Mere Christians

Jodi Benson (Voice of Ariel in The Little Mermaid)

Episode Summary

The Little Mermaid on her faith, near suicide, and Disney-hate from the Church

Episode Notes

Jordan Raynor sits down with Jodi Benson, Disney Legend, to talk about how Jodi has responded to criticism of Disney from Christians, why Jodi thinks of ministry as less of what she does for a living and more of who she is while she’s doing what she’s doing, and how to spot where the Spirit is moving as you work.

Links Mentioned:

Episode Transcription

[00:00:05] JR: Hey, everybody. Welcome to the Mere Christians Podcast. I’m Jordan Raynor. How does the gospel influence the work of mere Christians? Those of us who aren’t pastors or religious professionals, but who work as judges, farmers, and air traffic controllers. That's the question we explore every week. Today, I'm posing it to Disney Legend, Jodi Benson. Best known, of course, for serving as the voice of Ariel in Disney's The Little Mermaid, and you may not know this, the voice of Barbie in Toy Story 2 and 3.


By the way, when I say Disney Legend, I mean that literally. This is an actual designation, an award bestowed upon Jodi for her lifetime of service to the Walt Disney Corporation. Jodi and I recently sat down to talk about how she's responded to criticism of Disney from fellow believers. We talked about why she thinks a ministry as less of what she does for a living, and more of who she is, while she's doing what she's doing. We had a terrific conversation about how to spot where the Holy Spirit is moving as we work. I am confident you're going to love this conversation with my new friend Jodi Benson.




[00:01:32] JR: Jodi Benson, welcome to the Mere Christians Podcast.


[00:01:35] JB: Good morning, Jordan, thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.


[00:01:39] JR: I was telling you before we started, I got three young daughters, seven, six, and two, and they were over the moon, over the moon excited about me hanging out with Ariel today.


[00:01:51] JB: That's awesome.


[00:01:52] JR: Were you the coolest mom ever? Did your kids think you were just amazing?


[00:01:56] JB: Well, it's kind of a funny situation. We have two kids, McKinley, our son is now 23, newly married, and our daughter, Delaney just turned 21. So, they're two years five months apart. So, you'd kind of think that I'd be a cool mom, which I am. But not for what I do. It's so funny, because they actually just kind of kept it hidden, and sort of private. But then, obviously, with work as they're traveling around with me all over because we homeschooled for 17 years so that we could travel together as a family and 35 to 40 trips a year, whatever. So, they kind of keep it on the down low. They really did, and sort of like, “This is my mom and that's kind of what she does for a living.”


But then it's funny as they got older, and they kind of figured out like, “Oh, other kids think this is really cool.” So, depending on what they needed, it would be like, “Mom, could you sign an autograph for my coach's daughter on my soccer team?” I think they kind of realized, and I would say to them, I said, “If this works for your advantage, then I'm happy to jump in. If it works to your disadvantage then, I'm just mom.” So, it was kind of a running joke.


[00:03:13] JR: I love that so much. I asked my girls this morning around the breakfast table, like, “Hey, you guys have any questions that you want to ask Ariel?” Kate, my six-year-old, she says, “Yeah, so hey, in the movie, you're singing the song all about wanting more, do you really want more? Or are you content because God tells us to be content?” I was like, “Oh, my gosh.”


[00:03:35] JB: There you go.


[00:03:36] JR: I love this kid so much.


[00:03:37] JB: That's a teachable moment.


[00:03:38] JR: So, clearly, we talk about contentment a lot in this house.


[00:03:42] JB: Well, clearly, you have poured it into your girls, what God's love is for them and what that means. That's awesome. That's a great answer. I love that. I love that question.


[00:03:53] JR: She’s great. Alright, Jodi, I didn't realize this until reading your phenomenal, I mean that, autobiography, Part of My World.


[00:04:02] JB: Oh, that's very sweet.


[00:04:02] JR: Yeah, it was great. You and Paige O'Hara?


[00:04:05] JB: Yeah, we go way back.


[00:04:06] JR: Yeah, I didn't realize that. So, she played Belle, for those who don't know in Beauty and the Beast.


[00:04:11] JB: Right. She's the speaking and singing voice of Belle.


[00:04:13] JR: You guys met really early, really early in your career, right?


[00:04:17] JB: Yeah, 1981. Yes, we met when she was doing a production of Oklahoma, The Broadway National Tour with my husband Ray, and they both were in that cast together. So, when Ray and I were dating, I went up to visit him in Toronto and I met Paige. There was like a little cast gathering afterwards with food and visiting and stuff, and I was just there for, I think, two nights. So, I got to meet her and we clicked. We just hit it off. She's like, “I've heard so much about you, from Ray. He talks about you all the time.” But it was really great because she just had a lot of great words of wisdom, and as a person of faith, just sharing and pouring into me as a 19-year-old, how to do this business and how to make it work, and we've been friends ever since.


[00:05:08] JR: Yeah, I thought it was really fascinating that you were the only two Disney Princesses to work with the great legendary Howard Ashman. For those who don't know, give us a quick summary of who Howard is and why he's so significant.


[00:05:22] JB: A quick one. That's hard. Well, he's brilliant. He was way ahead of his time, in every aspect of his giftedness and his talent. He thought way outside of the box and he was just unbelievable, as far as thinking about the big picture, but he was such a big dreamer that when he came to Disney, I mean, he changed the face of animation. I mean, he is the reason we had a second golden age of animation with The Little Mermaid. And Alan will be the first to tell you, Alan Menken, as well, because Howard brought Alan in on the project as his composer. Disney completely trusted Howard to say, “You create this team, and we're going to run with it.”


