When Jodi Benson first stepped into the iconic role of a rebellious mermaid princess in the 1989 animated film, Disney’s The Little Mermaid, she never imagined it would become a lifelong passion that continues today.
More than 35 years ago, the Broadway actress, joined the Disney family and is celebrating the charming and timeless original movie that was released in May (2023) as a live-action adaptation.
The movie’s famous songs include, Under the Sea and Kiss the Girl. Benson says she never tires of her signature song, Part of Your World. “Every nuance of that song is perfect,” Benson recently told Thrive Global. “I sing it in concert and I never get tired of it; even after more than 35 years.”
The animated movie, in which Benson voices the role of Ariel, won two 1989 Academy Awards, one for Best Original Score and the other for Under the Sea, for Best Original Song.
The songs and story continue to charm audiences and she enjoys meeting fans from several generations in a family. This is what she has planned for Saturday, June 3, at the 2023 Philadelphia Fan Expo, a much-anticipated comic con event from Friday, June 2 through Sunday, June 4.
Among the many celebrities featured at this jam-packed event are Michael J. Fox, Henry Winkler, Rose McIver, Hayden Christensen, Sean Astin, Tom Welling, and Kristin Kreuk.
“Sometimes it seems like a fairytale, and it certainly sounds like one, but Ariel is my ongoing job for Disney,” Benson said. “All of the games, anything to do with the park, the talking dolls, and toys. This is my full-time job. Who says that dreams don’t come true?”
Read on for why voice actor Jodi Benson believes viewers continue to identify with Ariel, how she landed her cameo in the new live-action version of The Little Mermaid, and a few of her favorite Disney movies.
What timeless messages do you see in the movie, The Little Mermaid?
Jodi Benson: I tried to bring to Ariel her strong, tenacious, and adventurous spirit. She is a character who has big dreams and thinks outside of the box. I love her independence, rebellion, speaking her mind, and having a plan. She reaches for the unobtainable and the unreachable – powerful messages for all of us.
How did you personally relate to her story?
Jodi Benson: I came from a small town in Illinois and my dream was to work on a Broadway stage, but I had never even seen a Broadway show. This is one big way I related to Ariel.
Talk about the fact that Ariel is a Disney princess who is part of a fairytale but clearly is not a damsel in distress.
Jodi Benson: True. I think Ariel paved the way to begin creating these strong female characters, including those in Frozen and other Disney movies.
What do you love about being a Disney princess? Almost every little girl has the fairy tale dream of being a princess, but not many of us get to be one.
Jodi Benson: I don’t really think of it in terms of a princess. It’s kind of interesting because it’s kind of a club. I’ve got my friends that I get to hang out with and communicate with and the whole princess aspect of it is probably a lovely surprise on top of it. I love my character so much and love going to work. It’s amazing. To be part of this legacy is truly a dream come true! The actual princess part of it is not something as I kid that I grew up wanting. It comes as a great surprise to be part of this legacy now.
What is it like because of the new Little Mermaid movie and the fact that everybody’s talking about the story, the music, and your role bringing everything back because its debut was a long time ago?
Jodi Benson: Yes, I mean that’s the great thing about our original film. We’ve had a Broadway show, we’ve had a live-action television show, we’ve had three TV series, we’ve had a prequel and a sequel and now we have a live action. So, it just continues to bring life to our story and that’s what’s so thrilling about it for another generation and for another period of time. So, it just keeps going.
What has 34 years of playing Ariel meant to you?
Jodi Benson: It has truly been a lovely journey. One that was life-changing for me and my family.
Could you have predicted any of this?
Jodi Benson: No, no. I was a Broadway performer, so that’s where I thought I was going to remain. But this came as a glorious surprise and when my career took a detour to the right, I never looked back.
What are some of the frequently asked fan questions when you meet them at events like the upcoming Philadelphia Fan Expo or elsewhere?
Jodi Benson: I usually am asking them to tell me their story, what Ariel means to them, and their connection to the film. That’s the part I enjoy. I get to hear what she means to them. So, I usually kind of start the conversation. That’s the fun part of it, is through all of the years I get to meet the children and the parents and the grandparents and the great-grandparents. I love to hear the story of their connection to the character and to the film.
Talk about the importance of role models because you’ve been a role model for many generations of girls and young women.
Jodi Benson: I take it very seriously and it’s a lot of responsibility to be able to walk your talk. That’s important to me. This is not a job, it’s not a paycheck, it is a way of life. I’ve been part of the company for so long now that it’s just who I am.
So, to represent when I travel on the weekends and I meet people from all over the world, they’ve flown in from Italy, they’ve flown in from Spain, they fly in from Russia to meet me and to share their story. That’s really incredible to me. So, it’s important that I make that connection with each and every fan and let them know that they matter. And that the legacy lives on. For me, it is definitely more than a job. It’s definitely an opportunity that I have to mentor, to represent my character and my company with integrity and with strong character. So, yes, I take it very seriously.
What life lessons do you share from being Ariel and from your whole Disney/Pixar journey?
