The songwriting duo, Robert and Richard, are characters in the new film Saving Mr. Banks, opening in theaters today, and they are caught in the middle of a battle of wills between the driven filmmaker Walt Disney and P.L. Travers, the immovable author of the beloved book, Mary Poppins.
The new film explores how Disney ultimately appeals to the author with the musical tributes to her characters, crafted by the Shermans. Combing through her Poppins books, the brothers found minor characters like Burt, the chimney sweep, and brought them to life with fantastic musical numbers. The brothers struck a chord with Travers by conveying the deeper meaning of her story--how kindness can change people--with a beautiful song built upon the book's details. "Feed the Birds" becomes a moving and pivotal part of the story, and is based upon a scene in the book where a woman is selling breadcrumbs on a London street.
In a 2011, when Richard Sherman was in town helping to bring Mary Poppins to the stage, he sat at the piano for an interview with Jared Bowen and he talked about creating those songs.
Another Disney hit film, The Jungle Book, came to life on the Huntington Theater stage this past September, and Sherman again helped to reshape the popular tunes into musical numbers. This time on Open Studio, Sherman said Disney asked their team to find the bright and cheerful within the dark and frightening book by Rudyard Kipling. Sherman said the creative team had fun and worked in a spoonful of happy-go-lucky to some of the jungle characters. He called assignments from Disney "a gift" because he and the other Imagineers working in the Disney empire were given license to create their best. "They jumped higher than they ever thought they could jump because Walt said you could do it," Sherman explained.
Tom Hanks portrays Walt Disney in the film Saving Mr. Banks. Revealed is the untold backstory of how difficult it was to bring Mary Poppins to the screen. Disney's determination, combined with the talented people he could motivate, was still not enough for him to prevail in the clash over the film's process. But when Disney reached into his own childhood, he began to understand Travers. Together the author, the filmmaker and the songwriters set Mary Poppins free to become one of the most endearing films in cinematic history. And even after the images have faded somewhat from memory, we can still sing the words to "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious", but never try to say it backwards!
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