So, everything is really because of Howard. I had just done a Broadway show with him. I’d done “Smile” with him. So, he was my director on Broadway, and I worked with him for nearly three or four years on that project, and then jumped from that to Mermaid with him. Of course, he was the lyricist, and one of the executive producers, but not listed as a director. But Ron and John Ron Clements, and John Musker are directors for The Little Mermaid who are animators for Disney. They saw the relationship that Howard and I had, so they graciously and selflessly stepped aside, and let Howard really direct me for everything. So, he stood inside the recording booth, the studio with me inside, standing next to me. “Part of Your World” is Howard. I literally just imitated him on the song, and a lot of the dialogue is Howard's interpretation of it as well. So, I was just guided and directed by the best. I'm very thankful, both Paige and I are very thankful that we had that opportunity to work side by side with him.


[00:07:28] JR: There was this fascinating story in the book, I think you told the very first chapter about you and Howard, in that recording studio, trying to nail “Part of Your World” and the coaching he was giving. I love the application that you made there. Can you share that story with our listeners and kind of the feedback you were receiving from Howard in that room?


[00:07:50] JB: Well, I had never been behind a microphone before when I got The Little Mermaid. So, I had no idea what I was doing. So, walking into Los Angeles, flying from New York, and walking into the studio with the cast and the staff, and we did read-throughs, and then we started recording that day, between cast members with plexiglass to try to get the relationship and see that connection that we could have with each other as we're recording. But I had no idea what I was doing. I was petrified, completely inadequate, and incapable. And really kind of shaking my head, like, “Why did they cast me? I mean, I'm just way out of my league here.”


Howard, he just kept pouring into me going, “You can do this. You're going to be great. It's going to be great. You just have to let go. Really, you just kind of have to trust me and just sort of let go.” So, it was kind of like a huge leap of faith and I have always kind of battled being a perfectionist for most of my career. And Howard was a thousand times more of a perfectionist than I was. So, that was nice, that I didn't kind of have to worry about that because he could do it for me and fine-tune everything. But I think the biggest lesson that I learned from that experience was perfection wasn't necessary. Vulnerability and authenticity, and real connection is what made this film work and what made the scene work and what made the song work. And what makes Ariel work is being authentic and vulnerable and real, but not perfect.


So, the perfect pass did not exist. I think that was just a huge turning point in my career at that time working with Howard to have him say, “I don't want it to be perfect. I want you to stop singing.” I just didn't even understand that, “What do you mean?” He's like, “Stop performing. Like you're standing at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, on Broadway singing the song with projection and intention. Stop all of that. Just stop. I don't want that. That's not what's necessary here in this grotto. What I need from you is I need real connection and I need to hear Ariel's heart.” So, I just thought, “Gosh, that's really how God looks at us.” He's like, “I don't need you to be perfect. I just need you to be real. I need you to be vulnerable. I need you to let go and trust me. And I need a real connection with you, a real relationship, not a performance.” That was a very life-changing moment for me.


[00:10:40] JR: Yeah. I thought it was interesting. You talked about in the book, this like iconic song is not a perfectly sung song and it was intentional, right? It's almost like this breathy monologue-ish.


[00:10:54] JB: It is. And that's exactly what Howard said. He goes, “This is a monologue, this is not a song. Think of it as a monologue and you are just sharing your thoughts out loud, not necessarily to anyone, just out loud by yourself. And I want you to transition from dialogue into song without me knowing it.” So, it can be spoken, some lines are sung, some are breathy, some have vibrato, some are straight tone, some are pitchy, they're not the right pitch, and I know that was a sacrifice for Alan as well as the composer, to not hit every single note perfectly, which was way against my comfort zone as a vocalist. Especially coming from the stage, you hit every note and give it its full value, and you better not be sharp or flat.


Again, by the time – and I didn't listen to the passes in the studio. I think I went into the studio, in the engineer’s booth one time with Howard and everyone to listen to something, and then I just kind of looked at him. I'm like, “I'm done. This isn't good for me to be in here. You guys do you, I did my job, I'm going to let this go, and I'm going to go back to the hotel because I'll be here for the next four days nonstop redoing every single note because it's not perfect. But I'm going to leave. I'm going to go to the hotel. I'm going to let you guys do what you do best.”


[00:12:23] JR: No, but there's a picture here, right? There's a picture for the Christian life here you touched on it. But yeah, just going to work, doing our best, giving up perfectionism, and trusting God to take those imperfections, and make something beautiful, right out of them, right?


[00:12:40] JB: Yeah, He's going to take the ashes and the junk and the messiness, and He's going to do what He needs to do with it. And again, we don't necessarily see that end result here in our Earth suit, here on Earth. We don't need to. That's just not the point of it. It is a journey –


[00:12:58] JR: Part of faith.


[00:13:00] JB: Yeah, it's a journey and we don't need to be in control, and we're not supposed to be in control. So, obviously, my walk has changed drastically since I made a commitment to Jesus when I was 18. It's changed a lot and it should. It should be growth and progress. Not like, “Oh, I've reached the end of the line”, and I'm a much different believer now than I was when I was 18, and thank God for that.


