After All…Or, Happy 50th, Small World!

“There’s so much that we share that it’s time we’re aware… It’s a small world after all.”  – Richard and Robert Sherman

 

small world

“it’s a small world” at Disneyland

It’s the ride and song people love to mock and say they hate. It’s the valley of the dolls in the Happiest Place on Earth. It’s the attraction people most fear getting stuck on. So much so, in fact, that many refuse to ride it. It’s the song that has at times been used as a punchline in Disney movies itself.

It’s also the first attraction we took our daughter on when she visited Disneyland for the first time. It’s the ride that I find myself wanting to do at least once every day of my trip. It’s a song that has shaped not just my philosophy on why I love to write about Disney, but thoughts on life itself.

Yes, we have our differences. But we all have hopes and fears, excitements and disappointments. And I believe in lifting each other up, encouraging, and helping others to smile within the darkness we feel at times. We’re human, and need to treat each other accordingly. I feel that in reaching out to our fellow human beings, we’re helping ourselves as much as each other. Be positive. Learn to look past our differences to love each other. We may not agree on things, but perhaps…there’s some common ground. The mountains may divide us; the oceans may separate us. But in this day and age especially, the world is getting smaller and smaller in terms of communicating and reaching our fellow human beings.  When I think of the song in those terms, when I ride a boat through various countries and see smiling, happy children… I believe the world CAN be better.

There’s a video that I love watching to this day of songwriter Richard Sherman, beginning the song as originally intended – as a ballad. It really drives home the lyrics for me, and many times brings a tear to my eye:

This, to me, is the perfect example of the mastery of the Sherman Brothers’ music in score and lyric. As the story goes, the original concept was for the children of each country to sing their own national anthem. However, on a boat ride, the overlapping songs made for a jumbled, Tower of Babel-esque mess. How beautiful and symbolic for these two to come up with a melody and infusion of lyrics that would carry from room to room regardless of the language in which it was delivered!

A couple years back, upon the passing of Robert Sherman, his son (and co-director of “The Boys: The Sherman Brothers Story”) wrote the following in memoriam of his father:

“From the time the ride opened, it was a tradition for the Bob Sherman family to always go on “It’s a Small World,” every time we visited Disneyland. Dad would be on the boat, but he never took in the ride. He’d watch the children’s faces. Dad studied their awe and wonder and loved that, by the end of the ride, these kids would know the words and be singing along. He’d always tear up.

Dad told me he wished he could just stand at the end of that ride and shake everyone’s hand as they stepped off the boat. He wanted to thank each person for listening, for taking to heart his deceptively simple message of peace and brotherhood….

….It warms my heart to know Dad’s messages of peace and love, brotherhood, charity and humility, hope — and family — are there forever in his and my Uncle’s songs. And I know that somewhere in the world right this very moment, some child is learning and singing out Dad’s lovely words and Dick’s gorgeous melodies — “It’s a Small World” or one of the Sherman Brothers’ thousand other beloved songs. Simple, sing-able and sincere. And these children will, in turn, pass them onto their own. And my Dad is right there with them, smiling through a tear. As I am now.

Dad and his dear, sweet heart and brilliant mind will live on forever. His ride may be over, but when you sing his words, know that Bob Sherman is smiling down on you — and wishing he could shake your hand. —– Thank you.”

Thanks for your words, Jeff. I have no doubt that he is and lives on, not only in this attraction, but in so many other works as well.

I would be remiss in not mentioning others who helped make “it’s a small world” what it is. Wonderful legends such as Mary Blair, Alice Davis, Harriet Burns, Rolly Crump. Their contributions to costuming, architecture and color design helped turn a boat ride in a show building into a beautiful work of art. And of course, the man who dreamed it up and really believed in the message he put forward, Walt Disney himself. Years from now, people will still be making fun of the song. They may still be debating whether Disney characters should have been added to the attraction, whether the outside facade should be colorful or white. Yet, I truly believe that even more people, young and old alike, will continue to ride and be amazed at the artistry and the message the attraction brings. Perhaps they will be able to forget their worries for 15 minutes as they listen to the lyrics, thinking about how wonderful life could be if we all found common ground. Maybe, for at least a moment, they really will realize that it truly IS a small world after all.

Happy birthday, “it’s a small world!” Thanks to all who made it the amazing attraction and song that it has become on a worldwide scale. Here’s to many more happy cruises!

Looking forward to setting sail again!

Looking forward to setting sail again!

 

 

Thankful for the Sherman Brothers

Note: During the months of November and December, I will be posting something I am thankful for within the spectrum of Disney. With so much negativity in the world, I encourage everyone to be thankful and count their blessings.

