Disney Attractions with Sherman Brothers Songs
Walt Disney had a favorite band. His musicians were hand-picked to become the voice of many Disney movies and attractions. Several of them are still played ad nauseam today. The group is, of course, the Sherman Brothers, Robert and Richard. Their father had been a musician, and he passed the skill of music creation along to both sons.
Starting in 1961, the Sherman Brothers provided part of the soundtrack for The Absent-Minded Professor and quickly became one of the most prolific musical score performers ever. Walt Disney would personally assign them requests, and they’d evolve these ideas into unforgettable tunes like Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious and Chim Chim Cher-ee. Their most lasting contributions are still integral to Disney theme parks. Here are the four attractions with five Sherman Brothers songs that you’ve loved since childhood.
Carousel of Progress (has two)
The Sherman Brothers earned the trust of Walt Disney during the early 1960s. This time was kismet for all involved, as WED Enterprises was ramping up production for the 1964 New York World’s Fair. They knew that they’d build three pavilions (the fourth was a last-minute surprise), and Uncle Walt demanded musical accompaniment for at least one of them. Ever the visionary, Disney firmly believed that people remember rides better when they hear a song as part of the ride experience.
One of the first World’s pavilions that Imagineers knew that they would construct was Carousel of Progress. Disney had a close working relationship with General Electric (GE) that lasted for many years and still occasionally comes back into play even now. As the world’s leading suppliers of home appliances, GE needed an attraction that would show that, even during changing times, GE meant stability as a brand.
Walt Disney took inspiration from this philosophy. He and his team constructed a ride that would tell a story across four generations. It would show a slice of American life when indoor power wasn’t popularized yet.
Then, the next scene would demonstrate the growing impact of such technology along with other home appliances, each of which would carry the GE brand. By the third act, everyone would appreciate how far we’ve advanced as a civilization in terms of modern conveniences. Then, the fourth act would project how GE appliances would become a staple of a better tomorrow.
To advertisers of the era, musical jingles were a critical component of a marketing campaign. As such, Carousel of Progress was the obvious choice to feature a music soundtrack. Disney commissioned the Sherman Brothers to create a song that would operate as a bridge between scenes.
The novelty design of Carousel of Progress is akin to an amusement park carousel, only the spinning isn’t readily apparent. It happens under the seating area. The ride apparatus would transport guests from one stage to the next, a process that takes a few moments. The song would entertain people during each delay.
The Sherman Brothers took their inspiration for a song from their boss. They deemed Uncle Walt as one of the most optimistic, forward-thinking people on the planet. They wrote a song that became an ode to Walt Disney. Called There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow, it underscored the power of faith with lyrics like, “Man has a dream, and that’s the start. He follows his dream with mind and heart.” Yes, those lines address how Walt Disney brought Disneyland AND Walt Disney Studios to life.
After Walt Disney’s death, the Carousel of Progress became one of the two original attractions in Tomorrowland at Magic Kingdom. GE officials inexplicably pushed for a new song to accompany the East Coast version of Carousel of Progress. Frankly, it was a sales push. They wanted the focus of the ride to be GE appliances available right now and signed a new 10-year sponsorship agreement with this directive.
Since Walt Disney World had cash flow problems, park officials couldn’t very well turn down a wealthy sponsor. Once again, the Sherman Brothers stepped up, even though they were greatly conflicted. They believed that There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow was perfect and saw no need to change it. Despite their frustration, they crafted another clever ditty called The Best Time of Your Life.
The lyrics to this tune match GE’s request perfectly. “Yesterday’s memories may sparkle and gleam,
tomorrow is still but a dream. Right here and now, you’ve got it made.” They might as well have added the line, “You owe it to yourself to buy a new GE fridge.”
While this was the Carousel of Progress song of my and most East Coasters’ youth, running from 1974 through 1994, it was vastly inferior to the original, something the Sherman Brothers knew. Thankfully, Magic Kingdom restored There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow in 1994 and have kept it as the ride’s theme song for the past quarter-century. GE’s Carousel of Progress sponsorship contract ran out in 1984 and wasn’t renewed again. If you look closely, however, you’ll see that a handful of appliances still have the GE logo on them, though.