[00:13:32] JR: Yeah, amen.


[00:13:32] JB: I think it's that concept of just, if I get out of the way, and I let God be God, let me just let Him do what He does best, then I don't have to worry about all the rest of it. It's really supposed to be a very simple life of freedom. I've made it very, very complicated.


[00:13:53] JR: Yeah, I think we all do. I think that’s the tendency of everybody. So, speaking of freedom, it reminded me of this story I don't want to forget. I want to come back to your conversion at 18. But first, there's this other Howard story in the book. I think it was my favorite story in the entire thing about when you were auditioning for this Broadway show called Smile, and you're on your fourth callback, which is absurd. Share that story with our listeners and what happened.


[00:14:27] JB: Yeah, I hadn't shared that story with anybody.


[00:14:31] JR: Really?


[00:14:31] JB: No, because it was just kind of a private thing between Howard and I, and I didn't want to make him feel uncomfortable. And I shared the story with his partner, Bill, in New York when I saw Bill a few years back, and I don't know why I shared it with him. And then I did share it with Bill and Bill said to me, “Howard came home from rehearsal that night, and he told me right when he walked in the door.” So, another day, another day of auditions and this particular day was another dance routine, we had just learned it, and we're out there just, oh my gosh, just learning this combination in the studio with the choreographer standing in front, and you rotate lines, so it was my turn to go in the front to the far right.


So, when you get moved to the front line, you better not be making any mistakes by that point. And of course, I did. I made a ton of mistakes. I had brain farts left and right. I was just overwhelmed, I think, and I allowed my nerves and possible frustration to get to me. So, right in the middle of it as I was doing the dance, I could see in the mirror, Howard get up from behind me with the long table where everybody was sitting. You got Marvin Hamlisch and Howard, and you've got the casting directors, you've got producers, you've got – oh, gosh, everybody's sitting at that big old table watching us.


So, I could see kind of in the reflection in the mirror him walking – getting up in the middle of it, walking around to the right, and heading towards the door, and I'm in the front line on the far right. He stops and he looks at me and he gives me this finger of like, “Come here.” And I'm like, “Oh, my gosh.” Right in the middle of while I'm doing my combination. It's my turn. I'm like, “Great. I'm cut. There we go. And we're done.” So, I'm trying to hold back my tears. Everybody's staring at me and I walked to the wall, I pick up my dance bag, and I'm like, “Great. We're out of here. We're done.” So, I grabbed my bag. I go outside, and he's around the corner in the hallway, but it's like a dead-end hallway, so it's pretty remote and private. He's just looking at me shaking his head. And I'm like, “I know. I know. I get it. I know you cut me and it’s fine.” I'm holding back tears, and I'm like, “I understand. I'm blowing it today. I’m just not in it. I'm not here today and I'm sorry and I totally understand.”


He's like, “What? I'm sorry, what are you saying, Jodi?” I said, “I know you're cutting me and it's totally fine. I understand that. So, thank you so much.” He takes his hands and he puts them on my shoulders and he looks at me. He goes, “No, sweetie, I'm not cutting you. I can't take this anymore. I can't bear this watching you go through this anymore. You've got the part of Doria, you've had the part of Doria, and I can't put you through this anymore.” And I just collapsed. I mean, I'm just like, “Ahh.” I'm like a noodle and he picks me up and I'm sobbing and he gave me a hug and I'm crying. He's like, “So now, I just want you to dry your tears. I want you to go back in there. I want you to have fun and you can't tell anybody I told you this.” I was like, “Okay. Okay.” I'm dry my tears, get my dance bag back on my shoulder, walk back in and go back in. Of course, everybody’s staring at me and everybody said, “What happened? What happened?” “Oh, nothing, nothing. We just had a little chat.” And that was it.


Well, he went home that night to Bill, and Bill had shared this story with me. He goes, “Jodi, he walked into the house and he was like, ‘How was rehearsal? How was auditions today?’ He goes, ‘You know what, I did something I've never done in my entire career, something completely unprofessional. I told Jodi that she got the part and I just couldn't bear to.” Bill just laughed and he's like, “What's the big deal?” He goes, “Well, it's very unprofessional, very unprofessional to do that.” But that showed such tremendous empathy and compassion, that that's who Howard was, and a lot of people didn't get to see that part of him. A lot of people were intimidated by him because he’s quiet, he's very introverted. So, his quietness comes off as being aloof, and standoffish, which is not who he is. He's just very shy. He's very quiet. So yeah, it's kind of an interesting story that really shows the heart of Howard.


[00:19:06] JR: Yeah, here's why bring it up. Not only does it show a beautiful heart of Howard, I think it's a really beautiful picture and analogy for the gospel. My listeners know where I'm going with this, because I just shared a similar analogy on the podcast a few weeks ago, but before you heard that you had got the part, you were a hot mess, right? You were a nervous wreck. But after you got the part, you went back to work, singing the exact same songs, doing the exact same dances, but I'm willing to bet your countenance was totally different.


[00:19:43] JB: Oh my gosh, yeah. Absolutely.


[00:19:45] JR: Is that not a picture of Christ, right? Like Christ has given us the verdict for our lives before our performance. He gives us applause before we go on the metaphorical or literal stage, and that should allow us to approach the work so much more freely, right?


