the sherman brothers

2

“Penguins. 

Penguins have very much upset me, Mr. Disney. Animated dancing penguins. Now you have seduced me with music, Mr. Disney, yes, you have. Those Sherman brothers have quite turned my head. 

But I shall not be moved on the matter of cartoons, sir. NOT. ONE. INCH.”

10

The Jungle Book

136 in x of animated feature film history
Release: Oct. 18th, 1967
Country: USA
Director: Wolfgang Reitherman

“The Jungle Book was inspired by the 1894 book of the same name by English author Rudyard Kipling. Directed by Wolfgang Reitherman, it was the last film to be produced by Walt Disney, who died during its production. The plot follows Mowgli, a feral child raised in the Indian jungle by wolves, as his friends Bagheera the panther and Baloo the bear try to convince him to leave the jungle before the evil tiger Shere Khan arrives.

After The Sword in the Stone was released, storyman Bill Peet claimed to Walt Disney that ‘we [the animation department] can do more interesting animal characters’ and suggested that Kipling’s The Jungle Book could be used for the studio’s next film. Disney agreed and Peet created an original treatment, with little supervision, as he had done with One Hundred and One Dalmatians and The Sword in the Stone. However, after the disappointing reaction to The Sword in the Stone, Walt Disney decided to become more involved in the story than he had been with the past two films, with his nephew Roy E. Disney saying that ‘[he] certainly influenced everything about it. (…) With Jungle Book, he obviously got hooked on the jungle and the characters that lived there.’

Peet decided to follow closely the dramatic, dark, and sinister tone of Kipling’s book, which is about the struggles between animals and man. However, the film’s writers decided to make the story more straightforward, as the novel is very episodic, with Mowgli going back and forth from the jungle to the Man-Village, and Peet felt that Mowgli returning to the Man-Village should be the ending for the film. Some plot points were taken from Kipling’s 1895 novel The Second Jungle Book. 

Disney was not pleased with how the story was turning out, as he felt it was too dark for family viewing and insisted on script changes. Peet refused, and after a long argument, Peet left the Disney studio in January 1964. Disney then assigned Larry Clemmons as his new writer and one of the four story men for the film, giving Clemmons a copy of Kipling’s book, and telling him: ‘The first thing I want you to do is not to read it.’ Clemmons still looked at the novel, and thought it was too disjointed and without continuity, needing adaptations to fit a film script. Although much of Bill Peet’s work was discarded, the personalities of the characters remained in the final film.

Many familiar voices inspired the animators in their creation of the characters and helped them shape their personalities. This use of familiar voices for key characters was a rarity in Disney’s past films. The staff was shocked to hear that a wise cracking comedian, Phil Harris was going to be in a Kipling film. Disney suggested Harris after meeting him at a party. Harris improvised most of his lines, as he considered the scripted lines ‘didn’t feel natural’. After Harris was cast, Disneyland Records president Jimmy Johnson suggested Disney to get Louis Prima as King Louie, as he ‘felt that Louis would be great as foil’. Walt also cast other prominent actors such as George Sanders as Shere Khan and Sebastian Cabot as Bagheera.

David Bailey was originally cast as Mowgli, but his voice changed during production, leading Bailey to not fit the ‘young innocence of Mowgli’s character’ at which the producers were aiming. Thus director Wolfgang Reitherman cast his son Bruce, who had just voiced Christopher Robin in Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree. The animators shot footage of Bruce as a guide for the character’s performance.

The characterization of the orangutan King Louie has frequently been cited (including by Anthony Edward Schiappa, Susan Miller, and Greg Rode) as a racial stereotype, especially given the political and civil rights climates in America during the time this film was released. Initially, the producers considered famous jazz musician Louis Armstrong for the role, but to avoid the likely controversy that would result from casting a black person to voice an ape, they instead chose Italian-American musician Louis Prima.

Longtime Disney collaborator Terry Gilkyson was brought in to write the songs for the film. Gilkyson delivered several complete songs which were faithful in tone to Rudyard Kipling’s novel, but Walt Disney felt that his efforts were too dark. The Sherman Brothers were brought in to do a complete rewrite, on the condition that they not read Kipling’s book. The only piece of Gilkyson’s work which survived to the final film was his upbeat tune ‘The Bare Necessities’, which was liked by the rest of the film crew. Walt Disney asked the Shermans to ‘find scary places and write fun songs’ for their compositions, and frequently brought them to storyline sessions.

In the original book, the vultures are grim and evil characters who feast on the dead. Disney lightened it up by having the vultures bearing a physical and vocal resemblance to The Beatles, including the signature mop-top haircut. It was also planned to have the members of the band to both voice the characters and sing their song, ‘That’s What Friends Are For’. However, the Beatles member John Lennon’s refusal to work on animated films in that period led to the idea being discarded. The casting of the vultures still brought a British Invasion musician, Chad Stuart of the duo Chad & Jeremy.

