Musical memories: Disney songwriter tells all

2013-08-16T00:00:00Z 2013-08-16T12:33:05Z Musical memories: Disney songwriter tells allLois Berger Times Correspondent
August 16, 2013 12:00 am  • 

All right everyone, lets sing together…one, two, three…SUPERCALIFRAGILISTICEXPEALIDOCIOUS, Even though the sound of it is something quite atrocious, if you say it loud enough, you’ll always sound precocious, SUPERCALIFRAGILISTICEXPEALIDOCIOUS."…and next, "A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, the medicine go down, the medicine go down, just a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down in a most delightful way."

We remember and love those songs. And now, we will begin humming and singing "Ooo, oobee doo, I Wanna be Like You," one of the popular songs from Goodman Theatre’s world premiere of Rudyard Kipling’s "The Jungle Book." We owe it all to Richard and Robert Sherman, the Grammy and Academy-Award winning brothers who wrote all the songs for "Mary Poppins," "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" and "The Jungle Book," as well as many others as staff songwriters for Disney Studios.

Richard Sherman was on hand to consult with adapter-director, Tony Award-winning Mary Zimmerman and musical director Doug Peck on the much-loved songs, such as "I Wanna Be Like You," "Trust in Me," "That’s What Friends Are For," written by the brothers along with Terry Gilkyon’s "Bare Necessities." This vigorous, enthusiastic 85-year-old tells the story of how Rudyard Kipling’s "Jungle Book" came to the screen in the 1967 animated feature.

“Walt called in directors, screen-writers execs, my brother and I and asked, ‘Have any of you read 'The Jungle Book?’ We all looked around and found that none of us had read it. ‘Good. Don’t read it. I will tell you the story.’ And he went on to tell the story, actually making his face and voice change as he took on all the characters. The book is somewhat dark and Walt admonished, ‘Just don’t make it heavy, have some fun with it’. “And so we did,” Sherman said. “We especially loved writing the song for King Louie, the orangutan who wants to walk like a man. My brother ruminated, what do apes do best? Swing from trees, of course.” Sherman laughs, “So we wrote the song as a jazzy song and dance number.” Choreographer Chris Gatelli fine-tuned the singing and swinging in a show stopping performance by Andre deShields, as King Louie.

As staff songwriters for Disney, they were assigned a task that changed their lives. An attraction used by Disney at the 1964 World’s Fair that was moved and rebuilt at Disneyland had a working title of Children of the World. The attraction’s soundtrack design featured national anthems, playing all at once, which resulted in a cacophonous noise. “Walt walked us through and remarked that one simple song which could be translated into many different languages, sung by children, was our task.” Sherman adds, “We finally came up with 'It’s a Small World After All.'” The “simple” song, sung and recorded in various studios around the world by local children, now features 300 traditionally dressed dolls on the musical boat tour at all Disneyland venues.

“It’s hard to believe that this song is the single most performed and widely translated song on earth and because of Walt’s generosity and UNICEF’S request , is the only creation never to be copyrighted…so you can hear it worldwide on musical devices ranging from keyboards to ice cream trucks. This song is truly our legacy.”

And how did the Sherman Brothers make up the word supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, the Academy-Award winning song in "Mary Poppins"?

"We wanted Mary to give the children a gift they could bring back from inside the chalk drawing. When my brother and I were kids, we used to make up double talk words. In the screenplay version of 'Mary Poppins' we wanted her to give the children a gift they could bring back with them from inside the chalk drawing when they came out into the real world. If it was a tangible thing like a seashell or pine cone it would disappear. So I said,” Remember when we used to make up the big double talk words. Why don’t we make a big obnoxious word up for the kids so they can sing it whenever they wanted to remember this special place? That’s where it started. We started with atrocious that’s very British and then you can sound smart and be precocious, we had precocious and atrocious and we wanted something super colossal, so we took super and did double talk to get califragilistic which means nothing, it just came out that way. That's in a nut shell what we did over two weeks. All together you get Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”

Richard Sherman insists even though his brother passed away last year, he will continue writing songs and telling stories for many years to come. We can now see and hear the wonderful "Jungle Book" songs performed by talented actors that come to life. Kevin Carolan as Baloo the bear; Usman Ally as Bagheera the panther; Larry Yando as Shere Khan the evil tiger; Thomas Derrah as Kaa the snake and Andre De Shields as King Louie, the orangutan. All of them surrounding the charismatic 10-year-old Akash Chopra as Mowgli, whose adventures growing up in Rudyard Kipling’s imaginary forest have delighted children, since first published in 1894.

"The Jungle Book" is playing at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago through Aug. 18.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Movies & Theater


Enter your Zip code below to see local movie listings:

TV Listings

Enter your ZIP code below to see local listings.
Get weekly ads via e-mail

Latest Local Offers

Featured Businesses