The Little Mermaid is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year! Wow. I’m old af, you guys.
One of my earliest and fondest memories is from when my dad took me to see The Little Mermaid, back when it premiered in theaters in 1989. I completely fell in love with Ariel, and to this day can still recite the film, word-for-word, in its entirety. Seriously. And I shared this with Jodi Benson, the iconic actress behind the voice of Ariel.
Speaking with Jodi Benson was the entire highlight of that week. It was a huge career moment, having the opportunity to talk to someone who had such a deep and meaningful impact on my life. I mean, Jodi is a legend in her own right. Of course, I shared the story with Jodi about my dad and I, and I couldn’t help but fangirl. Happy to report that she truly appreciated it!
Here, Jodi and I discuss the impact of Ariel and The Little Mermaid decades later, her favorite song in the film, and more.
Thinking back to when The Little Mermaid was first released, in what ways do you think the film and Ariel added to the notion of girl power?
Well, I know that when we jumped from Cinderella in the early 60’s to Ariel in ’89, we had a huge transition of going from Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, to Ariel. So we’ve got the stubborn quality, we’ve got the rebellious spirit, the adventurous spirit, the tenacious spirit, the dreaming outside of the box, reaching for the unattainable, reaching outside of a realm that is even possible for her as she explores the human world. We see a princess rescuing a prince and saving him.
And we’re in the realm of a Hans Christian Anderson fairytale, so we don’t have the freedom to just go crazy with whatever script we need. It needs to be loosely and strongly based on the fairytale in order for it to be a fairytale. So I think with all of that, I love where Ariel landed in 1989 to be the stepping stone and the landmark and sort of the foundation of where we have gone from ’89 to 2019 coming towards with our princess line of lineage and our royal girls. And we should grow with each and every one. There should be new character qualities. There should be new strengths. New battles, shall we say.
But when folks say, “Well, mermaid? I don’t really want my kid to watch it. It’s this or it’s that,” I totally get that. It’s fine. Everybody needs to do what’s best for their kids. But you have to take it into the whole perspective of where we were in 1989 and the realm of the fairytale. We don’t have the total freedom—I mean, she does give up her voice—so there are parameters within the fairytale that we have to stick by.
I read that “Part of Your World” was your favorite song to perform in the film—why that song?
Because it was written by Howard and Alan. Because I was given a cassette tape of Howard recording it so perfectly with his acting, and he’s such a brilliant actor. And having him as my director on Smile for three or four years previously on a Broadway show was just … it’s a really treasured memory that I have, being in the studio with him directing me and coaching me and getting me to the place I needed to be. So those are special memories now that he’s not with us, and it allows me to pay tribute to him and honor him and thank him and make sure people don’t forget him. And so it’s just another opportunity to kind of being that wonderful memory back to life for me.
That’s beautiful. What has been the best part about being the voice behind such an iconic character? And how does it feel knowing, 30 years later, that Ariel and the film continue to have an impact on young girls?
It’s a huge honor. It’s a blessing. It’s a gift from God to be the voice of Ariel. I love my job and I love my company. I am genuinely so happy with the story I get to tell every day, and when I meet people, that relationship. And I’m thrilled to get to share the story of what my journey has been. So I’m very proud of the film. I love being able to introduce it to new kids, and I love to hear the stories of grandparents and great grandparents revisiting it with their kids and them kind of recalling the memory that it brings and triggering where they were the first time they saw it. All of those things are really special to me. So it’s not just a film, it’s an experience. And people make a really strong connection to this character and to this film, and I like to hear those stories.
Hypothetically speaking, let’s say the film were to get some sort of redo. What are some of the things that you would want changed, and what are some of the things that you would make sure remained the same?
I wouldn’t change a thing. I mean obviously, technology is gonna change on the sound, which we’ve done with each of the re-releases. And the picture and the colorization, all of those things have been touched up to the most that you possibly can without just actually making the whole film all over again. There’s only so much you can do with new technology, which, obviously with 4K and things like that, it’s phenomenal what you can do. But I wouldn’t change a thing. You know it has the stamp of all the Disney people that were there
You can read my full interview with Jodi Benson over at HerCampus.com!