The Jungle Book was released in October 1967, just 10 months after Walt’s death. Produced on a budget of $4 million, the film was a massive success, finishing 1967 as the fourth highest-grossing movie of the year. The Jungle Book received positive reviews upon release, undoubtedly influenced by a nostalgic reaction to the death of Disney. Life magazine referred to it as “the best thing of its kind since Dumbo, another short, bright, unscary and blessedly uncultivated cartoon.’ The song ‘The Bare Necessities’ was nominated for Best Song at the 40th Academy Awards, losing to ‘Talk to the Animals’ from Doctor Dolittle. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences president Gregory Peck lobbied extensively for this film to be nominated for Best Picture, but was unsuccessful.

According to Elsie Kipling Baimbridge, Rudyard Kipling’s daughter, ‘Mowgli’ is pronounced ‘MAU-glee’ (first syllable rhymes with cow), not ‘MOH-glee’ (first syllable rhymes with go). She reportedly never forgave Walt Disney for the gaffe.

After a studio screening of the finished film Walt Disney’s personal nurse Hazel George came up to animator Ollie Johnston with tears in her eyes and told him that the final shot where Bagheera and Baloo walk off into the sunset was perfect and that it was ‘just the way that Walt had gone out.’”

(source)
(source)
(source)

FIRST POSTED: 5/15/17

A Spoonful of Sugar (Reprise)
Laura Michelle Kelly
A Spoonful of Sugar (Reprise)

Title: A Spoonful of Sugar (Reprise)
Artist: Laura Michelle Kelly
Album: Mary Poppins (Original London Cast Recording)

The stage version of Mary Poppins proved to be a bit divisive, but I adored it. I found it fittingly darker and more playful than the film, more akin to the books, but felt it still maintained the heart of the piece.

This is one of the most beautiful moments, taking place right as Mary Poppins is leaving the Banks family, satisfied with her work. After two acts of no-nonsense and little direct compassion, Mary Poppins finally lowers her guard and expresses a clear, heartfelt emotion: love.

Seconds later, like the changing winds, she’s gone.

“SAVING ROBERT SHERMAN”

As you may have heard, Disney is going ahead with the movie about the making of Mary Poppins – “Saving Mr. Banks.” Tom Hanks is playing Walt Disney, Emma Thompson is playing Pamela Travers, the original book’s author.

They have also cast wonderful actors to play the Sherman Brothers. Jason Schwartzman is portraying my Uncle Richard and BJ Novak was just cast to play my late father, Robert B. Sherman. Pretty brilliant choices all around.

Many people have been asking me what I think about all this.

As many of you know, I got a chance to read a draft of this screenplay several months ago now and had issues with it. The script was full of inaccuracies that run afoul of mere poetic license. I lived through that period and recall it and the people involved very well. Of course, I intimately know my lovely late father and my uncle.

I was privileged to hear all of those wonderful songs before just about anyone. Some of my fondest memories were those acetate demos right after dinner. Those times I’d go to their office and Dick would sing me something new and they’d both watch my face for a response.

Dad read my sister Laurie and me the Mary Poppins books. They were good, but kind of creepy, too. Dad, though, was enthusiastic, his mind was racing, his eyes seeing all of the amazing magic as he excitedly told us some of his ideas of how he could adapt these episodic stories and weave them into a musical, moving film. I saw Dad step into his stride during the Poppins years, really feeling he was connecting and creating something magnificent with his brother, Walt Disney, Bill Walsh, Don DaGradi, Irwin Kostal and the other great minds involved.

I saw his highs, I saw his lows. This was his chance to truly merge his songwriting, poetic and story-telling skills.

“A man has dreams of walking with giants
To carve his niche in the edifice of time…”

Dad felt he was walking with giants at this time. He was a deeply humble and shy man, so this wasn’t an ego thing. He never really sought the limelight. Dad felt such deep respect for those artists around him and felt respected and safe and encouraged by them to open and shine, himself; contribute and convey in his own words – real and created – his heartfelt wisdom and philosophies on family, love, understanding, compassion, charity and, I think most importantly, the challenges parenthood. These were hard-learned lessons for him and he poured his soul into helping adapt the screen story and co-create the timeless song score.

“Before the mortar of his zeal has the chance to congeal,
The cup is dashed from his lips,
His flame is snuffed aborning
He’s brought to rack and ruin in his prime.”

I never actually met the “colorful” Mrs. Travers, but I did hear all about her at the time. In making “the boys: the sherman brothers’ story” with my cousin Gregg, we waded through the hours and hours – painful hours of tapes recorded at their couple weeks’ meetings with Travers at Disney Studios that are the basis of “Saving Mr. Banks.” Bear in mind, the script, the songs, the entire movie was fully developed and storyboarded and ready to go by the time the author flew in on her broomstick, but Mrs. Travers still had to grant the rights.

