Actress Jodi Benson, who voiced Ariel in Disney’s 1989 animated classic The Little Mermaid, defends the casting of singer and actress Halle Bailey in the starring role of Disney’s coming live-action remake.
“The most important thing is to tell the story. And we have, as a family, we have raised our children, and for ourselves, that we don’t see anything that’s different on the outside,” Benson said Saturday at Florida Supercon convention.
“I think that the spirit of a character is what really matters. What you bring to the table in a character as far as their heart, and their spirit, is what really counts. And the outside package — cause let’s face it, I’m really, really old — and so when I’m singing ‘Part of Your World,’ if you were to judge me on the way that I look on the outside, it might change the way that you interpret the song. But if you close your eyes, you can still hear the spirit of Ariel.”
For Benson, who voiced Ariel in two direct-to-video sequels as well as a followup television series and numerous reprisals across multimedia, “the most important thing for a film is to be able to tell a story.”
“We need to be storytellers. And no matter what we look like on the outside, no matter our race, our nation, the color of our skin, our dialect, whether I’m tall or thin, whether I’m overweight or underweight, or my hair is whatever color, we really need to tell the story,” Benson said to applause.
“And that’s what we want to do, we want to make a connection to the audience. So I know for Disney that they have the heart of storytelling, that’s really what they’re trying to do. They want to communicate with all of us in the audience so that we can fall in love with the film again.”
When revealing Bailey’s casting Wednesday, Variety reported Bailey, one half of pop duo Chloe x Halle, was described by insiders as the “clear front runner from the beginning.”
“After an extensive search, it was abundantly clear that Halle possesses that rare combination of spirit, heart, youth, innocence, and substance — plus a glorious singing voice — all intrinsic qualities necessary to play this iconic role,” director Rob Marshall (Into the Woods, Mary Poppins Returns) said in a statement.
The decision has been celebrated on social media but also received backlash: some commentors unhappy with Bailey’s casting launched the #NotMyAriel hashtag, in which some users took issue with a POC actress portraying a character originally depicted as white.
Young adult-oriented Disney-owned cable channel Freeform similarly defended Bailey’s casting, writing on social media, “The character of Ariel is a work of fiction.”
Freeform added the “incredible, sensational, highly-talented, gorgeous” Bailey winning the role is “inspired casting.” Bailey co-stars on Freeform’s Black-ish spinoff Grown-ish.
Disney has not yet dated its live-action re-imagining of The Little Mermaid. Marshall previously confirmed with ComicBook.com the film will feature a mix of original and new music penned by Lin-Manuel Miranda and the returning Alan Menken.