It’s a Small World
Personally, my favorite song on this list is the one that we’ll discuss last. Realistically, the most identifiable of all Sherman Brothers songs, possibly all songs in existence, comes from It’s a Small World the ride. The funny part is that the song you know by heart should never have come to pass.
The sponsor of It’s a Small World was Pepsi. They hired several different companies for their World’s Fair pavilion in the years leading up to the big show. None of them worked, leaving one of the most powerful conglomerates on the planet in danger of missing out on the largest exhibition of the 1960s. Desperate, Joan Crawford, the subject of Mommie, Dearest, convinced the board of directors for Pepsi that her friend, Walt Disney, might be interested.
Imagineers didn’t love the idea. Their boss sprung the idea on them less than a year before the World’s Fair. And they already had three other projects, one of which was Carousel of Progress. They didn’t have a choice, though. Inspiration had struck Walt Disney as forcefully as he would ever experience in his theme park career. He had an idea for a “little boat ride” that would become It’s a Small World.
Uncle Walt again turned to the Sherman Brothers to provide the soundtrack for the boat ride. Their first instructions were poor, though. Disney told them that the attraction’s name was Children of The World. Their disastrous idea was to have dozens of voices sing those words simultaneously. By all accounts, it was an ear-bleeding sound.
Disney pushed back by fleshing out the personality required for the song. It would need an elegant simplicity. After all, it would be translated into many international languages. Extra lyrics or complex language wouldn’t work well in other tongues. The Sherman Brothers, like many Americans, had just watched with horror as the events of the Cuban Missile Crisis unfolded.
It’s a Small World is a song of peace and hope, a direct reaction to the frightening possibility of a third World War breaking out in the 1960s. Their tune emphasized the similarities of all people, the things that unite us. The lyrics shined a light on the things that connect us like the moon and sun and the power of a smile. It’s the connective tissue of humanity and perhaps the most logical explanation for why It’s a Small World is the most played song of all time according to Time Magazine.
Journey into Imagination with Figment
When Disney readied Epcot, they returned to the Sherman Brothers. The 1983 version of the attraction that they were building was simply called Journey into Imagination. It celebrated the creative process and the overwhelming imaginative powers of children. Park officials needed a song that would warmly embrace those concepts.
One Little Spark is in many ways the culmination of an entire career. The Sherman Brothers took inspiration from so many things over the years that they understood the process better than perhaps anyone else at Disney. They’d worked hand-in-hand with the boss on many occasions and were his most trusted musicians.
The siblings often had no choice about writing music. They were assigned songs and had to work on tight deadlines. They needed that proverbial One Little Spark to meet Uncle Walt’s lofty expectations. So, the lyrics were heartfelt. They were matter of fact, too.
Imagineers described the story of Journey into Imagination, and it became the subject of one of the stanzas. Figment is described in detail, which made the second version of the attraction strange. It used the song but had virtually no Figment presence. So, the lyrics didn’t make much sense for a couple of years. Figment’s thankfully back now, and the ode to him from the Sherman Brothers remains fun to hum.
The Tiki, Tiki, Tiki Room
Something you’ve assuredly noticed about the collective works of the Sherman Brothers is that they love repetition. Their philosophy is that the key to a catchy tune is your ability to recall the chorus, sometimes unwillingly. Nowhere is that more apparent than The Tiki, Tiki, Tiki Room.
Out of all Sherman Brothers songs still played during Disney attractions, this song is actually the oldest. The siblings wrote it in 1963 for the impending opening The Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland. The attraction was famous and significant for being the first one to employ Audio-Animatronics (AAs). I’m of course speaking of the robot birds who host the show and sing the music.
Since the earliest AAs weren’t capable of complex movements, the accompanying music had to distract away from their limitations. While the chorus of this song involves 12 instances of the same word, the rest of it tells a full story, one that’s still applicable today.
Disney recently re-opened The Tropical Hideaway, which the song directly references. The applicable lyric is, “Welcome to our tropical hideaway, you lucky people, you!” Other lines from the song identify the types of birds in the show and cheekily describe the presentation itself. Sure, the whole thing is ridiculously silly, but isn’t that what we all want from Disney anyway? The song is pure escapist entertainment, marrying the best of Disney with the best of the Sherman Brothers.