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Jodie Benson as Ariel with Flounder in Little Mermaid

Disney has been plunging into the deep end of reimagining their animated classics for live-action over the past few years and 1989’s The Little Mermaid is next in line. Last week, 19-year-old singer/actress Halle Bailey was cast as Ariel to an outpouring of mixed responses. Now, the original voice of the sea princess Jodie Benson has weighed in the announcement as well. Here’s what she said:

I think that the spirit of a character is what really matters. What you bring to the table in a character as far as their heart, and their spirit, is what really counts. And the outside package — cause let’s face it, I’m really, really old — and so when I’m singing ‘Part of Your World,’ if you were to judge me on the way that I look on the outside, it might change the way that you interpret the song. But if you close your eyes, you can still hear the spirit of Ariel.

The main source of resistance over Halle Bailey’s casting has been regarding her skin color. Angry fans of the original animated film feel let down that the live-action version of the character will not resemble the one they grew up with (although smart money says Bailey will still have red hair.) But Jodi Benson brings up a great point here: Bailey’s ability to embody the spirit of the iconic teen mermaid to the big screen is really what matters.

Jodi Benson continued to support the new Little Mermaid take with these words (via The DisInsider):

We need to be storytellers. And no matter what we look like on the outside, no matter our race, our nation, the color of our skin, our dialect, whether I’m tall or thin, whether I’m overweight or underweight, or my hair is whatever color, we really need to tell the story. And that’s what we want to do, we want to make a connection to the audience. So I know for Disney that they have the heart of storytelling, that’s really what they’re trying to do. They want to communicate with all of us in the audience so that we can fall in love with the film again.

Do we really want to see a shot for shot rerun of the animated classic many of us have already memorized anyway? The way director Rob Marshall decides to reimagine the beloved film and the talent of the cast should be the main focus, as Jodi Benson shared. When Halle Bailey’s casting was announced, Marshall described the choice to her “rare combination of spirit, heart, youth, innocence, and substance” and that’s without mentioning her Grammy-nominated singing voice in her duo Chloe x Halle.

Hailey Bailey has been a series regular on Freeform’s Grown-ish and the network recently stood by her side amidst the backlash by penning an open letter to the poor unfortunate souls against her. The first non-white actress to portray Ariel on a major stage also said kind words, reminding her that “there’s more support than there is hatred”.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Terry Crews has hilariously campaigned to play King Triton, Ariel’s dad. And while Halle Bailey is the only actress to be officially announced in the live-action Little Mermaid, reports said Melissa McCarthy is in talks to play Ursula, Crazy Rich AsiansAwkwafina as Scuttle the seagull and Room’s Jacob Tremblay as Flounder.

Rob Marshall has brought three widely successful movie musicals to life: Chicago, Into the Woods and Mary Poppins Returns. He’ll also have Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s original songs to play with, along with Lin-Manuel Miranda and Menken crafting additional songs as well. The script is written by X-Men writer Jane Goldman and Mary Poppins Returns’ David Magee.

No release date has been announced but production is set to begin in early 2020. It’s nice to see the original Ariel give the casting choice her stamp of approval! What do you think? Are you excited for the new Little Mermaid? Sing your song in the comments.

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