It’s a whole new world… under the sea.
Welcome to Merroway Cove, the setting for Sofia the First: The Floating Palace, the first ever primetime special for Sofia the First, premiering TODAY, Nov. 24 at 7 p.m. ET/PT on the Disney Channel, and on Nov. 28 at 7 p.m. ET/PT on the 24-hour Disney Junior channel.
The story will see the royal family setting off on an extraordinary journey on the high seas, where Sofia meets a young mermaid named Oona (voiced by Mad Men‘s Kiernan Shipka) and a plucky searhorse named Sven (voiced by The Big Bang Theory‘s John Ross Bowie). After helping Oona untangle her fin from a net, Sofia’s amulet magically transforms her into a mermaid, allowing her to explore the underwater world with her new friend.
During their adventure, Sofia learns that mermaids still don’t trust humans, and finds out how angry they are that her family’s floating palace is in their cove. When Oona is captured by a dastardly sea monster, Sofia must find a way to save her and create harmony between their two worlds.
Ariel, voiced by Jodi Benson – who reprises her iconic role from the animated film – will make a special appearance, plunging into the princess world to help Sofia navigate these unchartered waters.
I had the amazing opportunity to sit down with Benson to talk more about the special, and discovered that we have a few things in common, namely that the universe needs to slow down (our kids are growing up too fast!) and that for different reasons (mine, because I wanted to be Ariel, and hers because she is Ariel), Ariel is much more than an animated character. She’s legendary.
7 things you didn’t know about Benson’s process when it comes to voice acting, and what it takes to bring the iconic mermaid to life:
Darling, it’s better, down where it’s wetter… 1 of 7
Jodi Benson knows.
The accomplished voice actress, soprano singer, and real-life Disney Legend is perhaps best known for providing both the speaking and the singing voice of Disney's Princess Ariel in The Little Mermaid and its sequels. Benson also voiced Barbie in Toy Story 2, Toy Story 3 and the Toy Story Toon: Hawaiian Vacation.
Part of her world. 2 of 7
"It's wonderful," Benson says of reprising her role as Ariel. "The great thing about my job is that I get to revisit her every week. She's an ongoing project that keeps me full time with the company, so it was wonderful to get to participate in his huge, hit show, and have Ariel be part of Sofia the First."
Just keep swimming. 3 of 7
"You have the directors, the producers, the writers," Benson says of finding context for her characters when working solo. "You have a wonderful staff of people that completely fill you in on the story. They play the other parts over the phone, they set you up with the scene - so you really get to use the skills of your imagination."
"And that's kind of what our job is as voiceover actors," Benson says of voicing multiple characters. "We need to be able to cover a whole lot of territory, and to create a whole range of voices. For me, it's not a manipulative thing I do with my vocal chords, it's more of just engaging myself with what the director's telling me, the script and a pencil sketch. If I have those three things, then I'm pretty good to go."
"It's a matter of letting it evolve," she adds. "As far as Ariel, Barbie and Lady - my regular characters - those are pretty embedded into my mind, and it doesn't take much to find my 'spot' again."
This mermaid’s got legs. 4 of 7
"Oh my goodness, I just love my job," Benson says when mulling over what she loves most about voicing Ariel. "I love her as a character, and she's been a part of my life for 28 years, so it's just very, very special for me when I get to make her come to life."
"I know the reaction that people have to her is beautiful and I'm thankful and really grateful," she adds of Ariel crossing over into other animated arenas. "She's just a huge part of my life. And getting to revoice her for this particular project is really neat."
Part of their world. 5 of 7
"Both of them love Ariel," Benson says of her childen's affinity for the animated mermaid. "My daughter has dressed up as Ariel for many trick-or-treat nights and has worn her Ariel costume and all sorts of Ariel memorabilia every time we go to the parks."
"My daughter lived in her Ariel gown until it turned shreds," she adds when I told her how my five-year-old insists on wearing princess gowns everywhere. "We had to replace it twice, since at the age of 2, 3 and 4, she wore it every single day."
I also may or may not have told Benson that I used to pin a red towel to my head. Because you know, Ariel's amazing hair. I regret nothing.
Finding her voice. 6 of 7
"It was fun to do other characters," Benson says of her second "secret" role. "I was able voice Queen Emmaline, which was really fun. So my hope is that people aren't going to recognize that it's the same person doing it."
For the record, I had no idea when I saw the screener. The credits are the only thing that gave her away.
"The trick if you voice two characters, is to be polar opposites, which i think they were," she adds. "I kept asking my daughter, 'Can you tell that's me?' and she would say, 'No, it doesn't sound like you at all.' But I think a really sweet thing is the song written for Ariel and Sofia. It's a really beautiful song with a lot of heart, so I was excited to get to hear that."
Sea change. 7 of 7
"The fact that [she's] had this kind of longevity is just amazing," says Benson of Ariel's evergreen appeal.
Pretty sure we're all really glad she has. Turns out flipping your fins does get you far.
Sofia the First: The Floating Palace will be simulcast on WATCH Disney Channel the same day as the linear premiere on Nov. 24, and will be available for download on iTunes, Amazon and Xbox beginning Monday, Nov. 25.
Photo credits: Disney Junior
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