[00:20:02] JB: Right. Yeah, and with peace? It was just the peace to know that I was enough. It was enough, and I was enough to be given this opportunity. It was huge. That was a huge day to be able to walk back in and just be able to breathe and do my best and have fun.


[00:20:23] JR: I think we can all do that in our work right now, because the God of the universe calls you an adopted child of God, right? That's the piece. That's the freedom we get. Hey, you mentioned your conversion at the age of 18. You're already into your career at the beginning of your career in musical theater at that point, right?


[00:20:42] JB: I had done my first professional job, actually, two – yeah, I had done two professional jobs by that point, yes.


[00:20:52] JR: And you said in the book, you recounted the story where you're talking to a friend, and you felt like committing to Christ would mean, “Making a lot of major changes to your life.” I'm curious, did you fear that that commitment to Christ possibly meant giving up musical theater?


[00:21:10] JB: Yes, I felt that one of the big changes I would have to make would be to leave the industry.


[00:21:17] JR: And what counsel did you get there?


[00:21:19] JB: The aspect of where I felt called to. I felt like I'd probably have to give that up. Yeah, it was a pastor and his wife, Juanita in California, where Ray had been going to church while he was out there doing the LA-based Broadway show of Dream Girls, and I just kind of had several meetings with them, just sitting down and visiting with them at their kitchen table, and that was the big thing that I was really concerned about. They said, “You know what, why do you think God would have given you all these gifts, and you've been using them, and doing what you've been called to do, to then turn around and take it away?” I just think I had a distorted sort of reality growing up, that God wasn't really a loving God, and that he would take away, take away things, according to my behavior and performance and things like that. So, I had to –


[00:22:24] JR: But their encouragement, their pastoral counsel was, “Yeah, you don't have to leave. Stay and just change the way you work.”


[00:22:30] JB: Yeah. They’re like, “You're going to stay on this same path. If he does shut a door, he's going to open another door, that's even going to be a better match for you. But it's more of the surrender. Are you willing to surrender?” And I think, it took me a while because I found that pretty frightening, that form of surrender sounded really scary to me.


[00:22:52] JR: Yeah. But thank God for that pastoral counsel. I don't think your story is unique. I've heard this story a thousand times before, of people who are on the cusp of that and thinking that following Jesus means giving up the very thing God created them to do. And I just don't see any biblical evidence of that. Sometimes that might be true. Sometimes somebody might – God might be calling you to change your vocation and location. But that is not a requirement for following Christ, right?


[00:23:20] JB: Right. Exactly. Like there was going to be that day making a commitment, and the very next day, changing everything in my life. So yeah, I think they were just saying it's more of a – we're going to take one step at a time, but you do need to surrender. And with that surrender comes tremendous freedom, and it's scary to jump off the cliff. All at the same time.


[00:23:44] JR: Yeah, but thank God that you continue down this path because you talk a lot in the book about Jesus' command that we be salt and light in the world. And how you've done that through your career, and there's some beautiful examples in the book. So just high-level question, how can musical theater or playing a character like Ariel, spread the salt and light of Christ in the world? What does that look like?


[00:24:10] JB: I don't know if it's necessarily what I do for a living that allows me to be light and salt as much as who I am as a person, just in and throughout what I do in my daily life. I think I've sort of – when we had the kids, I think we really embedded this concept within our family, that we wake up daily, we're going to join God in his work that he already has planned. We're going to be salt, light, and love today, in whatever that entails. Whether it's at the grocery store, whether it's in the neighborhood, whether it's at work, whether it's on the soccer field, and I think having the kids at that point in my life, as being an older mom, helped me to make the transition of what I do for a living doesn't matter as much as who I am within the work. I think that's where a big change happened for me was having the kids and realizing, it's who we are as people, whether I am standing on stage in front of 18,000 people at the Hollywood Bowl. The important thing, I think, for our family, and for me is I need to be the same Jodi wherever I am.


So, I need to be the same person that stands on stage with 18,000 people at the Hollywood Bowl. I need to be that person when I'm at the grocery store, here in our small town in North Georgia. And I need to be the same person at my kids’ events. Just being one. I just want to be one Jodi. I don't need to have many faces of Jodi. So, what I do for a living doesn't really matter. Obviously, God's platform can be one on one at the carwash, if that's what he chooses for the day, or in the multitude.


So, what God needed me to do was flip that script. Don't think that your platform is in the multitudes of people that you stand in front of. Yes, that's one form. God's like, “Yes, that's one place that I let you be light, salt, and love.”


[00:26:35] JR: Yes, and, I have to guess.


[00:26:37] JB: Yes, and, but this person over here, behind the scenes, your dresser or the person that brought you the water backstage, that's the God appointment I have for you this weekend. That's kind of what I found out over the last 40-plus years. When I'm looking for the God appointments, I don't want to miss an opportunity. So, if I have got my radar on Holy Spirit, let me be light, salt, and love to the appointments that you have scheduled. So, let's say I just got back from England last night. Within the weekend, I'm dealing with 300 people on an airplane for nine hours, and then I'm dealing with, let's say, 7,000 to 10,000 people at a convention weekend. But the God appointment was with the hotel clerk.


So, it's like, I just have to be willing and open and able to be light, salt, and love, wherever that is, and then I don't have to worry about that. Because God's like, there was a person on the airplane yesterday that as we went to the baggage claim, he's like, “You just have a really light and positive energy about you.” So, you’re kind of going, “Okay, God, I see where you're working here.” It's not always in the ways that we think. I don't think God works in the box that we put him in. His picture is so much bigger. But I can't miss those opportunities. I just have to flip that script to realize those God appointments are usually not the ones I think they're going to be.


