Disney Jr.'s Ariel songwriting team talk recording sessions, love of The Little Mermaid, and Caribbean culture

The new series will hit Disney+ on June 28.
Ariel - credit: Disney Jr.
Ariel - credit: Disney Jr. /

Get ready to take a dive under the sea with Disney Jr.'s Ariel. which is out now on the Disney Jr. channel! The series is inspired by The Little Mermaid fairytale by Hans Christian Andersen, the 1989 Disney film of the same name, and the 2023 Disney live-action remake.

Ariel is a reimagining with alternate iterations of the characters and world that viewers all know and love. In this series, we follow the Disney princess's childhood adventures in the underwater city of Atlantica. Ariel attends magic camp, where she is taught by Ursula, who is confirmed to be Ariel's aunt and instructor at camp. Familiar favorites including King Triton, Sebastian, and Flounder are back along with going on adventures with some new friends such as the mer-children Lucia and Fernie. The series voice cast includes Mykal-Michelle Harris (Raven's Home) as Ariel, Gracen Newton (Superkitties, Me & Winnie The Pooh) as Flounder, Kevin Michael Richardson (The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder, Frog & Toad) as Sebastian, Taye Diggs (Elena of Avalor) as King Triton, and Amber Riley (The Little Mermaid Live!, Glee) as Ursula.

In case you missed it, a series of shorts titled Ariel's Mermaid Tales premiered from Jun. 4 to Jun. 14, 2024. The premiere season includes eight 11-minute episodes, and the first episode is titled "Atlantica Day."

We caught up with the fantastic songwriting team that consists of accomplished singer-songwriters Tone Jones, Sofia Quinn, and Olivia "Livvi" Waithe as they were taking a break from working on a songwriting session. The trio spoke about their writing process, their connection to The Little Mermaid, and shared which song from the series is all of their favorites. Spoiler alert! It was hard to choose just one. Read on to get more insight into the conversation!

The Parent Watch: Being that you all are so musically inclined, what drew you to be a part of the series?

Tone Jones: Oh, man. It was a lot of things. I think one of the One of the first things I've ever done in music professionally was I was the musical director for the Cheetah Girls Tour. Being on that tour and just watching how that music was impacting kids or also in my studio now, it's funny to me. I have all these plaques that are Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber, whatever, but everybody will breathe all of that. And it's like, Oh, my God, the Cheetah Girls. This was the first concert I've ever been to. So just that impact has always just put a spot in my heart where I just wanted to get to animation at some point. So when the opportunity arose, it was just, and I love the Caribbean. I love this music. So it was just a good fit. Yeah.

Sofia Quinn: Anything Disney just feels so magical so to be a part of this has just felt like literally a fairytale. I feel like we always talk about it. We're like, 'Oh, this is just such a cool a job that doesn't even feel like a job.' It's amazing. The writing is amazing. It's all about using her voice. It's so beautiful for us to be able to try to capture that through some of the music; And it's a Disney princess!

Olivia "Livvi" Waithe: Exactly. It was such a different space to be working in that I'm used to. I do a lot of pop sessions [and] R&B, with contemporary artists, so to speak. When this came about, it felt like this crack in the clouds, almost. It seemed like such an amazing opportunity. I also grew up in the Caribbean, so the fact that the music was Caribbean-based was so exciting for me, and I just really wanted to get my teeth into it. The Little Mermaid is just a classic. It's definitely one of my favorite Disney movies. Just the opportunity to be a part of something like that and work with these two amazing people right here. It was like a no-brainer.

Since you're all together and you're working together closely, what does the day-to-day look like when putting together the songs? What does a session look like? is there a favorite song that came out of one of these sessions?

OW: Well, we usually start with cups of tea. [laughs]

TJ: Every time.

TJ: I mean, these two make my life so easy. Honestly, in real life. Typically, we get the script a couple of days before, so [that] we have this idea. We have a creative meeting just to get all the creative direction going. We just come in here, we hang out for a little bit, and it's probably reference-driven first. I try to find a world to live in or what what we think would fit the song.