Truly, listening to those meetings was more than enough of that nutcase for me. I was so impressed by how my Dad, especially, kept his patience with the strange, clueless, vile woman and steadfastly tried to win her over though his passion, intellect and reasoning. She was a shrew and insulting and had nothing at all positive to say about anything they graciously presented. Her endless montra, “No-no-no-no-no-no-no” – even at hearing the brilliant story arc they created, the now-classic music and lyrics.

“My world was calm, well-ordered, exemplary
Then came this person with chaos in her wake
And now my life’s ambitions go
With one fell blow
It’s quite a bitter pill to take…”

Travers was a bully and nasty at that. She famously wanted “Greensleeves” to replace key songs and insisted the color red be nowhere in the film. This is also the eccentric woman who told my Dad that the way she got inspired to work was to take a pad out into her garden, sit in the tall grass and rotate in the grass until the feeling hit her.

My dog does that too, by the way.

Travers didn’t get it then and, I assure you, she never understood nor appreciated how my Dad and Dick and the others at Disney had passionately spent years, given arguably their finest work to develop “Mary Poppins” into the classic it eventually became. To boost her relatively obscure book into a household name.

Back to “Saving Mr. Banks.”

The Pamela Travers conceived by the screenplays writers is made to be a sort of hero. In the draft I read, at least, she comes up for key story and song notions I absolutely know were my father and uncle’s contributions. She points out that they’d better write a song about that bird woman, pointedly mentions flying kites and a spoonful of sugar. The screenplay suggests that, somehow, by “saving” her precious story from the hands of the bumbling songwriting brothers and their cartoon-making boss, setting them all straight, she will in some sense “save” her own deplorable, drunken loser father who, according to these screenwriters, was the entire basis for her “Mary Poppins” book.

For those of you who’ve read Travers’ original book, the ‘father’s responsibility to his family’ concept is nowhere to be found. That was my father’s and uncle’s added theme. So was the prayer for charity that is “Feed the Birds.” The kites were an ode to my Grandfather, Al Sherman, and his simple, inexpensive way of bringing family together. Yes, a man must work hard, but his first responsibility is to his family. Mary and Bert both get that across, singing and speaking my father’s words. All it takes is tuppence, just a spoonful of sugar.

With my Dad passing only a few months ago, it’s especially difficult to see, in “Saving Mr. Banks,” his genius and his legacy arbitrarily handed over to someone who, in truth, was bitter and demeaning and sought to stop him from sharing these gifts. The script also has Mrs. Travers making a snide quip about my Dad’s wounded leg and his limp. Those of you who’ve seen “the boys” know that my father was a World War II hero that, at 17, helped drive the Nazis out of Europe. He was shot in the knee charging a hill – a week after he liberated Dachau concentration camp. He was only 19 then.
Two years younger than my son, Alex. I can’t even imagine that kind of bravery. What an amazing man. He’s not here now to defend himself against this outrageous slight, so I am speaking out for my Dad.

I have expressed my feelings to the higher ups at Disney and, hopefully, these most blaring wrongs have been corrected. I would love to see a great movie about this time that correctly tells the story. It’s wonderful enough without fudging the facts, believe me. “Mary Poppins,” the movie and now the stage play, are a cultural phenomenon, in part due to PL Travers’ books, in part due to Walt Disney, the Sherman Brothers, the screenwriters, the actors, the dancers and the other artists involved.

Mrs. Travers did not “save” the movie with her stubbornness and insight, though, as this storyline suggests. She finally sold out her rights to Walt because of his persistence and because she needed the money.

Ironically, after the enormous success of the film and song score, she wrote additional Poppins books and even named one chapter “Supercalifragiliticexpialidocious” – a word my late Dad and Uncle created.

As I’ve written before, my Dad was an amazing father, first and foremost. He always embraced the message of their version Mary Poppins and, especially, the pivotal song he wrote (“A Man Has Dreams”) where Bert cleverly turns Mr. Banks to see, work is important, but family comes first.

“You’ve got to grind, grind, grind at that grindstone
Though childhood slips like sand through a sieve
And all too soon they’re up and grown
And then they’ve flown
And it’s too late for you to give…

Just that spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down,
The medicine go down
Medicine go down
Just a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down…

…Well, goodnight there, guv'nah”

Dad was always there for me, so I will always be here for him and I’ll honor and defend his memory. So will his and Dick’s timeless words and music.

As Dad always said, “The work speaks for itself.”

—  Jeffery Sherman (Robert Sherman’s son) - via Facebook
youtube

My personal favorite Sherman Brothers and Walt Disney scene, singing It’s A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow.

Thanks for everything Robert Sherman!