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Catching Up With Two Disney Legends

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by Leonard Maltin
November 12, 2013 2:59 PM
4 Comments
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A mutual admiration society: Richard Sherman and Jason Schwartzman.
(Courtesy of AFI) A mutual admiration society: Richard Sherman and Jason Schwartzman.

With the impending release of Saving Mr. Banks and the recent stage production of The Jungle Book, songwriter Richard Sherman has been busier than the Energizer Bunny. After a hectic schedule of commuting back and forth to Chicago, where Jungle Book debuted (with some new Sherman songs), he’s now negotiating an endless number of promotional appearances for Mr. Banks, the upcoming Disney movie about the making of Mary Poppins in which he’s portrayed by Jason Schwartzman. I was happy to host a private reception for Richard last week where he charmed about 50 members of the AFI National Council who had flown in from all parts of the country. Some of us lucky Disney fans have gotten to see Richard and his late brother Bob in personal appearances they’ve made over the years, but for this group it was a brand-new experience. Not surprisingly, he had them eating from the palm of his hand as he told stories behind some of his most popular songs and accompanied himself at the piano.

Actor Schwartzman surprised everyone by popping in to say hello and was immediately recruited by Richard to join him in singing “Let’s Go Fly a Kite.” Jason later told me that he never would have had the nerve to do such a thing before meeting the ebullient composer, whose optimistic outlook has left a lasting impression on him. He considers the experience of getting to know him a great gift. I think it’s safe to say that many others (including me and my family) feel the same way.

Imagineer Tony Baxter and a fellow Disneyland veteran pose with a replica of Tony’s window on Main Street. The window itself resides just above the magic shop.
Imagineer Tony Baxter and a fellow Disneyland veteran pose with a replica of Tony’s window on Main Street. The window itself resides just above the magic shop.

Richard and his wife Elizabeth were among the crowd who got up early the previous Friday to cheer on Disney Imagineer Tony Baxter as he was saluted with the greatest honor Disneyland can bestow: his name emblazoned on a window on Main Street. Fittingly, Tony’s is positioned just above the Magic Shop. Most visitors to the park are unaware that the so-called proprietors listed on those second-story windows are real-life people who worked behind the scenes to make Disneyland the happiest place on earth. Despite his 37 years on the team, Tony remains ever-youthful and takes great pride in joining an illustrious lineup of people who inspired and mentored him. Many living Disney legends were on hand to applaud him, including Donald Duck’s voice artist Tony Anselmo, Wendy and Alice voice performer Kathryn Beaumont, longtime head of Imagineering Marty Sklar, automotive Imagineer Bob Gurr, and historian/archivist Dave Smith, to name just a few. If you’d like to see a brief video wrapup of the early-morning ceremony, courtesy of the Orange County Register, click HERE

Tony fashioned a replica of the Sleeping Beauty castle when he was 12 years old and followed his dream to work at the Magic Kingdom, where he rose through the ranks and became a leading voice in the creation of such attractions as Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, the Indiana Jones Adventure, the reinvention of Fantasyland and the transformation of Walt Disney’s submarine ride into the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage. He left his strongest mark on Disneyland Paris, which is the main reason I hope to visit that park someday. No one is more dedicated to preserving and extending Walt Disney’s legacy than Tony. He deserves every accolade he’s been receiving this year, and I know that the next chapter in his career will be filled with excitement and innovation.

He and Richard Sherman are genuine Good Guys who make the world a better place.

Poster artist extraordinaire Drew Struzan and Richard Sherman were there to cheer for Tony
Poster artist extraordinaire Drew Struzan and Richard Sherman were there to cheer for Tony
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4 Comments

  • Norm | November 12, 2013 6:21 PMReply

    Disneyland was always about the people, the rides come and go, but it was the people who made them special...

  • Laura | November 12, 2013 6:08 PMReply

    A wonderful article on two men I've been privileged to see speak and perform in person!

    The chef in the photo with Tony is Oscar Martinez, who has worked at Disneyland 57 years next month.

    Best wishes,
    Laura

  • Lee Eisenberg | November 12, 2013 4:13 PMReply

    I recently saw the original "Parent Trap", for which the Shermans also did the music. As is the case with every Disney movie, I watched it only so that I could heckle it a la "Mystery Science Theater 3000". Richard Sherman probably would NOT like what I said while watching it, or what I said when I watched "Mary Poppins".

  • Dbenson | November 14, 2013 12:37 AM

    To be fair, Disney generally holds up as well or better than most "family fare" of the 50s and 60s. I submit that more heckleworthy material is to be found in competing product of the same era.

    Yes, "Parent Trap" plays by the outdated rules of contemporary sitcoms, to the point of regarding divorce as a curable anomaly (contrast to "The Santa Claus" series, where the hero's ex-wife and new husband are extended family). But it's smartly written and directed, and nobody is phoning it in -- unlike other forgotten epics of suburban life (including almost any comedy where a mature A-lister plays a teenager's parent).

    "Mary Poppins", meanwhile, ages far more gracefully than "Jumbo", "Doctor Dolittle" and many other big holiday releases, despite the unquestioned talent and resources the competition deployed. Only "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" comes close, and that reunited the Sherman brothers with Dick Van Dyke; was directly by Ken Anniken (responsible for several of Disney's best early features); and offered flashes of off-kilter wit.

    As for the second-string Disney live action films, they more than hold their own against the Universal Bs, their closest equivalents.

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