With the advent of Disney+, Disney fans are lucky to have access to an endless array of films, shorts, specials and documentaries spanning the entirety of Walt Disney Productions. With that, there have been two documentaries that really hit home for me, The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story & Howard. Both films focus on the tremendous impact these three men have had on the Walt Disney Company through their music composition. We could argue that the music of the Walt Disney Company has made their films & theme parks what they are today. Music is what sets Disney apart from any other entertainment company and both the Sherman brothers and Howard have created an unforgettable library for us to sing along to. With Disney+, Disney has created a platform that highlights the players who are behind the scenes, crafting the magic we all know and love. These two documentaries give us Disney music lovers, some deep insight into the men who have written the soundtrack of our childhood.
Growing up a Disney kid means you’ve grown up singing Sherman brothers classics, whether you knew it or not. As a child you don’t have a general understanding of where these songs come from because as children we take things for what they are. It was not until later in life that I learned how these two brothers were the brains behind almost every earworm to ever come out of the Disney studios. The Sherman brothers are ingrained in Disney history, from Mary Poppins to The Jungle Book to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang & The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. The songs they created were the “bear necessities” of childhood and whenever we felt “rumbly in my tumbly “we took a “spoonful of sugar” of some good ol’ fashioned Sherman Brothers musical masterpieces. But it wasn’t all about film scores for these two Disney legends. Richard M. & Robert B. Sherman are responsible for countless theme park songs for which we tune into Spectro Radio for! We can blame the brothers for walking around Magic Kingdom half the day singing, It’s a Small World, which is said to be the most performed piece of music ever. And who can forget ‘It’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow’ in Tomorrowland’s, Carousel of Progress. Anyone who has sat through the 20 minute, 4-act epic from the 1964 Worlds Fair in New York City, could never forget that tune! When you sit back and reflect on the long and important history of Disney music, The Sherman Brothers are the essence of the Walt Disney Company, as we know it. But there was a time when the company had a downturn in popular culture production throughout the late 70s and 80’s and it seemed the torch of musical genius was being passed along to another great visionary and extraordinary talent.
Howard Ashman is the focus of an amazing documentary simply called, Howard, written and directed by the legendary Don Hahn. The Walt Disney Company courted Howard to help writing lyrics for Oliver and Company. While working on that project he was brought in to write for the 1988 classic, The Little Mermaid. As we know now, this film, and more importantly, the music of this film, kick started one of the most memorable runs of films in Disney history. Howard provided the lyrics as his musical counterpart, Alan Menken, provided the music for such classics as Beauty and The Beast and Aladdin. Menken also provided the score for Howard, which gives the documentary a nod to who Howard was professionally & personally since the two worked together on all of the Disney films we know and love. Details like this is what makes Don Hahn such a great writer and producer. Howard and Alan had a short partnership in producing music for Disney films, but the long lasting effect of their impact on the studio and in the Disney parks as well, are immeasurable. Without Howard Ashman, the Disney renaissance simply wouldn’t have existed. And the success of the company itself could have had a potentially very different trajectory. The indelible mark Howard made in the hearts and minds of all Disney fans is limitless and we are all forever grateful for his contributions.
Without knowing it, it’s quite possible the vast majority of the population will recognize at least one piece of music written by The Sherman Brother or Howard Ashman. The music they have provided us is as timeless as it is inclusive. The ability to write songs that resonate with an overwhelming majority of people throughout many decades is not only a talent, but also incredibly challenging to accomplish. I think I speak for all of us by saying just how grateful we are for their contributions to the Disney Company, pop culture and more importantly, to our childhood memories.