Jodi Benson: Yes, I think the life lessons that I have learned definitely is to dream outside of the box, to dream bigger than what we anticipate. That’s been a big life lesson for me to think bigger. To think more. I get that a lot from my character, from Ariel. And, again, to be tenacious, to see things through, to actually take action rather than just word of mouth. Just words are empty if there’s no action to follow.
I feel like Ariel has done that as a character, and that’s something that I’ve really learned through transforming into her for all these years. And that I’ve been able to carry on in my life, as well, is to think bigger, get outside of needing to – I don’t need to be a small thinker. I can definitely think outside of that box, outside of what the norm might be, and kind of have that opportunity to dream. And to be tenacious in the seeing through of the action rather than just lip service to it.
Talk about playing Barbie in Ralph Wrecks the Internet and the Toy Story movies. What was that like?
Jodi Benson: Oh yes, it was a great experience. I did not audition for that. I got a call from Pixar to do it and we came up with the voice and had so much fun in the studio playing with Barbies and doing that, making them act out, making them come to life, and being a participant in the script and everything, coming up with the lines was a lot of fun. So, I really, really enjoyed it.
What would you tell somebody, besides tenaciousness, who might have some difficulties — physically, emotionally, intellectually — and they want to go into animation or performing? Which we both know is a tough business.
Jodi Benson: Yes, it is. It is a very tough business. You have to have a natural gift. When I am coaching students in high school or college age and I’m doing master classes or whatever, my first thing to them is why do you want to share your gifts? First of all, do you have gifts to share? Because we live in a society where everybody’s a star now and everybody wants to be famous and everybody wants to make a lot of money and be talked about and be on social media.
So, my core question to somebody is why. Because if your response to me is because I want to be famous because I want to make a lot of money because I want everybody to know me, then that’s the wrong reason. It really needs to be because I have some gifts that I’d like to share and I’m just going to put it out there and do my best and see if it happens.
Please tell me more about this.
Jodi Benson: Well, I didn’t grow up with that other way of thinking. I grew up with the thought that I’m going to work really hard on my craft, and I’m going to throw it out there and see how it works. But I didn’t come with this expectation of wanting to be famous or make a lot of money.
Those were not part of my equation at all. I think that gets in the way of a lot of young people, thinking – because I say to them, “Are you talented?” “Well, I don’t know.” Well, you need to find that out first. You need to find out if you have something to offer. But it may not be in front of the camera, it may be behind the camera.
You want to sing, dance, and act but can you do any of those things? Are you gifted in those areas? Because there has to be a natural amount of talent. You can’t learn how to sing, dance and act. You really can improve, but you do need to have a natural gift. You need to have natural talent and then you can expand on it.
Do your children love Disney movies? And do you watch them together?
Jodi Benson: Yes, they do. And, yes, we do. We were all at the premiere together and it was just so much fun. Such a magical night.
Do you have a few favorites?
Jodi Benson: I do. I grew up with Cinderella and I do love that film. I really love Tarzan. That’s one of my favorites, as well. I also love Brother Bear. I like kind of these movies that people probably don’t know as much, but I do love some of the music and different aspects of it. I love Tangled. And, of course, I love all the popular ones.
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Jodi Benson: Oh, my goodness, my faith, my husband, my kids, my family. And some precious friends.
What’s next? Do you have a new project?
Jodi Benson: Oh gosh, well I’m in the Disney Studio right now, actually walking into the studio right now for another unnamed Ariel project. We have little, secret things that we work on. So that’s really fun. And then I’m traveling pretty much every weekend for the rest of the year so I’m going to get to meet people from all over the world and that is a great deal of fun. And then I’ve got a possible show, a couple of concerts, all the good stuff. But, yes, I’m in the studio for Disney all the time and I’m very thankful for that.
How did your cameo in the 2023 movie come about and what was it like?
Jodi Benson: Oh, super fun. When I found out Rob Marshall and John DeLuca were jumping on this project back in 2018, I was so thrilled and reached out. Rob was the director and John was the producer. We’ve been friends for almost 40 years. And Rob said, “You’re going to be in the movie,” and I said, “Absolutely, I’ll do whatever you want, count me in.” So, I’ve known about it for about four years and it was a lovely, lovely, surprise.
If somebody hasn’t seen Little Mermaid or some of these movies – not the new ones, but the old ones – why would you tell them to watch them again or for the first time?
Jodi Benson: I think a lot of people are watching the original before they go to the new live-action movie and I think that’s such a great, fun idea. Because then you can really see what it’s based on and see that the tribute and the honor that they’ve paid to the original film is so beautiful. And then how they’ve expanded it into the live-action. So, yes, a lot of people have been doing that and I think that’s a really fun idea.
The Philadelphia Fan Expo runs from Friday, June 2 through Sunday, June 4. For more information check out: FANEXPO.com
For more information about Jodi Benson go to: Facebook
Disney’s new live-action film, The Little Mermaid is at theaters nationwide.