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'The Little Mermaid' turns 30: Jodi Benson on bringing Ariel to life

·Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
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For more than 30 years, Broadway performer and voice actress Jodi Benson has been singing the same song. “And I can honestly say I never get tired of singing it,” she told Yahoo Entertainment. That song is “Part of Your World,” one of the all-time most beloved tunes in Disney’s musical filmography — and Benson, who voiced Ariel in the 1989 animated classic, is the singer who brought it to life. Speaking with Yahoo Entertainment in advance of The Little Mermaid anniversary edition‘s release on 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray, Benson explained how the song transports her, why she kept banging into the microphone during the recording session and how the role of Ariel proved to be an “emotional roller coaster.” Watch the interview, above.

Whenever Benson hears the unmistakable opening notes of “Part of Your World,” she told Yahoo, she feels like she’s going back in time to when she recorded the song.

“It’s this amazing, beautiful memory that I get to recall for three minutes and 43 seconds,” she said. “When I start to sing it, I kind of leave where I’m at, and I sort of just get engulfed into the song and the memory, and I get in this zone where I get to sort of relive those days in the studio with Howard.”

The Howard she’s referring to is lyricist Howard Ashman, who co-wrote The Little Mermaid songs with composer Alan Menken. Ashman, who died of AIDS in 1991, was the man who persuaded Disney to start thinking of its animated fairy-tale films like Broadway shows, a formula the studio uses to this day. It was Ashman who got Benson the starring role in The Little Mermaid, and it was his coaching in the recording booth that inspired her performance. He’s the one who told her to pretend she was onstage, so that she was constantly bumping into the microphone with her “swimming” arms. And he wasn’t afraid to push her to get the best possible take.

“Oh my gosh, Howard would stand next to me and he would be [Ariel’s dad] King Triton, and he would scare the bejeebers out of me,” said Benson. “He would start yelling at me, and literally I would just break down into sobs … and then he’d whisper, ‘Now stay right there.'”

“So it was kind of an emotional roller coaster for me,” she said. “But gosh, I learned so much. I had to be thrown in and learn very quickly since I had never done it before.”

Following The Little Mermaid, Benson continued to perform on Broadway (winning a Tony Award in 1992) and launched a voice-acting career that includes playing Barbie in the Toy Story films. But she’s still grateful to be the voice of Ariel and to keep Ashman’s memory alive.

“It’s wonderful because I get this opportunity to pay tribute to him, to keep his legacy going so that no one forgets his brilliance,” she said.

The Little Mermaid anniversary edition on 4K, Blu-ray and DVD is currently available on Best Buy and Target.


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