Mickey's Music Box: The Sherman Brothers - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Mickey's Music Box: The Sherman Brothers

Chris Morley takes a look back at the practically perfect Sherman brothers musical offerings...

We're opening Mickey's Music Box in the Sixties now, and just as pop was undergoing its first radical change so too did Disney in a timely convergence. Where the charts of the day had Lennon & McCartney, who in a roundabout way did appear in The Jungle Book thanks to the distinctively mop-topped vultures borrowing their signature early look if not voices as was the original plan, the House of Mouse had the Sherman brothers as heralds of the winds of change.....

Robert & Richard first came to Walt's attention with the success of Tall Paul, written for Annette Funicello in 1959 in preparation for a solo career away from the Mickey Mouse Club...

Funicello had served as one of the original Mouseketeers, and Disney himself is said to have had a hand in the end of her relationship with a famous singing Paul of the day, Paul Anka! Though Mr Anka denied the song was written about him on the basis that he wasn't actually all that tall! But Walt, having been impressed with a steady stream of such hits they'd penned for her, offered the Sherman brothers jobs as staff songwriters for Disney itself. Fittingly enough the first fruits of their work were used in yet another vehicle for Funicello, The Horsemasters featuring The Strummin' Song. A jump up into feature length films followed as Medfield Fight Song made it into 1961s The Absent Minded Professor, the first appearance of Flubber.....

In writing such an anthem, used over a high school American football scene as students cheer on their team, they were in a sense following in their father's footsteps. Their dad, Al, was also a tunesmith, and among his repertoire there nestles You Gotta Be A Football Hero which in another case of the apple never falling far from the tree also appeared in animated form thanks to Popeye!

A first full set of songs on commission arrived with 1961's The Parent Trap, with The Sword In The Stone following two years later. Within another they'd start work on the project which set them on their way towards a career which would see the pair snaffle an unbroken record as the duo with the most film musical scores to their name. The song & dance adaptation of PL Travers' Mary Poppins also serving as a breakthrough role for Julie Andrews, who'd be singing their lyrics all the way to 13 Oscar nominations including one for Best Original Song for Chim Chim Cher-ee despite Dick Van Dyke's curious at best attempt at a Cockney accent.

Nevertheless, his jawly howlyday wiv Murray marked a watershed in its combination of live action with animation. The brothers drew inspiration from the Edwardian music hall for its songs, which were cut down from the more than 30 Richard would later remember he & Robert putting pen to paper on. One, The Chimpanzoo was later resurrected for the 2004 DVD version of the original film. It was originally intended to follow up I Love To Laugh during the tea party on the ceiling, while several others were adapted for re-use in other ways in the finished film or eventually found homes elsewhere. Mrs Banks' rallying call Sister Suffragette uses elements of the melody for Practically Perfect, Mary's original introductory tune, while what was originally known as the Mary Poppins Melody for her first meeting with the Banks children eventually formed the basis of Stay Awake in another bit of rhythmic recycling.

A Spoonful Of Sugar came about as a compromise after Andrews herself objected to Disney that what would originally have been a romantic ballad for Mary & Bert titled The Eyes Of Love might be unsuitable for the film. While the build up to their trip into the chalk painting would have started with the short interlude You Think, You Blink, which in a sense survives as the friendly sweep simply says the title in dialogue before going on to sing how nice it is to 'old 'er 'and. Cor blimey guv!

Another such one for the reuse pile was Sticks, Paper & Strings, an early run at what became Let's Go Fly A Kite, David Tomlinson as Mr Banks finally heeding the wake up call that its perfectly acceptable to be a fun dad and hold down a career even in buttoned up old England - which also conveniently he & his work colleagues get to have a sing-song about.

The success of Mary Poppins in sailing the wide box office sea in turn led to the beginnings of another outpost of the House of Mouse's empire. A sizeable chunk of its profits were put towards the construction of what would become Walt Disney World in Florida, which opened its gates on October 1, 1971, giving a whole new way for people to experience the magic. Aptly enough, our band of brothers had a hand in two of the parks' signature songs - There's A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow & It's A Small World, which according to some estimates is actually the most performed song of all time....

If indeed that's true, where could the Shermans have gone from there? Following Walt's death from cancer in 1966 they grew dissatisfied with the way things were being run & so handed in their notice, but not before completing work on The Aristocats. Only two of their songs made it into the final cut, in the shape of the title track & Scales & Arpeggios, the pair then went freelance & stumbled upon another hit with the release of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang proving they still had something of a musical Midas touch with a little help from a certain fine four-fendered friend!

They returned to Disney to work on The Jungle Book on the condition that neither of them read Rudyard Kipling's book! Seven of the eight original songs beared their mark including Trust In Me, Colonel Hathi's March, That's What Friends Are For as worked through by the John, Paul, George & Ringo of the jungle, and My Own Home. In fairness to Terry Gilkyson though, his single composition The Bare Necessities was hardly filler!

For their final Disney flourish they went back to where it all began, with another animation/live action hybrid - 1971's Bedknobs & Broomsticks. Angela Lansbury taking the lead with David Tomlinson popping up once more in another literary adaptation, this from the pen of Mary Norton.

Though they'd never hit the giddy heights of Poppins again, Age Of Not Believing was Oscar nominated for best original song, and their musical accompaniments to the Disney movies are known and loved now by multiple generations.

The Sherman brothers are also perhaps unique in that their work was given second life not once but twice as both the magical nanny & the car with a difference were brought to the London stage, then just to show off the 2016 live-action take on The Jungle Book included Christopher Walken singing their I Wan'na Be Like You, and Scarlett Johanson taking vocal duties for Trust In Me. Then, Mary Poppins got herself a cinematic sequel rammed full of nods to the score of the original.

Next time out we move into the digital age with Toy Story and the first phase of Randy Newman's involvement in this bold new direction...

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