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Posted on Jan 28 2011 by Greg
A lot of Disney's Secretariat was filmed in the state of Louisiana, which has become a popular location among filmmakers.

Even though the real Chenery home is in Kentucky, the interior you see in the film is a suburban house in Layfayette, LA, across the street from where my niece, nephew and grandniece live (with one on the way). They said the film crew came in and completely remodeled the home's interior, and after filming was done, it was totally returned to its original condition.

The exterior of the house is used for a quick scene in which Penny Tweedy's brother reads a newspaper.

The famed Aquaduct is actually Blackham Coliseum, also not far from the same Layfayette suburb.

The exterior of the Tweedy house, seen at the very beginning of the movie, is also in a Louisiana subdivision. The mountains of Colorado were added.

Louisiana's Evangeline Downs race track appears as well. We're actually watching the movie again with our relatives in their home in Carencro, LA and they're pointing out all the locations. Kind of fun.

Posted on Jan 12 2011 by Greg
We've just completed the long-awaited second episode in the very first comedy series on the official Walt Disney World website. In this short comic jaunt, Little Timmy (who we never see) either toddles happily or is strollered frantically around Epcot.

"We don't even know why we love you, Duffy, but we love you!"

"Daddy" is played by the inventive, excellent Dennis Marsico (who, among many other roles, hosts the "Lights, Motors, Action" Stunt Spectacular at Disney's Hollywood Studios) and "Mommy" is the infinitely talented Sheila Smith-Ward, whom you've probably laughed along with at the Adventurer's Club and now at countless entertainment functions throughout the Resort.

You can see the new video here and also watch the first episode here. Registration is needed to access the videos, and while you're on that "Backstage Pass" page, you might also enjoy some of the articles, which are written by some of Disney's veteran writers, including l'il ol' me.

Blog, Movies
Posted on Dec 10 2010 by Greg

Greg EThe Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story covers the length and breadth of the art of Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman, from the Annette days, to the Disney film, TV and Theme Park projects and beyond—like Snoopy, Come Home, Tom Sawyer and Charlotte’s Web. When you string together their enormous body of work as one gigantic whole, is an overwhelming to experience all in one film.

Gregg and Jeff Sherman:  It was for us.

Gregg Sherman [son of Richard]: It must have been because we said it in stereo!

Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman

Greg E: Were you surprised about the tremendous audience responses the film received when it was in theaters?

Jeff Sherman [son of Robert]: We sat in a dark editing room for four years doing a project about our dads that I think only our family would want to see. We had no idea how universal the message was going to be and how much audiences would embrace it. When we would go the film festivals, screenings and so forth, we saw people weeping. They’d come up to thank us for making it. For me personally, it’s all been totally overwhelming and surreal.  I can’t believe the response and how universal their music and the film’s message have proven to be.

Gregg Sherman:  It touches people, generation after generation. It’s partly the music and partly the human story of these two people who were brothers, partners and strangers.  I think that is something that people relate to all over the world. Ultimately what we found was this story is not really about the rift, but it’s about the magic of what kept them together over all these years. They both had something to say and it was a very similar kind of a statement. They both wanted to bring charity, love, peace and other good things to the world, through these songs.  And they found out that they could do that better together, rather than separately.  That is what the story is really about.

Jeff Sherman:  We went to film festivals overseas. One was near Geneva, and it was a packed house. At the end we weren’t supposed to do a question and answer session, but the audience surrounded us in the lobby. There are pictures of us being mobbed.

Gregg Sherman: They asked us all these questions in French, but there were no subtitles.  We had no idea what they were saying!

Greg E:  Can we talk about Ben Stiller’s participation in the film?

Jeff Sherman: Sure. Ben came into the film because my wife Wendy Liebman—who is a stand up comedian—is very good friends with Ben’s older sister, Amy Stiller. I showed her our 25-minute work-in-progress “pitch” version of the film. Amy said, “Oh my gosh! Has Ben seen this film?” She asked for a copy, along with a treatment for a full biographical feature. Within the hour, Ben Stiller called my house, which was pretty exciting. He said, “Jeff, I love this! I love the Sherman Brothers! They are part of my childhood; they are part of my life. My dad used to sing your grandfather Al’s songs! This is so much a part of my life. How can I help you guys make this movie?” Immediately, he and his business partner Stuart Kornfeld helped us a lot through the process. They were terrific.

Greg E:  What a lot of people may not realize is that Richard and Robert Sherman were the premier creators of almost every original film musical in the late 20th century [not based on previous scores or Broadway shows]. By the late ‘60s, neither Hollywood nor Europe were seldom turning out musicals with new scores anymore except for the Sherman movies.

Gregg Sherman:  [Film historian and TCM host] Robert Osborne makes mention of that in our film.

