Tag Archives: Robert Sherman

Make Way for Tomorrow

Robert Sherman, one half of the Sherman brothers, died yesterday. You might not know who they were, but I bet you can whistle one of their songs. I haven’t knowingly seen or heard “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” for twenty years, and yet when I read that obituary it immediately popped into my head, and I still know all the words. In the terrifyingly large portion of my brain occupied with remembering song lyrics, I reckon the Sherman Brothers are taking up a good few percent.

When I was a kid, we went to Walt Disney World. This was the early nineties, when Epcot was still attempting to be educational and fun, mostly through the medium of insanely catchy songs – not all written by the Shermans, but all with the general theme of how amazing science/the world/the universe was. One of the rides was Journey into Imagination, a ride housed in a double glass pyramid, which took you on a trip through someone’s imagination, with a little purple dragon called Figment (voiced by Dave Goelz) and a Sherman Brothers song that lodged itself in your brain and never left. Yes, it was astonishingly cheesy by adult standards, but as a six-year-old it was enthralling. So enthralling that when they revamped it, in favour of a much less charming ride where Eric Idle berated you for lack of imagination, it lasted two years before revamped it again, and put Figment back in.

(In the same building you could also see Captain Eo, probably the first 3D film I ever saw, in which Michael Jackson saves the universe through the power of dance. It was a lot better when I was six.)

Not all of their songs were earwormy in a good way – I’m afraid to mention “It’s A Small World”, because I imagine it is now lodged permanenly in your brain – but one of their most earwormy songs is probably the best summary of the Walt Disney thinking that still ran through the theme parks even after his death. It’s about looking towards the future of technology and mankind, but couched in nostalgia for the past and a future that seems limited by what a man in 1960s America could imagine. “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” plays during the Carousel of Progress, a twenty-minute show devoted to how technology has changed our lives[2] and will continue to do so, and like the song it is relentless. It was first developed for the 1964 World’s Fair and is now horribly dated but still has a certain charm, or at least provides an air-conditioned place to sit during the Florida summer.

It’s easy to parody Disney and this frame of mind – Cave Johnson and to a lesser extent Andrew Ryan[1]Iron Man 2. The Stark Expo from 1974 is a pretty direct reference to the 1964 World’s Fair in New York, and if you’ve ever seen the video of Walt Disney talking about his plans for Epcot, you’ll recognise it in the footage of Roger Sterling Howard Stark that Tony spends so long watching. (There’s a model of Epcot just like the model of the Expo, although to my knowledge it does not contain hidden information about a new element.) And what better was to top off your Disney parody? With an upbeat Sherman brothers song about the joys of tomorrow, instantly recognisable as one of their songs to any one who grew up with them.

[1] Well, the lives of the average American suburban two kids and a dog family at least.
[2] I know Andrew Ryan = Ayn Rand (or maybe Howard Hughes), but there’s an Ayn Rand quote up on the wall in Epcot Center, next to inspirational quotes from Charles Lindberg, Herman Melville, and Disney himself.