OW: We bounce ideas back and forth and then set the stage for where we think the song could go. We usually sometimes get points on how the song should sound from our creative calls beforehand. We just have those pointers. We get into a good space in a world of where we want to come from. We obviously have the story and the script and which characters are going to be singing what. Then, we just start from the ground up and the song writes itself on us sometimes. It's just a really fun process. We try to not think about it too much because we have all the structures that we need, but we just try to have fun for the most part.

TJ: We've also just gotten to a space creatively. It's like they're back here on the couch. I'm typically over there working on keyboards. We just able to work in the same room and we all know what cues to look for. I think there's always a moment in the session where it's like we look at each other like, All right, we got it. We just know.

OW: Usually when me and Sophia are working on melodies for a hook, for example, as soon as Tone starts whistling it in the back, we're like, 'Okay, we got it.' It's stuck in his head. It's a catchy melody. So we're in a good position at that point.

That's so great! For that last part of the question, do you have a favorite song that you can share that is part of the series that you love?

SQ: That's so hard. It is hard.

OW: I feel like one of my favorites, and I think we all really love this one, is the "Shimmer" song that's out right now. That's a really special one. It really captured the Caribbean spirit, and also just the fact that it's a really cool introduction to such a huge part of the show. It is just such a fun song, but there are so many amazing ones. It's so hard to pick.

I think there's going to be some bops in all of these different episodes! Sophia, I know this isn't your first Disney project, you worked on other ones as well. What made you want to come back and work on this?

SQ: Like Livvi was saying, these two are also just so amazing and so fun to work with that it literally doesn't feel like we're even working. We're just having fun, writing fun songs about being under the sea. It's an amazing job. The entire Disney team and everyone at Wild Canary, which is the production company, just makes it so easy. It just feels so fun. Now that 'Shimmer' is out, it's also so rewarding that we've experienced all of us have had family members or friends that are texting us that their little kids are watching. We're the small part of such a huge legacy. Even though it's fun and young for children, it feels important. It's really cool to be a part of.

Ariel - credit: Courtesy Disney Jr. /

It's multigenerational, The Little Mermaid. I watched the [original] film, not when it came out, but a couple of years later, but it still felt fresh, and I really enjoyed it. What's your personal connection to The Little Mermaid? How do you see your connection growing with this project?

TJ: Growing up [with] my sisters. I have two first cousins that I call my sisters. That's just my introduction to it. I feel like I was always watching it as a kid growing up and they're always singing the songs. It's just respecting that legacy and how important it is to everybody. Now I feel like the bulk of the people that grew up in that age now have kids of their own so it's still [about] respecting the legacy, but bringing something fresh to where the kids enjoy it. I know, musically, it's important for me that the parents enjoy it, too. If they got to be listening to it while they're with their kids, I want them to be walking around and singing it, and it's still feeling cool enough for adults, but yet appealing the kids as well.

SQ: The emphasis on using your voice, especially for young girls, That's just such an important lesson. The series really hits that home and it's also just fun because, obviously, we are all musical so to also be a part of something that is so musically-driven and then we get to have fun songs, but there's always a message in it, it's a really cool thing to get to be a part of.

OW: When I think back to when I was around five...so I was born in the United Kingdom and then grew up in Barbados. My dad's Barbadian and my mom's British. When we moved in 1994, my mom had copied a few of different movies that have played on TV on tape, like cassette tape back in the day. It was like a collection that me and my sister, once we moved to Barbados, would watch over and over and The Little Mermaid was one of those. Me and my sister have put in a lot of hours watching that movie, and I think it just holds a special place in my heart. Ariel in The Little Mermaid, her being in her own world and going into this new place, I think I've felt so many parallels of that in my own life. With The Little Mermaid recently in the live-action with Halle Bailey; Just that whole new representation that feels really close to home for me as a mixed girl. I grew up in all different kinds of cultures. Seeing someone that looks like me and then just feeling the story at the same time and seeing it all evolve and then just being able to infuse my culture and my Caribbean culture in that as well. It's just this whole full circle experience. So there's lots of little dots that are all connecting in the most amazing and beautiful way.

That's so beautiful to hear. Yes, definitely multi-layered!

Ariel premiered its first 3 episodes today on Disney Jr. You can stream Ariel starting on Friday, June 28. on Disney+.

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