Jodi Benson: 25 Years Of Voicing ArielReported on Monday, November 25th 2013 by BTVA Team
It has been quite a journey for Jodi Benson. She spoke to the Huffington Post recently about voicing Ariel from The Little Mermaid, a journey which has now spanned 25 years and shows no sign of ending. Her most recent reprisal of the character was in a TV special of Sofia the First: The Floating Palace.
In her phone interview with the Huffington Post, Benson recalled how she landed the role of a lifetime:
"Back in the Fall of 1986, I was appearing in Smile, a Broadway musical that Howard Ashman had written with Marvin Hamlisch. Given that Howard and Marvin were such huge talents, everyone thought that this show would run forever. But that isn't what happened with Smile. It closed at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre after just 48 performances in January of 1987."
"Now at this point, Howard had just begun pre-production on The Little Mermaid at Disney. And he genuinely felt bad that Smile had closed so quickly. Which is why he then invited all of the girls from that show to come audition for Ariel. So I - just like everybody else in Smile - laid down my audition on an old-fashioned, reel-to-reel tape. And this tape was then sent into the powers-that-be at Disney with no names or pictures attached. They were just listening to voices, trying to find just the right actress to sing & to speak for this character in that movie."
"And me? After I sent in my tape, I did what other actresses do in New York. I went out on auditions. I tried out for a lot of other parts. I went on with my life. It wasn't 'til early 1988, a full year later, that I got a call that my tape had been selected. So it's quite miraculous, really."
Benson then talked about her time in the recording booth and working with Ashman often one-on-one to nail Ariel's character:
"Now normally when you record a voice for an animated feature, the performer's in the booth in front of the mic and the director is behind the glass. But because I had never done anything like this before, Howard was in the booth with me the whole time as I was recording Ariel. In fact, even now, if you listen carefully to the voice tracks & songs that I recorded for this Disney film, you can actually hear Howard breathing in the background sometimes."
"You have to understand that - by this point - what with first the Smile workshop, then that show's out-of-town try-out in Washington D.C., followed by our short run of Broadway, I had been working with Howard for three years at this point. So I was already very aware of how intense he could get sometimes. But you also have to understand that - at this point in my career - I had never voiced an animated character before. So to have Howard there in the recording booth right beside me, helping me shape my performance of Ariel, sometimes spoon-feeding me specific line readings, was really quite helpful. And very generous of Howard, I might add."
Just like any other job, when Benson was done with the dialogue and song recording, she moved onto the next job and went back to Broadway:
"It was great to see this new Disney animated feature get such great reviews. I was proud of my work on this project. And because people seemed to genuinely love the music from Little Mermaid, I was - of course - happy for Howard & Alan Menken. Especially after this film took home that year's Oscars for Best Song & Best Score. But if you had told me back in late 1989 / early 1990, that - over 20 years later - Ariel would still be going strong, that they're be these direct-to-video sequels & theme park attractions & TV shows, or that I'd still be providing the voice for this character on all of these projects ... Well, I'd have told you that you were nuts."
Some may wonder why Benson has played Ariel for so long and it's all due to Disney's Character Voice Department and their goal to maintain the vocal integrity of their characters for so long. It's the same reason why their staple characters like Mickey Mouse and Goofy rarely get new voice actor. Only in dire situations such as death will a new voice actor be sought:
"At Disney, whenever possible, they always try and use the original voice of a specific animated character. So that - when a child is playing with a talking Ariel doll or watching as the Little Mermaid makes an appearance on a TV show like 'Sofia the First' - this character always sounds the same, maintains a certain level of vocal integrity & consistency."
Benson then spoke about being called up to guest star in the Sofia the First special:
"I was very flattered when Disney Junior reached out and invited me to come voice Ariel for this special primetime edition of 'Sofia the First,' " Jodi stated. "As the parent myself, I really appreciate the positive messages that this animated series is trying to put out there. Given how Sofia is always trying to do what's right, I think that this character is a great role model for kids today."