Jodie Benson, Original Ariel in ‘The Little Mermaid,’ Defends Disney’s Changes in Remake

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Disney’s live-action reimaging of The Little Mermaid features a few tweaks to the story’s iconic story and music, but a familiar voice vows that the changes are not only necessary but “beautifully” done.


Jodi Benson, the voice actress who provided the voice of Ariel in the 1989 animated film, shared her support for the film’s changes during an interview with Entertainment Weekly, pointing out how different the world was when the original movie began recording sessions in 1986.

“It’s 2023, so we have to grow, we have to learn, we have to be aware of our surroundings,” she says. “We’ve got to be aware of our growth as humans and what’s important now and what maybe isn’t as important. Things change. We’ve got to roll with that. I think that Rob and John have done a beautiful job of doing that, and still paying tribute and honor to our original film. But you’ve got to have growth. It’s very important to stay relevant with where we are, what’s going on around us. We need to be aware. So the adjustments and the fine-tuning that they needed to do, it was a must, but it was done in a beautiful way, and I’m very, very thrilled with it.”

Aside from the most apparent change from the animated film — casting Halle Bailey as the referenced mermaid, Princess Ariel — director Rob Marshall, producer John DeLuca, and screenwriter David Magee previously revealed that they’d implemented specific changes to reflect a more modern Disney princess, addressing criticism that the original film featured a young woman who was too wrapped up in a man, and giving Ariel more agency.

Bailey’s Ariel and Jonah Hauer-King’s Prince Eric are more kindred spirits in the live-action adaptation; both focused on exploring the world beyond their bubbles despite their parents urging them to stay home. Both also have brand-new original songs included in the film, which have lyrical changes to the iconic tunes “Kiss the Girl” to address the issue of consent and “Poor Unfortunate Souls.”

Even accounting for those changes, the film has earned its place as one of the studio’s most enjoyable re-imaginings, with critics particularly noting Bailey making a major splash in the title role.

Benson echoed their sentiment, sharing that she has been able to “love on” the 23-year-old actress and lend her support to Bailey and her family. She adds, “And to know just the beautiful way that she has been able to capture Ariel and all that is part of Ariel. And just how incredibly proud I am of her, just wanting her to know that I was there for her in whatever way I could be. She did it. She has told this beautiful story, and I’m just so thrilled for her.”

Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Bailey’s co-stars, Melissa McCarthy and Javier Bardem, who portray Ursula and King Triton, respectively, also couldn’t help but gush about their leading lady when speaking with ET ahead of the film’s May 26 release.

When asked about their favorite song from the new film, Bardem can’t help but praise Bailey’s rendition of Princess Ariel’s iconic tune, “Part of Your World.”

“What she does with her voice in that song, it’s very special. And also, it’s the first song in the movie,” he noted. McCarthy echoed the sentiment, adding that she is “so proud” of her co-star for “the young woman that she is and the strength she played that with.”

“I’m telling you, it’s like I almost get choked up. When she finishes that song, I literally burst out crying, I was clapping, I was breathing weirdly and I literally wanted to stand up and be like, ‘It’s not just ’cause you are an amazing actress. It’s not because your voice is from another planet, it [is you],'” she recalled. “It was how she chose to portray that strong, yet vulnerable woman. And I think it’s a game changer and I think kids are going to look up to her and be like, ‘That is me. I can do anything. I can choose the course of my destiny.’ I think she just played it with such incredible strength and vulnerability at the same time, that was perfect.”

After the first trailer for the upcoming film was released, videos began circulating on social media that showed numerous Black girls “blind reacting” to the live-action trailer, which included a seconds-long glimpse at the new Ariel swimming under the sea and singing the “Part of Your World” song.

Bardem said that Bailey has more than Ariel’s spirit; she has an energy that’s impossible to miss. “She has this thing where you cannot take your eyes off her. She has this aura. She has this beautiful glimpse all over her that you are born with it or you’re not. And she has it,” he shared.

“Being around [Bailey], it is an experience and privilege, I think, to be in her glow,” McCarthy added. “Because she leads with kindness, she leads with integrity and I think we can’t shine the light on that more. Like, we need it.”

The Little Mermaid swims into theaters on May 26.


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