action version of Snow White, scheduled to be released in 2025, stars an actress of Latinx and Polish descent. (But don’t worry, in the announced and upcoming Frozen III, the characters are still white).

While we can’t judge what people would have said about this new version of the character (the comments on snippets from the show are turned off on the YouTube Kids platform), one would like to think that grown folks would have better ways to spend their time than vilifying a childlike rendition of a child mermaid princess.

All eight episodes of Disney Jr.’s Ariel are available on Disney+ starting June 28, 2024.

Updated: June 28, 2024 — 12:02 pm