Sometimes it’s the people you’ve never met that influence you the most.

As many long time readers know from previous posts, The Sherman Brothers (Richard and Robert) come up rather frequently in my blog. This is with good reason: next to perhaps Walt himself, those two have more influence on me than anyone else has in the history of the Walt Disney Company. As I’ve stated before, their interviews on the Mary Poppins soundtrack opened me to a world of the musical process of writing, helping me appreciate song and score in movies even more. The lyrics and tone of “A Man Has Dreams/ A Spoonful Of Sugar” from Mary Poppins (combined with the superb delivery of David Tomlinson and Dick Van Dyke) leave me with a lump in my throat every time. The fun mix of melodrama and a rousing good time on “Let’s Have a Drink On It” from The Happiest Millionaire make it one of my all-time favorite Disney songs.

But their ability to entertain and stir emotion reaches beyond just the Disney realm. “You’re Sixteen (You’re Beautiful, and You’re Mine)” is so infectious, it’ll stick in one’s head for days almost as much as “It’s a Small World.” For many, the songs from “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” remain classics as well (perhaps the songs of the brothers, along with Dick Van Dyke, are the reason many people think this one IS a Disney film!). Although I didn’t realize it until I watched “The Boys – The Sherman Brothers Story,” the two were responsible for one of the saddest songs of my childhood. The haunting music and lyrics in context with the happenings of “Snoopy Come Home,” are so powerful I can’t listen to this song without feeling extreme sadness. That, my friends, is the power of great music and lyric writing.

The two brothers have surpassed being “just writing Disney music” as many would think of them. They’ve become timeless. In the words of publicist and Disney historian Tim O’Day, ” They are the ‘Gershwin Brothers’ of Disney (and beyond). They and their work need to be elevated above the category of ‘children’s music.’ ” I couldn’t agree more, Tim. And in this season I am thankful for the two brothers that made me believe that flying a kite was excellent therapy. That Annette was indeed a pineapple princess. That it really IS a small world, after all.

Richard (left) and Robert – Two very different brothers who left an amazing mark on the musical world.

Thankful For “When You Wish Upon a Star”

Note: During the months of November and December, I will be posting something I am thankful for within the spectrum of Disney. With so much negativity in the world, I encourage everyone to be thankful and count their blessings.

Sometimes a song can take you away to another place, or help you believe that dreams come true. I know I’m thankful for songs like these.

There are memorable songs from movies – you know, the songs that you find yourself humming long after the film ended – and then there are songs that transcend movies. Leigh Harline and Ned Washington’s “When You Wish Upon a Star” goes far beyond the film it was written for. This is not in anyway a knock on Pinocchio. No, the movie is among my favorite Disney animated movies – quite possibly my favorite, depending on the day! It’s just that the song itself is so much more. It’s become not only a theme song for the Walt Disney Company in general, but one to dreamers everywhere as well.

Like a bolt out of the blue...

Like a bolt out of the blue…

The notion of wishing upon a star may seem silly, but the idea of dreams coming true? Well, this is something we all long for. Now, in the “real world” we realize we can’t sit back and wait for things to come to us. If Walt had simply wished upon a star without actively pursuing that dream…. well, I don’t think that would have turned out very well. However, the notion of dreams coming true if we have the courage to pursue them (hmmm… now THAT sounds catchy!) is a noble one. Throw in a wish on the evening star as well? Believe in your dreams, and you never know.

Every time my family goes to Disneyland, we always pause underneath Sleeping Beauty’s Castle to here Jiminy Cricket sing his anthem to passers by. Combined with the magical feeling that the park brings, that song means even more there. And I’m certainly thankful for the feeling it brings.

I feel it only fitting to close out this thankful post with the song itself – perhaps my favorite cover of “When You Wish…” Take it away, Pops….

Thankful For Mickey Mouse Disco

Note: During the months of November and December, I will be posting something I am thankful for within the spectrum of Disney. With so much negativity in the world, I encourage everyone to be thankful and count their blessings.

Sometimes, we are thankful for the spirit of youth, no matter how silly the thing that takes us back may be.

I have to say I don’t remember much about the 70’s. I guess the fact that by the time 1980 hit, I was just turning five, I have a valid excuse. However, there is one thing I remember vividly. Mickey Mouse Disco. Not that we owned the vinyl (now I do!), but I remember neighbors owning it, and I loved it. Released in 1979, it was at the tail end of the disco era, but still managed to peak at #35 on the Billboard Pop Album Charts. Not bad for a novelty kids record!

The sights.. the sounds…the seventies.

