Going to Catalina for the day to talk to The Little Mermaid herself isn’t a bad gig if you can get it. Attending the DVD premiere of The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning on the island resort, just off the Long Beach, Ca. coastline, I feel rather swept up in the environ.
Fairly untouched by commercialism, Catalina is the perfect atmosphere for the delightful prequel to the enchanting Little Mermaid story, in which we meet Ariel long before she becomes a land lubber with her Prince Eric. Her underwater life is disrupted when her mother unexpectedly dies and her father, King Triton, so distraught, bans music from Atlantica forever.
The real treat is speaking with singer/actress Jodi Benson, who has given voice to the iconic mermaid princess from the very beginning, as well as Samuel Wright, who voices the original Sebastian, loyal servant crab to King Triton.
“It’s been life changing for me and my family,” Benson tells me. “It’s truly a gift from God, straight from Heaven and a wonderful opportunity to enjoy this fantastic character. I’m proud of [Ariel] and very protective of her. She’s in my blood.”
Is there something about Ariel we might not know? “You know everything about her because she wears her heart on her sleeve,” Benson explains. “She’s innocent, she’s pure, she’s loving. She is true to herself. She’s honest and passionate about her music and her family. And there’s nothing new you are going to find out about her in Ariel’s Beginning because she bares it all.”
There is one thing about Sebastian you might not know: He has 8,000 brothers and sisters, Wright informs me. “He’s a crab. They are everywhere!”
For both Benson and Wright, The Little Mermaid and all that it represents goes beyond just the glitz of it all. “I just got a call on my voicemail yesterday asking if I’d come see a child dying of a brain tumor,” Benson says. “Her entire room is decorated in Ariel and she wanted to see Ariel before she goes to Heaven. I mean, as hard as that is, you have to do it. It’s beyond all this, the red carpet and stuff. It’s great but it’s really about these kids and how it makes an impact on these kids.”
Judging by the children attending the screening, Jodi Benson is right. Every young face I see is grinning from ear to ear. And oh, if you want to know a very small tidbit about the upcoming Toy Story 3, Jodi Bensons leaks out her Barbie will now have her own Ken, voiced by Michael Keaton. Say what?
“Michael Keaton plays my Ken, yeah. But I can’t tell you anything else. I would have to be dead! Truly, I cannot tell you. But I have to say it’s a pretty dang good script.”