“Nobody really wanted to do those types of jobs,” Jodi Benson once said of her audition for The Little Mermaid. “It wasn’t a very prestigious job. My goal was to do Broadway musicals. Voice acting was something I didn’t know anything about!”
She won the role of Ariel over at least 500 other actresses, and Jodi admits that when she watches the film, she can see herself in Ariel. “She’s independent, spirited, and strong-willed. I don’t think I could have accomplished my dreams if there wasn’t a little of her in me.”
Born on October 10, 1961, in Rockford, Illinois, Jodi started singing at age 5. “I can’t take any credit for the voice,” she says, “it came with the package. I just started singing and it was there, and I’ve been singing ever since.”
She attended Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois, where she abandoned a career in law to become one of the first students in the college’s B.F.A. program in musical theatre. During Christmas break of her sophomore year, she auditioned for a Broadway show and won the job. She’s been a perpetual presence on the Great White Way and on stages everywhere ever since.
She made her Broadway debut in in 1983 in Kenny Ortega’s Marilyn: An American Fable” and went on to star in the Howard Ashman/Marvin Hamlisch musical Smile. It was in this show that she introduced a soaring tour de force ballad that has become well known to Disney fans, a song called simply “Disneyland.” Jodi also appeared in A.E. Hotchner’s and Cy Coleman’s Welcome to the Club in 1989 and sang George Gershwin classics in the lead role of Crazy for You in 1992, which earned her a Tony® Award nomination for Best Actress in a Musical.
Jodi shared the stage with her husband, Ray Benson, in the European premiere of Gershwin’s My One and Only. In Los Angeles, Jodi starred in Flora the Red Menace at the Pasadena Playhouse, Oklahoma! at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, My Fair Lady at the Alex Theatre, and Chess at the Long Beach Civic Light Opera, for which she was honored with the prestigious Drama-Logue Award for Best Actress.
She was the voice of Barbie in Pixar’s Toy Story 2 and reprised the role with her beau, Ken, in 2010’s Toy Story 3. Other wildly varied voice roles for Disney include Helen of Troy in the Hercules television series and Weebo the flying robot in Flubber, both in 1997. Jodi made her live-action movie debut in Disney’s Enchanted; moviegoers with keen ears might have noticed Ariel’s “Part of Your World” playing in the background during Jodi’s scenes.
But Jodi’s heart remains “under the sea,” and she has brought voice to everything that is The Little Mermaid” including CDs, toys, video games, talking dolls, a television series, and movie sequels. Jodi also spends her time giving back the gifts she is so grateful for, often teaching kids the various steps in the animation process—and at these times is frequently reminded of the deeper significance of her work.
“I was talking to some third graders,” Jodi once recalled. “At the end of a 45-minute presentation, a little boy raised his hand and asked, ‘How do you hold your breath that long under water?’ You see, the magic is what they want to hold onto—and that brings me tremendous joy.”