The Little Mermaid’s Jodi Benson: “We Work Better as a Team”

Growing up, The Little Mermaid was one of my first favorite movies. I had all of the coolest Ariel clothes and merchandise, including a bathing suit, a beach towel, bed sheets, and an umbrella. Now that I’m an adult, I’ve sadly had to retire almost all of those items (although I still use the beach towel!). But my love for the classic Disney film is still going strong.

It’s hard to believe, but soon the movie will be turning 25. And despite its age, The Little Mermaid is still immensely popular with young children. In fact, it is a favorite with my 4-year-old niece, who gave me a colored picture of Ariel’s grotto for my birthday a few months ago. To celebrate the anniversary, Disney is releasing a special Diamond Edition Blu-ray, which includes bonus features like behind-the-scenes animation footage and a “Crab-E-OKE” sing-along.

Naturally, I was thrilled to interview Jodi Benson, the voice of Ariel and a mother of two kids (a 14-year-old son and a 12-year old daughter). She told me all about her reactions to the beloved movie, her best parenting advice, and her experiences with homeschooling.

Why do you think the movie has such a lasting appeal with both kids and adults?
At the time, I think everyone was ready for a fairy tale. There hadn’t really been one since Sleeping Beauty [released in 1959]. We also had the incredible Howard Ashman and Alan Menken writing the score, plus the hand-painted and hand-drawn animations. It was just the perfect mix at the right time.

Between sequels, soundtracks and promotional events, it seems like being Ariel has become a full-time job for you. Did you realize in the beginning that it would be such a big part of your career?
It’s been a really great ride. But no, absolutely not. It was all a huge, wonderful surprise. I just expected to do the job and disappear, so we were completely blown away.

Do you have a favorite song or favorite scene?
I have to say “Part of Your World” and that whole underwater grotto scene. I think it is just beautifully animated. And getting to record that song with Howard Ashman at my side, just directing me every step of the way, was really such a great memory for me.

Did your children watch The Little Mermaid growing up?
I revealed it to both of them when they were about 2 or 3. I tried to make the connection by standing next to the TV screen and singing and speaking along with it, just to help them make the realization, “Mommy is Ariel!” They reacted very positively. But once my son made the connection, he would start crying when I sang in public at concerts if he was there. It was like, then I wasn’t his mom anymore. He liked it when Ariel and Mommy were just for him in private.

You’ve homeschooled your children for 11 years. What is that experience like?
It’s been an incredible journey. We had put our son into a little preschool in Los Angeles and it was just not going well, so we brought him back home. We had every intention of putting him back into a traditional school setting but we just really couldn’t find the right match for him. And then we moved to Georgia and again couldn’t find the right match. So year by year, it just kept going and going. And then our daughter was here, and it just became part of our life. We realized the flexibility it gave our family; the kids can travel with us, so it just seemed to work best. So 11 years into it, we’re still going strong.

Do you plan to continue all the way through their education?
We take it pretty much one year at a time. It’s a huge calling and a huge responsibility, and it’s very challenging.  But we feel like this is what God has called us to do for now. And it might not work for next year, so we’re very open to whatever is going to be best for the kids.

It is tough to balance homeschooling with your work schedule?
Yes, it can be a challenge with work and travel. Both of the kids are in club soccer so they have some intense travel seasons as well. But homeschooling has given us some wonderful flexibility and some great life experiences, especially with our son. He is a sophomore in high school at this point, and he would be missing some of these once-in-a-lifetime trips with us because of needing to stay home. So he made the decision to stay in homeschooling. It needs to be the kids’ decision.

What’s the best parenting advice you would give?
I can only speak for my husband and myself, but we don’t feel like we could do any of this parenting without our faith. We are in uncharted territory when it comes to two teenage kids but we do rely a lot on a whole ton of prayer. We also work hard to keep great bonds of communication open with our children. Ever since the kids were babies, we have treated them with respect. We are the mom and dad for sure, but we look for opportunities for us to sit down and say, “How are things going for you? Is there anything that we can do as parents to help you? Let’s all come up with a solution together.” We work better as a team.

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