Chances are, you’re familiar with a few of the songs written by the Sherman Brothers, even if you don’t know who they are by name. Richard and Robert Sherman were one of the most prolific songwriting teams in history. If you’re cleaning the house and find yourself singing a tune like “I Wan’na Be Like You,” “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” or “Let’s Go Fly A Kite,” you’ve experienced the inimitable music of the Sherman Brothers.
Robert Sherman (pictured, left) passed away on March 5 in London. He was the older brother and the quiet one: younger brother Richard appeared in public more often and granted more interviews than did Robert, especially after Robert’s wife’s death in 2001. In addition to his work as a composer, Robert was a World War II hero and an accomplished painter.
The Sherman Brothers composed the scores for dozens of films, TV specials, theme park attractions, and stage musicals. They even wrote a song that became a #1 hit for Ringo Starr:
But fans and critics alike know Richard and Robert Sherman best from their Disney work. For half a decade, the Sherman Brothers held the title of Staff Composers at Walt Disney Studios. They were Walt Disney’s go-to guys for fun songs and enjoyable film scores, and Walt affectionately referred to them as “the boys.” After Walt’s death, they worked off and on with the Disney organization on various projects, from movies to theme parks to London and Broadway productions.
To honor the life of Robert Sherman, here’s a list of the ten best Disney songs by the Sherman Brothers.
10. “The Age of Not Believing,” from Bedknobs & Broomsticks (1971)
One of the most underrated Sherman Brothers scores was Bedknobs & Broomsticks. It’s set during the Blitzes of World War II, and Angela Lansbury stars as apprentice witch Eglantine Price, caretaker of the Rawlins children in the English village of Pepperinge Eye. When young Charlie Rawlins refuses to believe in Eglantine’s magic, she understands because, she says, Charlie is at the age of not believing, a sentiment that turns into the film’s signature song.
Lansbury’s wistful performance of “The Age of Not Believing” became one of the film’s best moments. Take note of the trippy, psychedelic effects in the clip below:
9. “Feed The Birds,” from Mary Poppins (1964)
Here’s the first of three songs on this list from Mary Poppins, which may sound excessive until you consider the fact that this score won two Oscars and a Grammy. The Sherman Brothers wrote a ton of songs for Mary Poppins, and the sentimental ballad “Feed The Birds” became Walt Disney’s all time favorite song.
During the final year of his life, when his health problems became an increasing burden, Disney would call the brothers into his office, usually at the end of the day, and ask them to sing “Feed The Birds.” Richard Sherman recounted that Disney would often start to cry as they sang. After his death the brothers dedicated the song to Disney’s memory every time they performed it.
Take a look at this poignant video of Richard Sherman performing the song at the dedication ceremony for the brothers’ commemorative window on Main Street at Disneyland:
8. “The Best Time of Your Life,” from Carousel of Progress at Walt Disney World (1974-1996)
When the Disney corporation chose to move the iconic attraction Carousel of Progress from Disneyland to Walt Disney World, sponsor General Electric called for a change in the show’s theming and music, highlighting the technological innovations of the present, rather than what GE perceived as Walt Disney’s dated vision for the future.
Those changes included replacing the attraction’s original theme song, “There’s A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow,” which Walt Disney directly inspired. The Sherman Brothers recounted in their memoirs:
Three years after Walt Disney World opened, the Carousel of Progress moved east from Disneyland to Florida, and we were invited to write a brand new theme song: “The Best Time Of Your Life”.
In 1996, Disney decided to retheme the attraction yet again to better honor Walt Disney’s visionary ideas. The new, improved Carousel of Progress included the return of the original theme song, which we’ll talk more about later.
In the meantime, here’s a sample of the second iteration of the Carousel of Progress, including “The Best Time of Your Life”:
7. “Winnie The Pooh,” originally featured in Winnie The Pooh and the Honey Tree (1966)
One of the most endearing of the Sherman Brothers’ songs is the theme to a series of cartoons about a “silly old bear.” The charming stories of A. A. Milne provided rich material for Disney’s series of Winnie The Pooh shorts, and Walt Disney’s last projects before his death included the first two cartoons in the series.
Even today, children of all ages can sing along with Winnie The Pooh’s adorable theme song. It has become a genuine classic, thanks to the continued popularity of the cartoons and theme park attractions. Just try to resist following the bouncing mouse ears:
6. “One Little Spark,” from Journey Into Imagination at Walt Disney World (1983)
When the Disney Imagineers began planning Epcot Center in the late ’70s, one of the ideas on the drawing board was a pavilion dedicated to creativity. This idea evolved into Journey Into Imagination, and the Imagineers lured the Sherman Brothers back into the Disney fold after a long absence to create a memorable theme song.
The original version of Journey Into Imagination followed Dreamfinder and his creation, Figment, as they explored the different ways we use imagination throughout our daily lives. In 1998, Imagineers redesigned the attraction to take place at the Imagination Institute led by Dr. Nigel Channing (Monty Python’s Eric Idle). Guests opposed Figment’s removal, and he returned in 2002.