[00:28:21] JR: Yeah, it's really good. So, how do you spot them? Go back to the hotel clerk this past weekend. How did you know, or maybe you didn't, maybe you just leaned into it in faith, right? But how do you spot the God appointments from the seeming distractions? Or is there no such thing?


[00:28:39] JB: I think my focus has to be Holy Spirit, let me join you in your work today. Let me be light, salt, and love, and please don't let me miss any opportunities. If I say that prayer in the morning, then I don't have to worry about it. So, what I need to do is say hello to the hotel clerk. “How are you doing today?” “Well, thanks for asking. I'm actually getting off my shift and it's 7 AM.” “Oh, so you work on the night shift?” “Oh, yeah, I do.” I said, “Well, that's awesome. We appreciate you. I bet you're ready to have a day off, aren't you?”


So, then I'll see him the next day and, “How are you doing?” “Thank you so much. And thanks for your kindness and thank you for asking me how I'm doing.” Those kinds of little things. I'm like, “Okay, God, just let him know that he's appreciated.” “Well, thank you so much for all your hard work this weekend. I know it's been a really crazy weekend here at the hotel and just really, really appreciate that.” Or the transportation guy that arranges all of our cars and transportation for everybody that's involved in this convention. We kind of clicked and had a kind relationship and I think I stopped by his station every morning and every night, checking on him, “How are you doing? How much sleep did you have last night? You're amazing. I can't believe all that you're doing. We really appreciate that.” I'm not doing anything big. I'm literally just saying hello and checking in with people and I’m trying to just be kind.


[00:30:01] JR: But that is big.


[00:30:02] JB: But that might be the only connection. And he said to me when I left yesterday, he goes, “You're my favorite from this weekend.” I was like, “James, I know we're good buddies. You and me, James. We really connected, didn't we?” “No, Jodi. I really” – and of course, I'm a hugger. So, I hug everybody, even though I'm wearing my mask, and staying safe for work, and for my family. I'm a big hugger. And a lot of these people, nobody touches them. So, I'm giving them a hug. I said, “I'm coming in for a hug, James. Coming in to hug you.” And we'll chit-chat. And he goes, “You're my favorite.” And I said, “Well, you know what, James, you're an amazing guy. You're an amazing guy.” So, it's not a big deal.


[00:30:44] JR: It’s not a big deal.


[00:30:44] JB: It's just being kind, recognizing people and their gifts and their talents. Because the man at the hotel, and the man that's arranging our transportation, they're just as important as the celebrities that were there this weekend, if not more so. In God's kingdom –


[00:31:02] JR: Image bearers. Absolutely.


[00:31:03] JB: In God’s kingdom, the person that's cleaning my hotel room, changing towels for me, is just as important as the producer of the event. So, that's how I see people. I see people as they're all important. There's not some kind of level.


[00:31:22] JR: Amen. Yeah, I think it was interesting speaking of service professions, even though you have this very much celebrity brand, you even take this approach of service in the way you do your work. I was reading the book, you've sung “Part of Your World”, what? Once a week for like, three decades, something like that?


[00:31:41] JB: Yeah, probably like twice a week, I would imagine since ‘86, maybe, something like that.


[00:31:47] JR: But I thought it was fascinating because you said you always sing it the way the audience wants to hear it, right? And I think a lot of artists, I know, at least, view their work very much as a means of self-expression, you seem to be thinking of it as service first. Talk a little bit more about that. Talk about your philosophy here.


[00:32:09] JB: I feel, for me, that the most important thing was singing “Part of Your World”, is to trigger your experience from the first time you saw the film, and I need to respect Howard, and it keeps Howard's memory alive. I need to sing it the exact way that I recorded it with Howard, which is the exact interpretation that he wanted of his song. That's my job. My job is to not, for me to freshen it up or interpret it differently, it's just respectful, in my opinion.


[00:32:40] JR: Yeah, it's just serving the work. It's serving others before you serve yourself.


[00:32:43] JB: Yes. And it's keeping Howard's memory alive. And then I recognize him every time I sing it and I'm just the middle person. It doesn't originate from me, and it doesn't end from me, and it doesn't get created for me. I'm literally the vessel in between. So, when it comes to this song, I'm the vessel of the gifts that Howard had, poured into me, came through me for people to enjoy.


[00:33:11] JR: Doesn't this belief that your talent is a gift that has been given to you by God?


[00:33:19] JB: Yeah.


[00:33:19] JR: Doesn't that give you a higher standard for excellence in the craft and stewardship of the craft? Talk about that for a minute.


[00:33:27] JB: Absolutely. It is stewardship. I mean, God's given me a gift that He's given me and He can choose to take it away. I was born with my voice, I'm a firm believer that you can't learn to sing. You are born with a voice and then you can fine-tune it, and you can coach and you can train and you can manipulate it, but you cannot teach someone how to sing. You can't. People say, “Oh, can you teach this person? Can this person learn to sing?” I’m like, “Are they tone-deaf?” Because if they're tone deaf –


[00:33:58] JR: Right. Not a great starting point.