Years later, when working for the Disney Store, we happened to get a few retro-release CD’s into stock. They didn’t last long, and sadly, I never managed to grab myself a copy of Splashdance (another great era-inspired Disney release – this one from the 80’s), but I did snag the last copy of Mickey Mouse Disco. After listening to it, there was one song that brought back some great childhood memories of a friend’s dad, who could talk like Donald with the best of them. What song, you ask? Why, the one, the only….

All these years later, hearing that song still puts a smile on my face. As an adult, I feel like a kid again. And perhaps, thanks to one cheesy novelty album from the late 70’s, disco isn’t completely dead. It reminds me to be thankful for the silly things in life, even ones that may have others shaking their heads.

Feel free to admit it. You’re hitting replay on Macho Duck, aren’t you?

Unused, But Not Unloved

WIth the D23 Expo days away, one of the ultimate highlights for me, if I were attending this year, would be “Richard M. Sherman and Alan Menken: The Disney Songbook.” One evening with both of these legends on stage would be an amazing sight to see. There’s just something about hearing songwriters sing and talk about their songs. While the voices that are picked to carry over onto film or radio are great, the fact that you’re hearing the person who first wrote the tune and/or lyrics bring out their original visions. And to hear the story that goes along with it? Amazing and priceless.

Seriously, if you’re at the Expo on Saturday, August 10, see this performance. Hosted by Tim O’ Day, it’s sure to be a great time of story and song. And I’ll be jealous of you.

Perhaps that’s the reason I’m so into movies like “The Boys: The Sherman Brothers Story” and “Waking Sleeping Beauty.” Perhaps even just a little more than the finished product, I’m fascinated by the labor of love behind those same stories. Learning how the Shermans would come up with songs, envisioned one way (did you know “It’s a Small World” was originally a ballad?), and have it come out an entirely different way. How Howard Ashman would fight for his vision, from coaching vocal performances to fighting for inclusion of a piece that animators and directors just “didn’t see working.”

How many times, these songs would wind up on the cutting room floor.

One such song is a song that for some reason has become one of my favorite Disney songs as of late. A song that never made it into the movie “Aladdin.”

I realize ultimately there was no place for the song in the movie, as, in the end, Aladdin was a parent-less street urchin. However, the song resonates with me, maybe even more than any song in the movie that made the final cut did. How painful it must be for a songwriter to have such a labor of love be taken out like that.

Dick and Bob Sherman had a similar experience with “The Eyes of Love,” a lovely ballad that was cut out of Mary Poppins because Julie Andrews wasn’t a big fan of it (you can hear the story told in their own words on the Mary Poppins Special Edition Soundtrack). This is a common practice in movies and musicals – they’re always a work in progress until that final cut. (For more unused songs, I very highly recommend checking out  “The Lost Chords” series of MP3s compiled by Randy Thornton.)  However, I find such songs and stories fascinating.

If I were able to ask Richard Sherman or Alan Menken any one question, it would probably be the following: Which of your songs that never got used are you most proud of? What’s your favorite “unheard” piece? For, although these songs may not have been used in film, by no means are they weak songs. In fact, they can turn out to be very loved indeed.

What about you, readers and fellow DisNerds? Any favorite Disney songs that just didn’t make the cut in the final films? I’d love to hear from you!

Entering a Guilty Plea(sure)

As the father of a five year old, shows on Disney Jr are a mainstay in our house. Mickey Mouse Clubhouse? Meeska, mooska, mouske-check. Handy Manny? Si, yes. Sofia the First? We’re finding out what being royal’s all about. Jake and the Never Land Pirates? Yo Ho, let’s go! I’m sure we’re in the same boat with many other parents who find themselves watching these shows quite a bit more than they’d care to admit. Generally, we’re okay with this fact; the shows on Disney Junior teach great life lessons and application skills – even if you think you don’t really need to lay out three simple steps to take a drink from the drinking fountain, lessons (and values) are being learned. But as an adult, you do find yourself longing for a break from these shows. Sometimes, even a regular old Disney movie is enough to take a break from the kiddie set. Possibly you find yourself driving in the car by yourself, coming to the grim realization that you’re just so used to the music that you forgot the fact that the CD really does eject from the stereo. Yes, my wife and I are in that boat as well. But, here’s the thing; my confession if you will…

I think my wife and I are even bigger fans of Sharkey and Bones than my daughter. We discovered this when I bought the CD, only to have my daughter ask to turn it down as daddy and mommy were bobbing our heads in the front seat….