Today, Journey Into Imagination sorely needs updating, much more than any other attraction at Epcot. Whatever changes come, I hope Disney never ditches the cute theme song. Here’s a sample of the ’80s version of “One Little Spark,” complete with gloriously dated synthesizers:
5. “Let’s Get Together,” from The Parent Trap (1961)
One of the Sherman Brothers’ first assignments for Walt Disney was the score for The Parent Trap, a film starring Hayley Mills in a dual role as twins Susan and Sharon, who meet for the first time at summer camp and decide to reunite their divorced parents.
At the date the girls arrange for their parents, they perform “Let’s Get Together.” Disney released the song as a duet between Hayley Mills and Hayley Mills, and the song became a Top Ten hit (and likely the only instance of a duet between one person and herself).
Mills wasn’t the best singer in the world at the time, so it’s hard to imagine hearing the song on the radio. But it’s an infectious tune, and Mills along with, um, Mills gave memorable onscreen performances:
4. “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” from Mary Poppins (1964)
The Sherman Brothers wrote this raucous song from Mary Poppins in the style of music hall numbers from the early 20th century. The word supercalifragilisticexpialidocious has no real meaning, but, according to the film, it’s “something to say when you have nothing to say.” Richard and Robert Sherman actually spent two weeks playing with double-talk and different combinations of syllables before coming up with the word.
It’s just plain fun to sing along with, and as you’ll see in the clip below, it’s an innovative number because of the seamless blend between live action and animation:
3. “There’s A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow,” from the New York World’s Fair (1964-1965) and the Carousel of Progress at Disneyland (1965-1974) and Walt Disney World (1996-present)
Walt Disney surprised his Imagineers by taking on several projects for the New York World’s Fair during an already busy season for the studio. The truth was, Disney had an eye on the future. He planned to utilize innovative technology for the fair, and he intended to use these attractions as a testing ground to prove that Disneyland-style entertainment would play on the East Coast.
General Electric sponsored one of those attractions, which they called Progressland. Disney developed the concept of a revolving theater, in which an animatronic family would demonstrate how electricity has bettered American lives over the generations. Both Walt Disney and GE wanted an upbeat, forward-looking song for Progressland, and naturally they turned to the Sherman Brothers.
“There’s A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” encapsulates Walt Disney’s enthusiastic vision for the future so perfectly that it’s almost as if Walt wrote it himself. As I mentioned earlier, when Disney moved the attraction to Walt Disney World, GE wanted a change in the theme song, but Disney brought ”There’s A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” back after a refurbishment in 1996.
Check out this video of Richard & Robert Sherman and Walt Disney previewing the song — and the attraction — on camera for GE brass:
2. “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” from Mary Poppins (1964)
“Chim Chim Cher-ee” lands so high on this countdown because of its significance for the Sherman Brothers. The song won them one of their two Oscars for Mary Poppins.
During one of their first meetings with Mary Poppins screenwriter Don DaGradi, the Shermans noticed a drawing of a chimney sweep. When they asked DaGradi about the drawing, he explained that English folklore held that shaking hands with a chimney sweep brought good luck.
The Sherman Brothers had written a treatment for Mary Poppins in 1961, and they melded several supporting characters into Bert (played by Dick Van Dyke), so DaGradi made Bert a chimney sweep, and Richard and Robert Sherman wrote “Chim Chim Cher-ee” for him.
At the Academy Awards in 1965, Fred Astaire presented the Oscar for Best Song to the Sherman Brothers for “Chim Chim Cher-ee.” Their speech consisted solely of:
There are no words. All we can say is, “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocous.”
1. “It’s A Small World,” from Disneyland (1965-present) and Walt Disney World (1971-present)
Walt Disney added the “It’s A Small World” attraction to the Imagineers’ plates with just nine months to develop it before the New York World’s Fair. The attraction’s concept consisted of a gentle boat ride through sets representing various parts of the world, in which dolls would sing their respective national anthems. The idea was to promote world unity from the perspective of a child.
Mary Blair devised the color stylings and the sets, and Joyce Carlson designed the dolls, so the whole thing seemed like a great idea. Then the Imagineers thought about the cacophony of hundreds of dolls singing different tunes at the same time. So, once again, Disney turned to Richard and Robert Sherman.
When the Sherman Brothers performed “It’s A Small World” for Walt Disney for the first time, he told them, “Boys, this song is going to put your kids through college!” No doubt he was right, as millions have taken a ride on “The Happiest Cruise That Ever Sailed ‘Round The World.”
Here’s a slice of Disneyland’s version of “It’s A Small World”:
The songs on this list alone prove that the world lost a singular talent in Robert Sherman. And there are even more great songs from the Sherman Brothers canon, songs like “Pineapple Princess,” The Slipper And The Rose,” and “Snoopy Come Home.”
Walt Disney once said that a good song is like a souvenir from a movie or attraction. If you walk away humming or singing one of the songs, that music becomes a part of your life. The Sherman Brothers gave out plenty of souvenirs over the decades. For that reason, Disney fans all over the world will certainly miss Robert Sherman.