[00:33:59] JB: – you really can't learn how to sing if you're tone deaf. You either can match pitch or you can't. So, don't mess up with that. Just look at the giftedness that God has birthed you with, natural giftedness. And I came out of the womb singing, so it's a natural God-given gift that I then started to have training when I went to college. I had experiences in high school. I had experiences in grade school, but I didn't have formal training. I had coaching. Once you have the gift, then you can expand it and you can really fine-tune it.


[00:34:44] JR: Jodi, you said in the book that the highest point of your career, mermaid, also coincide with the lowest point of your life. Your marriage is in trouble. What was going on? Just give us a quick summary of what was going on there during your meteoric rise professionally.


[00:35:01] JB: I think Mermaid was a huge surprise because we, as voice actors, were not really going to be focused on. It was going to be more like it was with Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, classics where you just run the film credits at the end, and the only way you would know back in the day would be to stop your VHS and figure out who's who. So, that's the way it was going to be, which is why I just recorded it and went back to New York and moved on with life. It's like it's a one-and-done. No one's ever going to know, really, except for some family and friends, and just disappear and keep on doing what I was doing, eight shows a week.


So, during the screening process, I think Disney was completely blown away with the critics and how they were responding to this film. Before the film was released, in November, it would have been probably like, end of September, beginning of October, I get a call saying, “We're going to send you on this press tour. You're going to hit 22 cities in 20 days.” I'm like, “What, why?” “Well, we're going to make this connection. We're going to send you out and people are going to know.” So, that just kind of took me by surprise, huge surprise.


Then when the film came out, and People Magazine did a spread, and then all of a sudden it was like this huge shift. Because then it was the TV and film industry kind of knew who I was, as far as the voiceover goes, and then I started to work on Thumbelina, pretty much immediately after the film came out. I hadn't even auditioned for Thumbelina, but I get a call from Warner Brothers’ Don Bluth. “Barry Manilow wants you to be Thumbelina. Would you come?”


So, it just started to shift and change very, very quickly. And in the midst of all this wild season, my husband and I were really struggling in our marriage, and a lot of it had to do with abandonment issues with my dad when I was 11, and 12, and that divorce. I really hadn't dealt with any of my issues and my baggage during that time. So, I pretty much went from having my family to having my family collapse, to my mom and I living on our own, to going to college, having a college experience, to dating Ray, then to getting married. There was really no season that I took to work on myself at all and my junk. So, that junk comes to the surface. It definitely does. And I don't think it had much to do with our marriage as much as it had to do with just me, and I couldn't do me within the marriage, and I just kind of spiraled.


I really spiraled to the point of just wanting to take my life. I wanted everything to end. I was done. It was at the time in ‘89 and ‘90 into ‘91 when this was all happening. So, it was just the most challenging time to have my career at this all-time crazy high, but my personal life at an all-time crazy low. I think I felt like a hypocrite doing press and publicity and talking about things in the meantime when my life was falling apart. So, it was a really hard season, and I had some wonderful Godly counsel that poured into me. We separated for those 18 months and I actually lived with my animator, Glen Keane, and his wife and kids. They took me in, and the healing process had started at that point. But at that point when I was living with them is when I was really done and wanted to take my life. And there was one night, I had an encounter with God. I'm just like, “I'm done.” He's like, “I'm not done with you. I'm not done with you. You got to hang in there because I'm going to get you through this.” And I'm like, “I just don't see a way out. I really don't.” That night, I just cried out. I said, “I can't do this anymore.” God was like, “You know what, you're right. You can't do this anymore. But I can do this through you, if you'll give me a chance.”


[00:39:41] JR: Amen.


[00:39:42] JB: So, I held on and lived with Glen and Linda during those three months and got into some serious counsel and really started working on me and my stuff, and my fears and my abandonment, and just that stuff that I had been stuffing for all those years, finally came to the surface.


[00:40:07] JR: Well praise God for you, leaning into the Lord's calling your life in those moments. He's redeemed your marriage, it appears from the outside looking in, you have a thriving marriage and relationship with your kids. And it's clear that the Lord had a lot more good works prepared for you to do professionally. In 2011, you were named Disney Legend. You've been doing these candlelight processionals at Epcot all the time. And one of the things that really stood out to me in all of that, is you using all of that pain for good, never renouncing Christ, always using your platform to talk about your faith in a pretty open way. I got to say, some of those times it's on Disney company's dime, which is wild, that you could talk about your faith at something like the candlelight processional, and they keep inviting you back.


[00:40:58] JB: Yeah, I know.


[00:40:59] JR: Why do you think that is? Because I know a lot of our listeners want to be bolder for the gospel at work, but feel that they'll be ostracized because – why do you think Disney keeps inviting you back even though you're open about your faith?


[00:41:11] JB: I think my faith is entwined, obviously, in who I am. It's the biggest part of me. And it's the reason I am who I am and I've never hidden that. So, we're talking – I've been doing this since I was 18. It's never been hidden. My agents have always known the projects I can't do and things that I pass on and my agents are either agnostic, atheists, or Jewish, and I've never had a problem with it.


So, I think because it's just who I am, Disney has never had a problem with it. They have never – my bosses, all the different divisions I work with, no one has ever asked me to change who I am and that's just been God. I mean, it's never been an issue. When I was doing a press tour for a rerelease of our film when we would go in the vault for seven years, and then we come back out. And during that time, there was the SBC, Southern Baptist Convention boycott.


[00:42:18] JR: I'm glad you brought this up. I wanted to bring this up.


