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.

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!

The Sherman Brothers: A Personal Tribute

(Note: Volumes have been spoken and written about the Sherman Brothers, both before and after the passing of Robert Sherman. This is my personal tribute to both brothers and the profound impact they had on my life. For a more comprehensive history, I highly recommend the movie “The Boys: The Sherman Brothers Story,” directed by (their sons) Jeff and Greg Sherman.)

When I was 16, I went on a choir trip to Disneyland. Before leaving, with a few extra dollars in hand, I made a decision to buy something that would affect me profoundly.

Now, obviously, I knew the music well, so it wasn’t the score that had such a profound effect on me. The last tracks of the CD contained an interview with Richard and Robert Sherman. As they reminisced about the making of the movie and the songs they wrote, Richard would occasionally play at the piano and they would both sing bits from the movie. The first time they started singing their songs, the world of the songwriter really opened up to me.

And I fell in love with the music of The Sherman Brothers.

The interview can be heard here:

Continued here:

Although I had grown up with Disney music since childhood and was aware of their songs, there was something that really clicked.  I found myself paying more and more attention to lyrics of songs, how well they worked within the films. It helped spur my appreciation for the newer works of Menken and Ashman, as well as classic tunes by the likes of Frank Churchill and George Bruns.

In a sense, I suppose you could say my love of Disney music can be attributed to (blamed on?) the Sherman Brothers.

Fast forward to the present. On the morning of March 6th, in the midst of a trip to Disneyland, I woke up to read the news: Robert Sherman had passed away at the age of 86.

Eighty-Six years is an extraordinary life – so many are given so much less – and longetivity and a full life are things to be celebrated. Yet, there was a profound sadness in Robert’s passing. And there was a definite air of bittersweet-ness in the fact that I was at Disneyland when I heard the news of his passing. It allowed my family to pay their respects while riding It’s A Small World. I rode through The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh saluting nothing in general as the music played. I did the silent nod toward the Tiki Room out of respects.

But perhaps the biggest moment came for me from the following story: My four year old daughter had been insistent that we go to Build-a-Bear in Downtown Disney that day; not so she could stuff an animal, but so I could. I told her I didn’t need one. I tried to convince her. Honestly, I didn’t want to spend the money on another plush animal. However, she was adamant, on the verge of tears, telling me that she knew I NEEDED a stuffed friend. Begging that I do it for me, not for her. Then inspiration struck. I agreed to stuff an animal for me, on the terms that I got to pick it out as well as name it. So with her help, I picked it out, stuffed it and named it.

That evening, Sherman the Dog got to pay his own respects in front of the Sherman Brothers’ window on Main Street, USA.

Thank you, Dick and Bob Sherman. Thank you for the music. Thank you for the interview that inspired at least one young Disney fan (and I’m sure there are countless more). Your relationship may not have been the greatest, but in your works…. it was magical.