In 1989 a new voice hit our ears that was like waves on the ocean; soft, lilting and absolutely hypnotic. Disney’s mermaid wild child, Ariel, had us giggling about dinglehoppers and clutching at our shirts anxiously as we waited for true love to come through at the end. Her voice rang out across movie theaters and television sets across the world …and is still, today, echoed by children everywhere as they pretended to be in their own kingdom under the sea.
I had the distinct pleasure of sitting down with Disney’s own aquatic princess, Jodi Benson, and hearing her talk of reaching for your dreams, helping others and always being grateful.
Q: Was there any part of the movie that you would liked to have changed?
A: I was in a situation where it was the first time I’d done anything like this and so you just trust the geniuses you’re working with. And with Howard Ashton [indistinct] and oh my gosh. I mean with all of these geniuses you know you’re in good hands. So, no. I wouldn’t change a thing. There are certain passes and certain takes and lines that I kind of look at Howard afterwards like ‘why did you take that? That was kinda pitchy..’ He was not looking for a perfect singing performance. He was really looking for that particular part of the verse or the song or the phrase. And so I really I trusted them.
Q: Would you give up your voice for love?
A: Yes, I would. It would be really hard.. singing is such a huge part of my life and the way I communicate…but…yes.
Q: So you believe in true love?
A: Yes, yes! Well we’ve been married for – I think we’re coming up on 30 years. 30th anniversary with be next May. So…yes.
Q: Did you sing Ariel’s songs to your children?
A: Yes, we’d sing them to sleep mostly with praise songs from church. But, my son didn’t really want me to sing Ariel because that meant that mommy was working. And he just wanted mommy for mommy. But, yeah – we do sing. There’s lots of music. My daughter is a nonstop singer. She’s taken my place now. She’s making her debut […] in a concert. She’s going to sing and play the piano for herself. It’s pretty cool. You get to watch your children get this passion going on in them that you know I’ve had since I was a little girl.
Q: What would you recommend for starting children in professional singing?
A: I would say that every child who has a passion for singing, to do it. In any way shape or form that they can. Whether it’s at home or at church…whether it’s in their community…choir, I mean the more you do it the more you can figure out if this is really what you love to do. And you just don’t want to have any regrets when you’re older, ya know? Regretting the fact that you might not have pursued something when it was right for you. So, I think for me coming from a small town – without thinking “I’d never be able to do this” – in my heart I just felt like I had to give it a try.
Q: What do your kids think of mom as “Ariel”?
A: Well, like I said at the beginning, for both of them my son was 3 when I showed the movie and stood next to the screen. And while it was …the movie was running, I was singing along with it. And, that was just really hard for him. That meant mommy wasn’t his mommy…Ariel wasn’t his mommy. So from that point on I couldn’t sing in public …”No mommy. No sing. No sing” and so I would just sing privately for him at home at bedtime. But, then when I would sing outside he’d cover up his ears and wouldn’t want to be around it. Because it was like sharing part of me that only belonged to him.
My daughter was different. She was totally onboard with all of that. And ofcourse now they love it. The love everything Disney. They love my job and they are so proud to tell their friends.
Q: Do you find there is a certain age group that …that are fans of you the most?
A: Well you’re the right age for the original the come out, ya know? In 1989 you were probably right at the pocket. That’s what’s so cool about the re-releases because now you’re going to share that with your generation and then you see the next 7 year old come around. That’s kind of what the 7 to 10 year slot of time is that we do these re-releases…is for the next generation of children. So that they can experience it for the first time just like you did, ya know. But, the fans are of all ages, especially the grandparents. Now it’s grandparents watching their grandchildren experience it…and they saw their daughter go through it. It’s really all ages. You’d be surprised. Little to in their 80s.
Q: We all have movies that define our childhoods – what was yours?
A: Cinderella. Yeah. Cinderella was my movie and ..um…I just loved everything about it. Just the fact that she comes from one area and she wishes for something more and …and I think every young girl and boy wishes for that next step or that dream or whatever that may look like … so that was my movie. Yeah, loved it.
Q: What are some of the most amazing things you’ve been able to do [through this]?
A: I love getting to share my story. Ya know, I love getting to talk about it and …um…I love getting in front of a huge group of kids and singing the song for them. Just watching their reactions and their faces and their parents and their grandparents. Who are going through all their emotions with it as well. I never get tired of singing the song. I sing it all the time. And, it’s always fresh and new — it’s like the day I recorded it. It really is. It also brings back a wonderful moment of memory for me when I sing it. It makes me just remember recording it and makes me think of Howard and how grateful I am…and so thankful. Just really thankful.
Q: If Howard was still around, can you imagine the impact it would have now?
A: Yes! There would be no end to his genius. No end, because he would just be …uh…topping himself. Ya know? He …there wasn’t like an end of perfection. There was always making something better, improving on something. So I could see him if he were with us today, just trying to improve…
Q: Is there another project you are working on now?
A: Well, I’m always doing Ariel and Barbie. Those are my ongoing projects. And, then I do my symphony concerts on the weekends. And I shot a video for Disney. So whenever they need me, because I do like 7 ongoing characters for the company. So my regular job is my voice work. Then I travel to sing.
Q: What are the benefits of being a Disney Princess?
A: Oh…goodness! It’s amazing! It’s kind of hard for me to …uh…to grasp the impact of portraying a character that’s gonna live long past you. It’s kind of overwhelming, but not in a bad way. So when I really stop and focus on it ….it’s…ya know…oh my gosh. Takes my breath away to think of the experiences I’ve had and just this amazing opportunity. Grateful is the word I pretty much come up with whenever I stop to contemplate it.
Q: What are the fan stories you’ve heard about that impacted you the most?
A: I think dealing with children I’ve made, unfortunately, several calls to children before they passed away. Um….those are hard. Especially when the parent puts you on the phone and says “They won’t be able to speak, but they can hear you.” Those are heart wrenching. You follow up and they say “She died peacefully” and you’re like ….oh gosh. Working with kids in hospitals, kids who are burn victims […] you’ll find that certain songs and certain characters soothe children to get through painful procedures. So I have a lot of kids that have been battling brain cancer and deal with very painful symptoms and they’ve used the song and it calmed them. Those are overwhelming. I’ve had children who learned how to speak. Highly low-functioning, severe autism. I’ve got several kids who over the years I have met face to face who actually speak now. And their parent will tell you the story that they learned how to speak from your film. Those are the stories that you wish people knew more about..than just an animated film…there’s a re-release… but when you get behind the scenes and you start to hear the impact of that. That really blows your mind.
“Those are the ones that you just….take a deep breath and again, so grateful. So thankful that you can be part of a child’s healing process”
The Little Mermaid Diamond Edition DVD set will be available October 1st – Do you know someone who will be experiencing it for the very first time?
— Written by Kenda Smith, attending on behalf of MommysBusy.com – read more from Kenda at RemakingJuneCleaver.com