[00:42:20] JB: I was raked over the coals during that press tour and it was Michael Eisner, my boss, who's Jewish, who said to me, “You just be you, Jodi.” I remember calling him and asking him, “I don't know what to do. God has called me to be here, with your company, here at Disney, and I am getting attacked from every which way on this press tour. I'm so tired.” He's like, “Jodi, you just be you. Just be you.” “Mike, do you want me to say anything differently? Do you want to put somebody else on the tour? Should I just get quiet?” And he's like, “No.” That's my Jewish boss. So, it's pretty amazing. That was a really painful season, really painful.


And then recently, in Phoenix, I was at an event in front of several thousand people, and the producer of the event makes sure that when the Q&A comes up, they asked the person before they get to the mic to give their question so that we can be aware, that I can be aware of what I'm walking into, and so everything was prescreened. And a woman who was faith-based lied to the producers with her question, and she switched it when she got up to the mic to put me in the hot seat and had to put the mic down for a second. I had to pray under my breath. I had a decision. I either say, “Thank you, ma'am, so much. I won't be able to answer your question today. May I have the next question, please?” Or I'm going to go ahead and answer. Basically, she's like, “How can you do this? How can you stand for a company that does A, B, C, D, E, F, G?” And again, I just pray to my God, I don't know how I’m going to answer this question. But I've got several thousand people staring at me right now with their phones up, the Internet. Here we go.


I basically said, “You know what, I am called to be light and salt every day. My job is to love others well, period.” That's it. Love others well. I don't categorize who those people are that I love well. I said, “Because I am not called to judge. Judge not lest I be judged. So, if I put out judgment, it's going to come back 100-fold to me. And I am not called to be God. That is not my job. But I'm called to be here today, representing my film and our company, and to love all of you well, period. That's my answer to your question.” So, it was just like, “Man, here we go”, but I just shared this with one of my bosses at Disney who's a believer, and he's like, “Jodi, how do you do it? How do you do it?” And I shared that with him. I said, “Honey”, I said, “We're just called to love. We are not called to judge. That really isn't the position and I want to do that well. I want to do that well.”


So anyways, it's an interesting journey. Sometimes I wish I wasn't in that position. There are days I wish I could stay reclusive. But again, that's not what God's called me to do.


[00:45:49] JR: Can I give you some encouragement, and then hopefully an encouragement to our listeners who are working in dark? The whole world is dark. The whole world is dark. Sure, you want to talk about the SBC, right? SBC can't be pointing fingers right now of places to work that are dark. Hebrews 13:12 says, “And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate, to make the people holy through his own blood.” Jesus could have come to earth and worked as a priest, apparently, in the supposedly clean house of the Lord. Instead, he worked outside the city gates, outside the temple, as a carpenter, where I'm sure he was tempted to sin more than he would have been working inside the temple. But we are called with Jesus outside the city gates to work in dark places. Why? Because he called us to be salt and light and that's what you're doing, Jodi.


[00:46:45] JB: And also, not to like, what comes to my mind is God's like, are you going to hide your light under a bushel? Because you want to have self-preservation or cancel culture, which is huge right now. And I do, I've got my haters, just like everybody's got their haters. I got hated on yesterday. I hate social media, but I have to do it for work and I have to do it for various things. I try my absolute best to run everything by the people that matter to me to say, “Is this loving? Is this kind? Is this inclusive?” Of course, obviously, with this book, I never wanted to write this book and I'm sure that Tyndale has told you that. But I said no, many times. And they kept coming back and I said, no. When they came back, they said, “If we were to tell you that one person would be encouraged by your stories”, because it's not an autobiography. It's not a memoir. It's just a mishmash of like 24 little stories of where God intervened in my mess, and all the mistakes that I've made.


So, my publisher, Sarah was like, “Okay. If I were to tell you one person was going to be encouraged, and one person would make one less mistake that you did, by reading this book, would you do it? And I went, “Okay, I'll do it.”


[00:48:05] JR: Well, thank God you did.


[00:48:06] JB: But it was against my desires. Let’s put it that way.


[00:48:08] JR: I hear you. Well, I'm so glad you did it.


[00:48:11] JB: I don't need more cancel culture. I don't need more haters in my life. I don't need another death threat. I don't need that. Who wants that? Nobody wants that. But if one person will be encouraged by this little collection of stories is what I – I don't even call it a book. I really just call it a little collection of stories that you can pick up, one day, and read a little story, and maybe feel like, “Oh, I think I'm going to try that.” Or, “Oh, I wonder if God looks at my little mess like that, and maybe I'll give that a shot.” If I can help somebody get from point A to point C without having to go through the hell of point B, then it will have been worth it.


[00:48:54] JR: Amen. Jodi, three questions, 10-second answers each because I know we're both short on time. Are you ready?


[00:48:59] JB: 10 seconds? That’s so stressful, Jordan.


[00:49:02] JR: Rapid fire. 30 seconds. 30 seconds.


[00:49:03] JB: I’m not good with –


[00:49:03] JR: It’s more stressful than a Howard Ashman audition. Here we go. Which books do you recommend or gift most frequently to others?


[00:49:13] JB: Well, a Bible is great. I love that.


[00:49:18] JR: Sunday School answer.


[00:49:18] JB: I have to be careful about that, though. I think the devotional book of Jesus Calling has always been an encouragement to me, and I feel like that has an opportunity to encourage anyone even though the title might be a little off-putting to some folks.


