Every now and then a song comes along and for most of your life you find that song to be the most annoying tune you have ever heard. For me, and (don’t lie!!) many of you, that song is It’s a Small World (After All). I can’t think of a more frustrating song to have in my head. So frustrating, in fact, that I have been known to avoid the attraction because it would drive me crazy for the rest of the day.
Those days have changed for me for several reasons.
The first, and most important, is that my children love the ride. And as much as the song drives me crazy, the look on their faces when they are on It’s a Small World is well worth the torment. Also, more recently, I was listening to Jimmy and Sam’s interview of Jeffrey Sherman, the son of Robert B. Sherman, and was educated on the meaning behind the song. I finally listened to its message and, magically, a song that I used to desperately avoid at all cost now tugs at my heartstrings.
It’s a Small World was written by Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman (the Sherman brothers) by request of Walt Disney. Walt was looking for a song that could be translated into multiple languages and play on a loop for this attraction that would be introduced at the 1964 World’s Fair UNICEF pavilion. In the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Sherman brothers came up with a slower version of the song we know today. The lyrics were perfect and with an up-tempo request from Walt, we now have today one of the most recognized tunes in the world.
It’s a world of laughter and a world of tears
It’s a world of hopes and a world of fears
There’s so much that we share
That its time we’re aware
It’s a small world after all
The request seems simple, doesn’t it? We are all in this together and we need to stop attacking each other. It is a great message and one that I imagine is missed by many adults. Our children get it, though. Look into their eyes when they experience this attraction. The innocence lost on adults is still present in our children and in this song.
The Sherman Brothers had an amazing career at the Disney Studios. They were the only contracted songwriters Walt Disney had on staff. He conferred with them on attraction music for the parks as well as many major studio projects. The biggest project was Mary Poppins. Walt called them into his office one day and handed them the book written by P.L. Travers and asked that them to take a look and tell him what they thought. Weeks later they requested a meeting with Walt to share with him their thoughts on Mary Poppins. The Sherman brothers arrived in Walt’s office with 6 chapters in the book marked off. It just so happened that these were the same chapters Walt thought would make a great storyline. Robert and Richard played music for Walt including Feed the Birds. “That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?” Walt said and immediately was hooked. The rest was history.
For over 2 years, in between other projects, they were working on the music for Mary Poppins. When Pamela Travers came to town most of the music was complete but there was one problem, Walt didn’t have the rights yet. Contrary to the movie Saving Mr. Banks, Walt did not follow Pamela to London to get the rights. In fact, Pamela and Walt did not get along at all. He left the meetings entirely and asked that the Sherman brothers, Don Dagradi, and Bill Walsh get the deal done. They were successful and the movie was a go.
One day Julie Andrew came to the studio to meet with the Sherman brothers. She listened to all the music and loved it all except for one, The Eyes of Love. This happened to be their favorite song and now it was out. Saddened by this decision and looking for another song Robert went home for the day and received some unexpected inspiration. His son, Jeffery, came home from school and as with every other day Robert asked him about his day. That day happened to be Polio vaccination day and knowing that his son was not a fan of shots, he asked him how it went. Jeffrey told him it was fine. “They took out this plastic spoon and put a sugar cube on it and put the medicine on the sugar cube and you just ate it.” The wheels started turning. The next day Robert shared the store with Richard and the brothers wrote Spoonful of Sugar.
As noted in Saving Mr. Banks, Pamela Travers arrived to the premier and very tearfully watched Mary Poppins on the big screen. Walt and the team produced a movie their way against Pamela’s wishes. Following the movie she approached Walt and began rolling up her sleeves. She told Walt it was time to get back to work fixing all the mistakes. Walt looked at her and said, “The ship has sailed.”
Mary Poppins was then and is still to this day one of the most beloved movies.
The Sherman brothers worked on a myriad of projects for Disney Studios and after Walt’s passing, the did several Disney and non-Disney projects. From Winnie the Pooh to The Parent Trap to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, they showed that a Sherman brothers’ song could get trapped in your head in the best way.
They were able to capture and bring out the best parts of a production, be it live-action, animation, or park attraction.
As recognition for their outstanding work in Hollywood they were awarded a star on Hollywood’s walk of fame in 1976. They were also honored by Disney in the form of a coveted window along Main Street U.S.A. in Disneyland in 2010.
As a Disney Nerd, I have spent a good part of the last month reading, listening, and watching everything I could on the Sherman brothers. I would like to thank Jeffrey Sherman for spending time with Jimmy and Sam for the podcast interview and for offering up some of his pictures for this blog. I beg of you to take the time to both listen to the Disney Nerds Podcast Show #139 and take the time to watch The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story. You will not regret it!!!!!!!
Nerd Request: During an off screen conversation between father and son Robert said, “If I do get to come back after I die. You’ll find me at the end of the It’s a Small World ride. I will be shaking everyone’s hand.” Robert Sherman passed away in 2012. So we ask that you remember to say “Hi Bob!!” on your way off of It’s a Small World.
Thank you for reading and have a magical day.
“I only hope we never lose sight of one thing, that it was all started by a mouse.” – Walt Disney