Before they laid down voice tracks for The Little Mermaid, the entire cast gathered together in a room with Producer Howard Ashman for an old-fashioned table read through. Alan Menken sat at the piano, playing the score to set the mood and provide backing.
The cast had already had time to study the script, and Howard had sent them tapes of his own performances of the musical numbers. They were there to perform, to listen to each other perform and to breathe life into Ariel’s undersea world.
Until recently, I couldn’t even imagine what that must have been like–to be there and be so intimately linked in such a close, amazing way to something so enormous and beautiful as The Little Mermaid. But when I met Jodi Benson last Monday night, I got a tiny taste of it.
We were gathered at the beautiful Empire Hotel, just steps away from Lincoln Center, and the energy in the air was palpable. Five other bloggers and myself formed a half circle facing Jodi. She looked amazing–New York City polished and primped–but her gracious spirit and simple pleasure shone through as she answered our questions and teased us.
After our roundtable conversation, we were all treated to mermaid-inspired manicures by manicube. We loved the nail techs, and their designs were amazing. Estelle opted for a simple, pretty design that feels, to me, like flowing water. I went with a mermaid-inspired manicure combining Deborah Lippmann’s Mermaid’s Dream Nail Lacquer with some accents of chunky gold glitter. The polish was utterly amazing, but unfortunately, it didn’t photograph well on my iPhone.
After our polish dried, Estelle and I dug in to delicious mini cheese burgers, spinach tartlets and a tomato and mozzarella salad. The whole spread was really yum … including the delish cocktails I posted about on Saturday. While we snacked, we had plenty of opportunities to have one-on-one conversations with Jodi. And we took them!
What I love most about Jodi is how easy and fun she is. Estelle and I spent a bit of time talking to her over munchies, and it was really like hanging out with girlfriend. We talked about hair and makeup and clothes, and she admired our mermaid nails.
She explained, at one point, how she introduced her two children to the idea that mommy is also a cartoon mermaid, and I kind of wished someone had done that for me. It was crazy being face-to-voice with someone who had such a huge impact on your growth and development as a human.
Everything I know about hope and yearning and a lot of what I know about body language … I learned it from Ariel. Which is kind of amazing, considering how basic the animation is–how very little Ariel can actually emote with her face and how her movements are restricted.
Of course, Disney’s animators are top-notch masters, so they pack a lot of subtextual punch into the mermaid’s limited range, but I think a large part of the credit for how Mermaid changed my perspective has to go to Jodi, who voiced the rebellious teen.
Without Jodi to give them life, Ariel’s movements have almost no power. As a child, I could recognize and grow to learn about the mermaid’s desires, fears and wonder only through making the connection between the raw, totally bare emotion in her voice and the slightly exaggerated body language of the cartoon.
I don’t think I expressed any of that to Jodi, though. Mostly, I was just in awe of her gratitude and her drive. She talked about her methods (finding a connection with the character so she can be more vulnerable with her voice acting) and about how Disney has completely changed her life and about how blessed she feels for all that she has as a result of one little voice audition–one she didn’t even think she nailed!
This probably goes without saying, but if you ever get the opportunity to meet with a Disney Legend, do it. These people are where they are for good reason, and you won’t be sorry. You will be sorry, however, that you can’t spend more time hanging out with Jodi Benson. At least, I am.
You’ll also be sorry if you don’t pick up a copy of The Little Mermaid, which comes out on Blu-ray and DVD tomorrow, October 1. Check back on Wednesday when we’ll review the special features and offer a super cool Ariel-inspired giveaway.
Disclosure: I attended this Disney PR event free of charge. My manicure, drinks and snacks were paid for by Disney. The opinions expressed are my own and are based on my own experience at the event.