Jodi Benson is the quintessential Disney princess to me. The voice of Ariel, she is the actress I think of when I think of the voices behind the Disney princesses.
She is a legend in Disney animation. Honored with a Disney Legends award in 2011, Jodi Benson is nothing short of iconic.
In anticipation of the rerelease of The Little Mermaid this October, I recently visited Benson on the Disney Studios Lot in Burbank, California, in the Frank G Wells Theater just a few steps away from Legends Plaza.
Sharing a stage in front of the curtained screen of the theater with The Little Mermaid writer-directors Ron Clements and John Musker, Jodi embodied warmth and sincerity. Her fondness for her experiences as the voice of Ariel shone through as she expressed,
“I love getting to share my story. I love getting to talk about it and I love getting in front of a huge group of kids and singing the songs and just watching their reactions and their faces and their parents and their grandparents, who are going through all their emotions with it, as well. And I never get tired of singing the song. I sing it all the time. And it’s always fresh and new, you know, it’s like the day I recorded it.”
The day she recorded “Part of Your World” was pricelessly captured on film and shared with our press group as we viewed bonus footage compiled for the rerelease. Watching Jodi Benson stand in the recording booth with songwriter and co-producer Howard Ashman while they recorded what would become one of the most beautiful Disney songs ever was remarkable.
Becoming part of their world
On coming to The Little Mermaid from a Broadway production with Howard Ashman,
“I didn’t know what I was doing. And I didn’t pretend to know what I was doing. So, I went to work the first day [and] they were so nice to make it like a Broadway show.
“We sat around the piano with Howard [Ashman] and Alan [Menken] singing all the songs, and we’d do a read through like you’re doing a Broadway musical. And, of course, Ron [Musker] and John [Clements], they are doing their dog and pony show telling us all about what’s happening in the action and this is what the scene is like. So, they made us feel — especially for me coming from New York and Broadway and not knowing anything about a [CHUCKLES] microphone or — they made us all feel very welcome.”
“And they made us feel incredibly special, that we had something to bring to the table.”
It’s that vulnerability that is so captivating about Benson, even today. The quiet care that Ashman took with her to embody Ariel for “Part of Your World” and understand the moment is unparalleled.
“But what we brought to the table was I think a vulnerability and an authenticity of how to tell a story through song that doesn’t transition, ’cause Howard was so specific about it’s, it’s a monologue. It just happens to be words to music, but you do not sing it. You just tell the story.”
Honoring the humility of Clements and Musker
When Benson began to talk about the creative process behind working with writers and directors Clements and Musker, the room hushed and listened. This was a glimpse into what it took to produce the environment conducive to capturing magic,
“And I had been trained by [Howard Ashman] for long enough, and I knew that [the directors] were amazing, and they were so amazing to let Howard, who was my director for the previous two years, step into the booth and direct me. And that shows tremendous humility on their part.
“It also shows tremendous professionalism, and it shows that they have no ego when it comes to that, ’cause really talented geniuses like these guys and like Howard, they don’t really have egos, because they just want the best for the product.
“So, the fact that they would stay behind the glass and not step in and go, you know, wait a minute, we’re, we’re the direct– you know, we need to be doing this with Jodi. Howard knew me well enough how to get the best out of me, because we’d just worked together. So, he could get in and there get me all riled up and get me to the place I needed to be so that these guys could be happy with the end product.”
Finding her voice
Perhaps the most endearing moments with Benson were those when she remembered how challenging it was to find her footing as Ariel. These stories, the stories of the work that went into making it right, are what make Disney beyond compare.
‘You know, if we have our eyes open, it’s good, but when our eyes are closed — [Musker and Clements chuckle] — we’re not gettin’ it.’
“And that was very hard for me to understand. It had to all come through just my voice.
“So, Howard knew how to connect the dots between my world and their world, and make it work.”
Life is the bubbles, it worked.
Experience the magic that is The Little Mermaid all over again or introduce it to your family for the first time when it is released from the vault as a Diamond Edition on October 1!
Thank you to Disney for providing travel and accommodations for The Little Mermaid press trip.
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