Everyone who left the Samuel Goldwyn Theater Wednesday night was humming. It might have been “A Spoonful of Sugar,” “Winnie the Pooh,” “It’s a Small World” or any of a dozen other tunes written over the past 50 years by Richard M. Sherman and his late brother Robert B. Sherman, but they were humming something.
The Motion Picture Academy’s two-and-a-half-hour salute to the songwriters, billed as “The Sherman Brothers: A Hollywood Songbook,” may have been the most joyous celebration in that theater in recent memory. Multiple standing ovations and a warm, infectious feeling of Disney-fueled happiness were the order of the evening.
The Shermans — Dick, who just turned 90, and his brother Bob, who died in 2012 — penned some of the most memorable movie songs in history, many of them for Walt Disney. As Dick Van Dyke, reminiscing about being on the set of “Mary Poppins,” put it, “there was something about every song they wrote that went straight to your heart.”
Many of them “have become part of our collective DNA,” said John Stamos, the evening’s host, and that was apparent as the crowd hummed, clapped and sang along with many of the songs presented. Film historian Leonard Maltin reminded the crowd that the Shermans were “responsible for more musical song scores than any songwriting team in movie history,” and that Richard Sherman is still active, having recently written new songs for Disney’s upcoming “Christopher Robin” movie.
“Greatest Showman” singer-actress Keala Settle opened the show with a fresh take on “It’s a Small World,” as the Shermans originally intended that 1964 theme-park song: a prayer for peace. Stamos injected a relevant political note into the script, pointing out that it was written “by the sons of immigrants” and that the song tells listeners that “the same sun that shines on a child at Disneyland seeking joy also shines on a child of Syria seeking shelter.”
Actress Hayley Mills recalled meeting the Sherman brothers when she was a young teenager starring in “The Parent Trap,” then surprised the audience (while insisting “I can’t sing”) with an enthusiastic performance of “Let’s Get Together,” which became a top-10 hit after the film’s release in 1961. “Richard, this is all your fault,” she told the honoree, seated in the audience.
Van Dyke, 92, performed a medley of songs from “Mary Poppins” including “Chim Chim Cheree,” “Step in Time,” “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and “A Spoonful of Sugar” along with a trio of backup singers he introduced as The Vantastix.
The evening’s musical high point came with country singer LeAnn Rimes’ (pictured above with Sherman and his son Gregg) stunning a cappella performance of “Stay Awake,” the lullaby from “Mary Poppins.” But there was additional star power onstage, with Kenny Loggins doing “Your Heart Will Lead You Home,” co-written with the Shermans for “The Tigger Movie”; and a surprise appearance by eight-time Oscar-winning songwriter Alan Menken, who paid tribute with a piano-banging rendition of “I Wanna Be Like You” from “The Jungle Book.”
Lesley Ann Warren reminisced about her film debut in “The Happiest Millionaire” and sang that film’s “Valentine Candy,” while top contemporary composers Michael Giacchino (“Up”) and John Debney (the live-action remake of “The Jungle Book”) spoke of their lifelong connections with the Shermans and their music.
Actress Karen Dotrice (who played Jane Banks in “Mary Poppins”), while extolling the Shermans’ knack for “catchy, unforgettable, Oscar-winning earworms,” introduced the film’s moving “Feed the Birds” sequence. It was Disney’s favorite song, she said, with a lyric that reminds us “it takes so little to show charity, love and kindness.”
Sherman himself took to the stage near the end, calling their signing by Disney “the opportunity of a lifetime” and going to the piano to sing and play a spirited “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” The entire cast joined him onstage for a final audience sing-along of “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” from the “Poppins” soundtrack.
Also performing onstage were Jordan Fisher, who did the brothers’ pre-Disney hit “You’re Sixteen”; guitarist Tommy Emmanuel (“Winnie the Pooh”); young “Coco” star Anthony Gonzalez, who sang “It Changes” from “Snoopy, Come Home”; cabaret performer Maude Maggart, who sang “Hushabye Mountain” from “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”; and Michael-Leon Wooley, whose folk-flavored “River Song” from “Tom Sawyer” demonstrated the brothers’ knack for musical Americana.
Rare film clips dotted the evening, from black-and-white studio footage of Mills performing with Maurice Chevalier to the brothers’ performance of “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” (written for Disneyland’s Carousel of Progress) in Disney’s office and a 1930s short that featured the brothers’ songwriter dad Al Sherman (“You’ve Got to Be a Football Hero”).
But the sequence that brought the house down was a revised segment from “Up” — introduced by new Pixar creative chief Pete Docter and animation colleagues Bob Peterson and Jonas Rivera — that reimagined its faux newsreel footage as the Sherman brothers’ story, complete with hilarious new voiceover.