Jodi Benson talks animation and The Little Mermaid turning 30


Ariel herself, Jodi Benson, sits down to talk about the beloved mermaid’s 30th anniversary, presenting characters in a unique way, and more.

Jodi Benson has been the voice of my heroes since I was three-years-old, so when given the opportunity to interview her the main question I had was, “Will I be able to avoid crying?”

Benson’s provided the voices for a litany of classic female characters, from the tenacious Ariel who dreams of being “part of that world” in 1989’s The Little Mermaid, to the thimble-sized Thumbelina who was “sure to do impossible things,” and the iconic Barbie herself in the Toy Story series.

Growing up disabled, Ariel and Thumbelina were my childhood icons. One enjoyed swimming and dreamed of going out into a different world, while the other was incredibly tiny but refused to let that stop her. They represented elements of who I felt I was and who I wanted to be.

It’s hard to imagine it’s been 30 years since The Little Mermaid first played on a movie theater screen, and for Jodi Benson herself, the journey hasn’t stopped yet. A successful performer on Broadway prior to her foray with Disney, the role of Ariel was the first time Benson had ever been “behind the microphone.”

By 1989 it was still uncommon for studios to intentionally cast A-list performers in voice-over roles, allowing for less “distraction” to come from a performance. But that was far from the case here. When Benson took on the role of Ariel, she assumed it would be a job where “we were gonna disappear after we did it and let the movie go on.” But after a massive press tour, Benson’s name was analogous with Ariel and “there were absolutely no expectations of doing this movie and then [returning] back to New York.”

ANAHEIM, CA – JULY 14: Actor Jodi Benson (Ariel/THE LITTLE MERMAID) of RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET: WRECK-IT RALPH 2 took part today in the Walt Disney Studios animation presentation at Disney’s D23 EXPO 2017 in Anaheim, Calif. RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET: WRECK-IT RALPH 2 will be released in U.S. theaters on November 21, 2018. (Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney)

The Little Mermaid‘s enduring power isn’t just in Benson’s melodious voice and energetic acting, but in the music of acclaimed lyricist Howard Ashman. For Benson, working with Ashman was “a gift.”

Says Benson, “I had just done a Broadway show with him called Smile” and while directors Ron Clements and John Musker were present it was really Ashman — who passed away in 1991 — that truly fostered Benson’s performance.

“If it weren’t for Howard we would not be here today,” Benson says.

The actress details how Ashman knew the character “much better than I did at the time” and was “very interactive,” standing in the booth while Benson recorded, delivering line readings, all in an effort to help shape the character that Ariel became.

The Disney princess has transformed over the years. Benson recently reprised her role as Ariel to show off these changes in Ralph Breaks the Internet, now out on home video.

In all three of the actress’ character roles, appearances are deceiving. Barbie’s own lineage as an icon of female perfection to Thumbelina’s height being perceived as a detriment, Benson’s voice has become synonymous with characters breaking out of the molds set out for them.

When asked about this, Benson agrees.

"“All three of them are fearless. All three of them are great about stepping outside of the box and reaching for the somewhat unattainable, reaching for things that seem somewhat impossible, [and] breaking those barriers down.”"

It’s amazing to realize in 30 years what The Little Mermaid, and Jodi Benson as Ariel, have accomplished. The film was one of the first to usher in the Disney Renaissance, taking animation to the next level.

Ariel also taught a generation of little girls how to speak up and fight for what they wanted. Though I’m grown-up now, I still find myself identifying with the likes of Ariel and Thumbelina. Women who refused to conform to what people thought of them and ended up getting what they wanted.

For the film’s 30th anniversary, the two-time Academy Award-winning film will join the Walt Disney Signature Collection with all-new bonus features, including a sing-along mode and never-before-seen bonus features.

The Little Mermaid all over again digitally in HD, 4K Ultra HD™ and movies anywhere on February 12, and on 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray™ on February 26.