Three decades after sparking an animation revolution at Disney that continues to reverberate today, The Little Mermaid is celebrating its 30th birthday in style with new Signature Edition Blu-Ray and 4K releases dropping today, February 26th, and unlike Ariel’s occasionally vanishing dulcet tones, voice actress Jodi Benson can still be heard loud and clear, both reprising her character in the insta-classic Princesses sequence in Ralph Breaks the Internet, and in conversation with ComicBook.com, where she recounts her 30 years under the sea.
ComicBook.com: It's a nice opportunity to take a victory lap and knowing how much The Little Mermaid and the Disney princesses as a whole mean to people. Tell me what's been fun about revisiting it for Ralph Breaks the Internet.
Jodi Benson: Oh yeah. It was so great to do Ralph Breaks the Internet because to take the princesses out of their elements of their original films and to place them altogether in more of a real scene to see what they are like behind the scenes when they're not on, I just think it was so genius of Rich Moore and Phil [Johnston] and Clark Spencer, our producer, to come up with this plan, and I was so excited to get to be a part of it.
What was fun about the time you got to spend with the other actresses who have voiced the Disney princesses over the years?
We actually met at D23 a couple of summers ago when we presented the princess sequence, the one particular scene to the audience. It was a surprise, so that was the first time I had met a bunch of the girls. And then at the premiere in California in November, we had not quite all of us together because we haven't all been together in one area yet, but we've met, and it was so much fun. And of course, a lot of us are Broadway people, so we've made the connection through the years in other avenues besides Disney. It's just a wonderful club. It's a really small, elite kind of club, and it's pretty special that we get to have this in common with each other.
Have you found when you've had time to chit-chat that there's a certain sort of shared experience that only the group of you kind of fully understand?
Yeah -- I mean, I think for Paige [O’Hara, the voice of Beauty and the Beast’s Belle] and I and probably a little bit for Linda Larkin, [the voice of Aladdin’s Princess Jasmine,] having that common denominator of being able to work with Howard Ashman is pretty special. Unfortunately, none of the other girls have been able to work with him like we have. But I think just that's a really special thing. We love to hear and get to share our Howard stories, of what it was like in the studio with him.
And for the rest of those girls, it's just realizing the impact that these particular princesses and these characters have on children and the different generations that, for our films, cycling around like four different generations over the course of the last 30 years. It's a pretty special club for princesses to get to make this connection together, and I think being thankful and being grateful that we are a part of this club. It's been an amazing ride.
You were there right at the beginning of this particular Disney animation renaissance and nobody could have guessed then what was going to come from it. Tell me what the experience was like kind of not having any expectations about how long The Little Mermaid was going to live in people's hearts and how effective the mix of Broadway-style music and the return to truly lush Disney animation was going to be.
You're right – it was all a complete surprise, with no expectations whatsoever, which makes it even more of a sweeter experience for me. Having been on Broadway and doing a Broadway show while I was flying back and forth to do Mermaid, we were going to disappear and names were never going to be released except for running at the end credits, and it wasn't until the last minute that Disney decided to premiere the big press tour and kind of connect the dots for the fans and for the audience to know that who we were as voices. And it was shortly after that, realizing that this movie was going to last a little bit longer than just a regular film cycle.
I think by the time the first re-release happened six or seven years later, we realized that this was going to be turning into a classic, and like you say, it is the renaissance for this golden age of animation and the animation studio was not on the lot and animation was not in a good place, getting close to shutting down.
So it makes this experience even sweeter when there were no expectations and everything is a wonderful surprise. It's something that just makes it so much more special.
Being a Broadway performer, it must be great to have had the opportunity – which I got to witness at the Hollywood Bowl a couple of summers ago – for you to play Ariel and do some singing in character in a live performance.
Oh yeah! I get to sing my song almost every weekend in a symphony or in a concert of some sort. and I absolutely love it. Doing the Hollywood Bowl a couple of summers ago was definitely a highlight of my career. To have 18,000 people singing along with me was quite overwhelming, and being a surprise guest made it even more special I think.
And again, just, to see over three decades the fan base that we have for this film and for my character, it's widespread with kids and adults alike, making that connection for this character and for the film and definitely the Hollywood Bowl was a huge highlights. That was quite a magical weekend.
Disney's had a pretty good batting average with these live-action remakes of some of their classic properties, and I know that The Little Mermaid's definitely on the table with Lin-Manuel Miranda's potentially contributing songs. What gets you excited about seeing this story interpreted in live-action when it inevitably comes to pass?
Yeah. I think it's going to be incredible. They are talking about this concept, and the team of people that I've heard mentioned for this particular live-action film sounds quite magical. And I think for Alan [Menken] to be teaming up with Lin-Manuel is going to be phenomenal, and if in fact we have Robbie Marshall, if that is the case, as director and John DeLuca as executive producer. Mary Poppins Returns, I think, was just a fantastic film, so I know that Robbie is an incredible director with a great eye. I think he can handle it. I think it can be delivered in a way that's going to be quite special. I don't know exactly how they'll pull it all off, but I'm sure it'll be amazing.
Beyond just the ownership of the character that you've had, you've had a wonderful association with Disney for the past three decades, and I want to know what that has meant to you? To be part of the Disney family, to always be welcome and remembered for your role in their legacy?
You know, it's really amazing to me to think that my career has taken me down this road with being part of the Disney family – and it is a family to me. When I first joined the company, Roy Disney was a very close friend, and just felt so grateful to have it be so welcoming to me and to my husband and then to my kids and his son and his daughter-in-law, they've, it's just been amazing. I do feel like I'm part family, and I'm very grateful for that.
I love my co-workers between California, Florida, and New York, and it does feel like a family for me. I'm so grateful and it's a perfect match and again, it wasn't on my radar as a Broadway performer to ever delve into this world, but God knew better than I did, and I'm so thankful for the turn of direction, shall we say, in my career to now be at a place that I know I'm settled and I'm here for good. It's just been a perfect match for me.
And you've had a hand in turning it around. Now all these Broadway people have Disney on their radar as something to strive for.
Yes. It's wonderful. It's wonderful thanks to Howard Ashman – bringing Alan Menken and infusing the Broadway musical into Disney's animated feature film department was the most brilliant idea, and it just blends these two worlds together so beautifully.
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