[00:49:38] JR: It's a good answer. We've heard that here before.


[00:49:39] JB: I know. Mere Christianity is pretty powerful for, I think, anyone. I feel like, it can be encouraging to anyone. So, that's kind of what comes to my mind.


[00:49:52] JR: That’s great. Those are good answers. Who would you want to hear on this podcast, a Christian not working inside of a church, working outside the four walls of a church, who would you want to hear talking about how the gospel shapes their work?


[00:50:03] JB: Oh, gosh, I have no idea. That's impossible for me to answer.


[00:50:05] JR: How about Glen Keane?


[00:50:07] JB: Well, yeah, I love getting to hear his story. He and Mark Henn, both of my animators are faith-based believers that I think Mark and Glen both have incredibly powerful stories.


[00:50:20] JR: I'm going to reach out to Glen. I think he'd be amazing.


[00:50:23] JB: My boss at Disney Character Voices who's about to jump into a retirement season. Rick Dempsey, I think he has an amazing story of how God has brought him to Disney, and he's been there for 30 plus years, as long as I have, I think, to hear the stories that he's experienced. But I was just trying to think of somebody outside of my realm at Disney, of like, “Who would I want to hear from?” But I know I already took my 30 seconds.


[00:50:52] JR: The Disney people are great. I love that. All right, last question, Jodi, what's one thing you want to reiterate to our listeners before we sign off?


[00:50:58] JB: Don't worry about being perfect. God can handle our messiness. We come to Him messy, and we come to Him daily, in our imperfect form, and that's enough for Him. I think what He's looking for is to have that connection with us and to talk to Him throughout the day. Just talk to Him all day long, verbally out loud, talking to yourself, it feels like. But I love my car rides when I'm alone because I talk out loud with God during that time and He loves that. I feel like He really enjoys that relationship of communication, in the silliness, in the big stuff, in the little stuff, it doesn't matter, in the messy stuff.


When I get in the car, I might cry or laugh out loud or yell, get a big fat yell going, on something. Just going, “What are you doing? Help me understand this!” But I do love my quiet car rides because it's a place where I am alone, and no one can hear me. I also have a closet that has a lock on the door. And during those homeschool years, that was highly used, when mom would take her time out, they'd knock on the door, “How's it going?” I say, “Mommy's in a timeout, I'll be right there.” And that door would be locked and I'd be in there on my knees just crying. “God, I can't do this. I cannot do this. I can't do chemistry. I can't do algebra. I don't know what I'm doing.” He's like, “But I do. All I need you to do is be a willing and open vessel. I don't need you to have the knowledge, because I'm going to give you the knowledge. I'm going to pour it through you. Just be obedient and jump in and do your best and I got you. I got you.”


Both kids graduated from high school, Summa Cum Laude. I mean it's crazy, and scholarships with colleges in their first choices and that's all God, that's not me. That's not me. That's God. Our son graduated from SCAD as a filmmaker Summa Cum Laude with a 4.0. I mean, come on. That is not me. That is God in and through me. So, he's like, if you just – sorry. “If you just can be a willing, an open vessel, I can do extraordinary things through ordinary people.”


[00:53:21] JR: Amen.


[00:53:21] JB: And you know what, I'm a living testimony of that. I mean, come on. There's no way that I could be a homeschool mom for 17 years while I was working full-time. I mean, that's God. Really, there's no reason that our kids should be functioning and successful when they just were stuck with us as human parents. But God's like, “Do you love your kids? Then you can do this job. If you love your kids, I got the rest.” And that was a daily walk, man. So, I think I just want to encourage the listener that God can do extraordinary things through ordinary people who surrender their life to Him. It's a journey, and it's a ride of a lifetime, and I don't want to miss any of it. I'm old, I'm 60 years old. I've been through the journey since walking with Him at 18. And I can tell you, it's sweeter and it's more amazing than I could have ever dreamt at the age of 18, that I could have ever dreamt that life is like now. I'm excited to see what He's got in store for the next 20-plus years, whatever God gives me here on this earth. But I do want to make the most of every day. I don't want to miss anything. I don't want to miss what He has in store and so He calls me to keep that relationship and keep talking to Him every day. If I keep doing that, I'm on the right track and I'm not going to miss those opportunities with Him.


[00:55:01] JR: Amen. Jodi, I just want to commend you for the exceptional work you do for the glory of God and the good of others. For using your story, even the dark stuff, even the painful stuff in your past to point people to Christ. Thank you for honing your craft, as a means of serving others and for simply bringing joy to the world, in a God-honoring way that brings people pleasure and more importantly, brings joy to the heavenly father who's giving you these incredible gifts to steward.


Guys, I seriously cannot recommend this book highly enough. It was, let's say, top three books I've read this year so far. I thought it was extraordinary. It's called, of course, Part of My World, and it is out September 13th. Jodi, thank you so much again for joining us today.




[00:55:51] JR: Man, I loved that episode. I had a dozen questions, not dozen questions, I think. I had a lot stored in this brain here. So good. I wish we could have gone many, many layers deeper on the SBC controversy and Disney boycotts that I grew up around early on. But hey, if you loved that episode, and you've got somebody in mind who would be a great guest, I want to hear about it. Go to and recommend somebody for the show. Guys, thank you so much for tuning in to the Mere Christians Podcast. I'll see you next week.