Disney Junior’s Ariel premiering this week, bringing a fresh perspective on life under the sea while staying true to the roots of the beloved classic film that has captivated generations since its 1989 release. But also, it pulls inspiration from the updated 2023 film starring Halle Bailey.

Executive producer Lynne Southerland shared insights on Ariel’s new direction.

“The hanger that we’re putting our coat on is that Ariel is known for having this beautiful voice,” Southerland told Blavity’s Shadow and Act. “One of the important things to explore was how does an 8-year-old use her voice other than singing. So, what are the other ways that voice drives our character, our personality, and how we live in the world? That’s been a real North Star for us in exploring this Ariel. She’s an aspirational character because she speaks up for herself and her friends. She’s ready to, in a sense, put her hand out and say, ‘Hi, I’m Ariel.’ And she also makes mistakes.”

When mixed-ish‘s Mykal-Michelle Harris learned she would voice the iconic Disney princess, her first order of business was analyzing the character, checking in with directors and producers to see if her take aligned with their vision, and ultimately curating a project for everyone to enjoy.

“With this new Ariel, we get to see more into her life, and we get to see her deep curiosity for all of the world around her. I absolutely love that about her,” Harris recalled. “She also portrays all of her emotions and feelings in song. In the first episode, she has to write a song for this event that they’re doing in Atlantica, and she really states the reason Atlantica is beautiful is because there are so many different kinds of people.”

Not only does Ariel put a whole new twist on Ariel’s life under the sea, but there’s also a fresh take on other iconic characters like Ursula and King Triton. Southerland explained the decision to make Ursula kinder in the new series.

“You have to think about who your audience is. This audience, you know, is 4-to-6-year-olds. So, if I want you to watch my show, I don’t think I’m going to get you engaged as a 4-year-old if I’ve made a super mean character that’s locking our protagonist up in a cell or something every week; that’s not going to draw in this audience. That’s an older audience take on that character. So then, it’s how do you take, again, for putting aside the darkness of the character? What are other iconic aspects of her that we would want to bring to the show? Obviously, she is a magician. She does magic. She does work with potions. That’s a world that 4-year-olds would love, so how do we then just turn that on its head and make that something playful and engaging rather than frightening?”

For Taye Diggs, voicing King Triton is a return to his theater roots, and reimagining his character in this way is something he cherishes. 

“I take pride in the fact that, with our series, it’s almost as if you take these larger-than-life characters and put them in everyday situations,” the Brown Sugar star said. “So a viewer can watch this program, and see these characters that they love, doing things that they’re doing themselves and kind of learn from that. I think that’s a brilliant tool.”

As a Hollywood veteran, Diggs also relished that he was stepping into something outside the norm.

“Being able to sing on a Disney project and then watch the playback is kind of magical. It’s different than when you see yourself in a film. Because I’m used to seeing my image, but when you see yourself animated in a different character, you can’t help but to get swept up in the magic of what this is. That’s really cool, at my age, to have those new experiences.”

The series premieres Thursday at 9 a.m. ET on the network.