IMAGE00 ALT TEXT: In a black-and-white vintage photo, Disney Legends Richard M. Sherman (left) and Robert B. Sherman (right) are leaning on a black stool with a toy clown on it. Both Sherman brothers are looking to their right and smiling, dressed in dark-colored suits and light-colored shirts.

How the Sherman Brothers Shaped Disney’s Musical Legacy

By the D23 team

In honor of the late Disney Legends Richard M. Sherman (who passed away on May 25) and Robert B. Sherman, we’re sharing a story that originally appeared in the fall 2023 issue of Disney twenty-three. It has been modified for

From “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” to “I Wan’na Be Like You,” songwriters Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman crafted some of the most iconic and timeless songs in The Walt Disney Company’s century-long history. During their tenure at Disney, the siblings—affectionately known as the Sherman brothers—composed over 200 songs for 27 films and 24 television productions. They also created memorable theme park melodies, including “It’s a Small World,” “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow,” and “The Tiki, Tiki, Tiki Room.”

Now, through archival interviews, the Sherman brothers—in their own words—reminisce on meeting Walt Disney, working on Mary Poppins (1964), and making the tough decision to leave Disney.

Walt first took notice of the Sherman brothers after they wrote a seminal pop hit for one of the Mickey Mouse Club’s biggest young stars, Disney Legend Annette Funicello.

“Bob and I were writing pop music right out of college, and by a pure piece of serendipity, we had a song of ours recorded by Annette Funicello,” recalled Richard, in an interview some years ago. “’Tall Paul’ turned our lives around and became a huge hit for us and Annette. It was her first Top 10 song, and it established her as a teen idol… We didn’t know it at the time, but Walt was very conscious of everything Annette was doing. The whole world was crazy about Annette!”

Following the success of ‘Tall Paul,” Disney Legend Jimmy Johnson and then general manager of the Walt Disney Music Company, asked the Sherman brothers to write a song for Funicello to sing in The Horsemasters (1961), a two-part television movie for Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color.

“We came up with three songs over a weekend; we wrote like crazy,” Richard said. “We had a slow, a medium, and a fast one. We decided to go with the medium song, and it was called ‘The Strummin’ Song.’ We came into the studio and had no idea to whom we were going to play this song, except for Jimmy. He said, ‘I like the medium-tempo song. Now we have to play this for Walt.’ We said, ‘What?!’ Jimmy said, ‘Walt hears everything. There is nothing that goes into a program of his that he doesn’t see and OK.’ That is how we first met Walt. We didn’t know it, but Walt had already asked Jimmy, ‘Who are those guys who write the cute songs for Annette? Why don’t you have them take a stab at writing for this picture?”

During their first meeting with Walt, however, things did not go as planned.

“At one point [Walt] said, ‘OK, this picture is about identical twins.’ He started pitching the story of The Parent Trap [1961], which became our first major picture at Disney,” Richard said. “Here we are, talking to a living legend, a man the whole world knows and loves, and he’s telling us about another picture we’re supposed to be writing for. My brother, Bob—God bless him—said, ‘Mr. Disney, we came to play a song we’ve written for Annette to sing in The Horsemasters.’ Walt went, ‘Oh! Why didn’t you tell me?’ So, I sat down at the piano, and I played the song for him. His comment was, ‘Yeah! That’ll work.’ Then, ‘Listen, I spent a lot of time on this other thing, so why don’t you take a script home, read it, and see if you come up with any ideas?’ If Walt said to anyone, ‘That’ll work,’ that meant he was going to put that idea into a multi-million-dollar package. He never went into explanations.”

Following The Sword in the Stone (1963), which marked the first time they wrote music for an animated film, the Sherman brothers got to work on a priority project: Mary Poppins (1964), a film inspired by the P. L. Travers stories Walt’s family cherished.

They wrote a number of beloved tunes for the film, including “Jolly Holiday,” “Step in Time,” and “Let’s Go Fly a Kite.”

However, Walt felt one song—“The Eyes of Love”—was too “sugary.” He wanted “something with a little more snap in it,” Richard recalled. Thus, the song “A Spoonful of Sugar” was born.

“That was my brother’s concept,” Richard revealed. “We were trying to come up with a catchphrase, like ‘a stitch in time saves nine’ or ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away.’” Inspiration struck after Robert’s son recounted receiving the polio vaccine; it didn’t taste bad, he explained, because the medicine came within a sugar cube. “Bob came in the next day, and he said, ‘What do you think of it, ‘A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down?’” Richard said. Because Mary Poppins “would never say exactly what you would expect her to say, every time the word ‘down’ occurs, the melody went up, it would truly be Mary Poppins. The minute I sat down to play it, I knew that was it. We were both jumping around like a couple of freaks! We knew we had found the key note for [Disney Legend Julie Andrews]. Walt said, ‘Julie wants something with more snap.’ So, the very opening verse was, ‘In every job that must be done there is an element of fun. You find the fun and—snap!—the job’s a game!’” he said with a laugh. “We put the snap in because she wanted snap in it.”

Next, the Sherman brothers began work on Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree (1966), where they were tasked with writing a theme for the “willy nilly silly old bear.”

The last animated feature Walt oversaw was The Jungle Book (1967), and by the time the Sherman brothers became involved, the film was already well into preproduction.

Following Walt’s passing, and while working on The Aristocrats (1970) and Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971), the Sherman brothers made the tough decision to leave Disney.

“It was sad,” Richard admitted. “What we loved most about it was working for Walt, and he’d been gone for a year and a half. We stayed on until mid-1968; we had been there eight years. We came back for Bedknobs and worked six months… There was a board of directors, and they never could figure out what they wanted to do. We had one too many songs sliced out of pictures, one too many disappointments. We decided we were still young and active with a desire to write: ‘Let’s get out of here.’ We had lunch with our friends [at the studio] and they gave us a big plaque that read: ‘Your room is empty, but your melodies linger on.’”

When they returned to Disney decades later to contribute music for films such as The Tigger Movie (2000) and Christopher Robin (2018), the Sherman brothers stuck to their tried-and-true philosophy—one that had guided them since their early days with Walt himself.

“A songwriter writes these songs, and we must look for the spots in the action where they come normally and naturally. You can’t just shove them in,” Robert said. “We always wanted them to come in smoothly, so they were part of the dialogue… Richard and I always looked for the salient points in a story so we could carry the whole thing through. Walt liked that.”