If you’re a parent of a youngster, you’ll know who I’m talking about. If not, you may be asking, “Who?” Sharkey and Bones (Loren Hoskins and Kevin Hendrickson) are the pirate rock duo responsible for little ditties at the end of every Jake and the Never Land Pirates episode. Over the top silly, yet infectious, this duo has earned a place on my Disney playlist with catchy songs like, “Aw, Coconuts,” “Bubbly Blue,” “Pirate Password,” and this one:

 

 

I’d call it a guilty pleasure, but at the same time, I’m not ashamed.  I plead guilty all the way – as I do with other Disney pieces that may be considered “less popular.”

In a conversation with a fellow Disney fan (Adam, author of the wonderful California blog San Magnifico) , we both came to the realization that we are fans of “Pete’s Dragon,” and not afraid to admit it.  Although it’s not quite the critical darling that other films from the Disney spectrum are, it still holds a spot very near and dear to some. For me, I have fond memories of reading along with my “See, Hear, Read” records and listening to snippets of “I Think I Saw a Dragon” over and over again. As a grown up, I still get the biggest kick out of watching Jim Dale and Red Buttons scheme their way through Passamashloddy.

 

“Watch the Profits Come Rolling In!!!!”

 

As well, I know many people who will tell you that the musical film “The Happiest Millionaire” isn’t worth your time. I, however, am not one of those people. In fact, the soundtrack for this film is toward the top of my list. The Sherman Brothers had a masterpiece on their hands with this one (at least in my opinion). From the silliness of “By-um-pum-pum,” to the incredible cheesiness of “Detroit” (maybe this one works for me as a Lions fan?), and the rousing “Let’s Have a Drink On It” number, there’s not a sour spot in the movie. Every time Tommy Steele is on the screen, the movie is even more fun.

 

I mean, anyone who babysits alligators has earned my respect!

 

I know I speak of the “Magic of Disney” an awful lot, but to me there is magic in the fact that some things, while not looked upon as great by many – be it kiddie show pirate rock duos, lower rated movies or less than popular theme park attractions – can still mean so much to some who gladly make their feelings known. And in that moment, we find others who feel the same way, and we don’t feel alone in our fandom.

What about you, fellow DisNerds? Do you have any “not so guilty” Disney pleasures that set you apart from others? Feel free to share here!

It Always Comes Back to Disney (Or, However Many Degrees Of Disney Separation)….

I have a music recommendation for you all today – I’ve provided the link to Amazon, where it can be bought digitally. It’s a great collection of Disney music, all instrumental. Very peaceful, well done, great background music. I love stuff like this. The album name: Gävle SymfoniorkesterEn Helt Ny Värld.

Or, A Whole New World by the Gavle Symphony Orchestra for those of you who can’t read Swedish.

If you’re finding yourself wondering if I’ve taken DisNerd to a whole new level, searching for foreign and obscure orchestra covers of Disney songs… Well, sorry to say, the answer is no. At least not this time. In fact, this discovery had nothing to do with Disney at first. But it always seems to come back to Disney for me. I can’t escape it, but why would I want to?

Believe it or not, I’m not all Disney, all the time. Especially when it comes to musical taste – they go all over the board. This morning the theme was folk music. So as I was creating a playlist on Spotify titled “Folkish,” I decided there was a song that had to be included along with The Kingston Trio and Phil Ochs. Only problem was… I wasn’t sure of the exact title or who sang it.

All I knew for sure were the lyrics:

“All day, all night, Marianne…down by the seaside sifting sand.

Even little children love Marianne…down by the seaside sifting sand.”

Well, this prompted me to search. Was it called Marianne? Mary Ann? All Day, All Night? Best way to find out was to search the lovely world of Google, upon which I learned the song, “Marianne” was made famous by Terry Gilkyson. Armed with this knowledge, I go back onto Spotify and type in Terry Gilkyson. Yes, “Marianne” was one of the results, but what came first? En Helt Ny Värld, which, after listening, deterred me from my search for Marianne and her sifting sand.

But now, I was curious. What was the connection between this album of Disney songs and Gilkyson that led me back to Disney? A little more research would clear that up: according to his bio at allmusic.com, Gilkyson was also the Academy Award nominated composer of a song called “The Bare Necessities.”  Ever hear of it? Of course you have. And the Bare Necessities was one of the tracks on En Helt Ny Varld.

While this may serve as just an interesting bit of trivia to most, I wanted to share this as there really is a “Six Degrees of Separation” aspect to Disney that just constantly amazes me. It leads me to find new things, to smile at the way Disney connects even unintentionally. This is how my mind works; what makes me the DisNerd that I am. All because of a song that I at first thought had nothing to do with Disney…