by Edwin L. Carpenter, Editor – The Dove Foundation
Actress and singer Jodi Benson, the voice of Princess Ariel in the Academy Award winning Disney film “The Little Mermaid,” as well as the voice of Tour-Guide Barbie in “Toy Story 2,” plays a secretary in the big Disney hit, “Enchanted”, due to be released by Walt Disney Video on March 18. Jodi has a prolific resume in which she has received a Tony Award and was nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for creating the starring role of Polly in the Broadway Gershwin musical “Crazy for You.” She also has performed in other Broadway roles as well as voicing a lot of various characters in several movies. She gave life to the spirited Weebo in Disney’s live action “Flubber” movie, starring Robin Williams.
Yet it doesn’t take long when speaking with Jodi and you realize that her spiritual life and family are her top priorities. She has been quoted in her bio as giving thanks and praise to God for her family, friends, and for her loving husband Ray, and her precious children; son McKinley and daughter Delaney.
Jodi conveyed these warm qualities in a recent interview with Dove. We told her that we had seen the “Enchanted” film at an early screening, and that the response was terrific. She was pleased to hear it. “Well good, I’m excited. I haven’t gotten to see it yet!”
“We’re down in Georgia, so I haven’t been able to go to the L.A. screenings,” she said. “And we didn’t have any screenings down in my neck of the woods. So, it will be very exciting for all of us to go see it.” (She has seen the film now following our interview with her).
Dove asked Jodi if she enjoyed filming “Enchanted.” “I had a lot of fun,” she said. “I’ve never done a film (live action) and it was tons of fun. Both Patrick and Amy (Patrick Dempsey and Amy Adams) were very delightful and kind to me and let me have my first experience, making a lot of mistakes” she laughed. “I really had a great time. I got to work with everybody for a couple or three days and it was really fun.”
We sidetracked for a moment, asking Jodi about working in another Disney film, “Toy Story 2”, in which she not only plays the Tour-Guide Barbie in a toy store, but also shows up in the “blooper” reel, even though her character was animated. We asked if she got to work with Tom Hanks or Tim Allen while doing the recording of the voices.
“No,” she said. “I just worked with John Lasseter, our director. In ‘Mermaid’ I got to work with the rest of the cast. By the time we got to ‘Toy Story 2’ you’re pretty much on your own. The whole group casting thing, was non-existent by that point.”
“You pretty much went in, knowing your character and what you wanted to do?” we asked. “No, actually John Lasseter created all of that. We just played in the studio and really had a great time. He writes the line while you’re standing there at the mike! It’s very spontaneous” she said.
Dove next asked Jodi what she liked best about the various modes of entertainment she has done. “Well, voiceover, you get to be completely uninhibited and free; you just have tons of fun and don’t really have to worry about any of the other package. Doing concerts—that’s really enjoyable to get to work with the audience and have a good time with them on the stage, it’s live and being involved in music is wonderful. They’re all really great in their own right. I enjoy them all equally.”
We asked Jodi if she planned to act in some other films following her debut in “Enchanted.” “Oh gosh, I don’t know!” she laughed. “I guess it’s up to somebody hiring me. This was totally Kevin Lima’s (director) idea as sort of a joke to have some of the princesses in the movie. I didn’t audition for it. They just called and said, ‘Hey, do you want to do this?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, it sounds like a blast. I’ve never done a movie.’ If something comes out of it that’s a blessing—if not, that’s okay too. I mean I had a great experience.”
Speaking of the blessings, Dove asked Jodi if it had been a challenge for her to maintain her Christian commitment as she has worked in the entertainment industry. “It hasn’t been for my husband and I over the last twenty five years. It really hasn’t. I mean yes, you turn things down, you turn things down a lot, but it doesn’t hurt when you do that. And nobody’s ever gotten angry or upset, or anything like that. If anything, they’ve always been kind of like, ‘Oh, that’s cool, good for you if you just don’t feel comfortable with that’, so it’s really been a huge blessing. We feel like everything that we’ve done has been a gift from the Lord, and He’s really ordained every step of the way– what we’re supposed to be a part of. We keep our priorities straight and it seems like the Lord provides. We’re very thankful.”
Conversely, we asked Jodi how she felt her faith in God had influenced others in a positive way. “Well, you know you hope that you can just be light and salt wherever you go and I do hear people that say, ‘I read about you in this article’ or ‘I’ve heard you say this and so I tried to adopt that for myself as well’, so you’re trying to inspire the other people that are around you, and I’m hoping that we’re able to do that with young people, that they can kind of stand strong and not be fearful about the decisions that they need to make—so we’re hoping that we can be an influence.”
Dove asked Jodi if she was currently working on “The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning”. “Yes. Oh is that what it’s called– ‘Ariel’s Beginning’? Oh, that’s pretty! Yeah, I haven’t heard that yet. We just call it ‘Mermaid 3’ because we didn’t know it had a name yet. So ‘Ariel’s Beginning’? That’s a good name—I like that one!”
“I think they’re animating it right now. Then we’ll come in and do our final ADR (looping) touch-ups and add and subtract the final product and it should be out in the summer time.”
We asked Jodi as she watches her work and listens to the character voices if she ever thinks, ‘Hmmm….that’s an interesting choice the director made, to use that one.’ “Oh yeah!” she replied, “Oh yeah! In ‘Mermaid’ I did that a lot–That’s a very interesting choice that Howard (Ashman) picked on that one. But you know what, their choices have always been strong and good, it’s not that I disagree—they go maybe in a different direction than I would have thought. That’s why I’m not the director.”
We asked Jodi who had influenced her work. “I’m a big Barbara Streisand fan,” she said. “And a huge Julie Andrews fan. I like their well-roundedness, that they can do everything. Those were the kinds of ladies that I wanted to follow—thinking, ‘Hmmm…they’re really smart, they can act, they can sing. They seem like they’re pretty sharp business people, picking the right kinds of projects—not picking other types of projects.” In fact, Julie Andrews does some narration in the movie “Enchanted.”
“The first time I got to meet her was awesome, just absolutely awesome,” said Jodi. “To meet her in person and just tell her how much I have appreciated her work and how much she’s influenced me.”
“What can you tell us about yourself that might surprise our readers?” we asked Jodi.
“Let’s see. I don’t listen to music!” she laughed. “If I’m ever in the car by myself, which isn’t very often, I like it to be silent. I don’t like music that has somebody singing—or lyrics, because I start to analyze and sing along and evaluate it, and correct and critique the vocal technique. So when I listen to music it has to just be orchestral. It’s such a part of my life that my jaw starts to lock and it becomes very stressful. So when I do listen to music, it’s orchestral classical, with nobody singing!”
In drawing our interview to a close, Jodi referred again to “Enchanted,” and what drew her to it. “I like happy endings,” she said. “I really do. Of course as a mom I’m always looking at films and so my first question was, ‘What’s it going to be rated?’ and ‘Can I take my children to it?’ So, I was really excited when they said it was going to be a family movie for the holiday season. So we’ve got the kids here with us and we’ll all get to walk the red carpet and go to the premiere.”
Jodi said her future plans include finishing her work on “Mermaid” and performing in concerts once a month. She travels and sings with various symphonies. “And I work for Cartoon Network,” she added. “I’m home schooling my two kids, and that’s it!”
We hope you catch Jodi on DVD in “Enchanted” soon. It is wholesome, funny, and a great way to spend a couple of hours.
Read Dove’s Review of “Enchanted“