Robert and Richard sing "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow"
with Walt Disney for the 1964 New York World's Fair.

Jeff Sherman: Having worked on TV series and movies in the past, I looked at this project and thought, “How long could it really take? Nine months to a year?” Well, three and a half years later it was still going on! The actual interview process didn’t take that long, but it was time consuming to structure all the material. We had people like Jeff Kurtti with us—who is a longtime Disney historian—bringing in tons of material and it was wonderful. Gregg and I watched just about every movie we listened to all the songs. We filled a wall with index cards with notes on them and moved them around to create a chronology of the Sherman Brothers’ lives, on a career and personal basis.  Then we took the songs that they had written during those periods and matched them up. We started seeing a sort of pattern going on in their lives and their songs. The stories emerged from all of that.

Gregg Sherman: It is a real great testament to them that, if you watch the end credits of our film, we have 160 song titles listed that were heard on the soundtrack.  And that is just a fraction of it all. For every one song we would put in there were 10 that we would have wanted to include but there wasn’t room.

Greg E: They were also had tremendous range. They could turn from one their Winnie the Pooh “hums” to more sophisticated material, like what they wrote for The Slipper and the Rose.

Jeff Sherman: You are absolutely right about The Slipper and the Rose. It’s a really sophisticated, adult score. Their imagination and creativity was boundless. And if you look at [their future Broadway musical] Busker Alley, it is as mature and sophisticated a score as they had ever written. It’s really amazing how prolific these guys and how the quality never diminished even though their personal relationship was eroding over time. One of their best songs was one of their last ones, called “Teamwork” for the stage production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.  It is a fantastic song—as good as any song they wrote at Disney. It is just a testament to their ability to block out the personal differences, get in a room and let their imagination become boundless. 

Jeffrey Sherman, Dick Van Dyke and Gregg Sherman.

Greg E: Lately, with Dick Van Dyke appearing on talk shows, I’ve noticed how much enthusiastic talk there is about Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Over the years, the movie has earned the reverence and classic status that it always deserved and didn’t initially receive.

Jeff Sherman: Well, it is an interesting film and as you go back and look, it holds up fairly well.  I think the stage musical made it a more cohesive story but I love the original film, too. The music is phenomenal. Actually when you go to England—where my dad lives, there in London—the Sherman Brothers are revered there and it is mostly for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. They play it every Christmas.

Gregg Sherman: A poll that came out, I think a year or so ago, of the top ten family entertainment films of all time, and our dads have four of the top ten films. Number one is Chitty, above Mary Poppins, above The Aristocats, above Bedknobs and Broomsticks, which I think are the other three in the top ten. 

Greg E: The Boys also explains the parallel between Chitty’s Vulgaria storyline as a satire of Nazi Germany and of course, communicates the pain that Robert Sherman suffered as a result of his service in World War II.

Jeff Sherman: Barbara Broccoli [daughter of Chitty producer Albert R. Broccoli] talks about the Nazi connection in Chitty. When we were mapping the story for The Boys, we were trying to figure out how to tell the story of my dad’s deepest, darkest war experience. I have only heard him talk about it twice. The second time I heard him speak about it was on our film. Chitty also contains one of their most beautiful songs, “Hushabye Mountain,” Which takes you right out of your fears and your worries and it really goes to the heart of who my father is anyway. He was this sweet, kind of shy, innocent poet when he was a teenager, then he saw these really horrible things in the war. He could hardly bear it so he came out of it needing to make the world a better place, but he couldn’t do it all on his own.

"The boys" at the studio.

Greg E: There’s also a “who’s-who” of great songwriters on camera in The Boys, talking about the importance and quality of the Sherman songbook.

Jeff Sherman: Every songwriter that we talked to in this—Randy Newman, Kenny Loggins, Stephen Schwartz, John Williams, Sheldon Harnick and others—had mutual respect for the Sherman Brothers. They all wanted to be part of this and offer tributes. 

Greg E: There’s also a thought-provoking comment by Alan Menken about how one show business executive was in a meeting, being dismissive about the Sherman.

Jeff Sherman: I will tell you something, I love that this comment stayed in the film. A lot of people would look at a Disney-produced film about Disney songwriters and think it was “one kind of movie,” but we were allowed to do the movie we wanted to do and be honest about it. That comment from Alan is extremely honest and it is what happened.

Gregg Sherman:  It really reflects a kind of a dark period at the studio.  But as it turns out, this film is a testament to the current Disney regime and some of the one before. The offered great support behind this film, and to our Dads. They welcomed them back into the Disney fold.  They had them do movies and commemorated as Disney Legends—and now there’s the World of Color at Disney California Adventure, with their song starting if off. They have rolled out the red carpet for our dads in so many ways. They are so grateful. The love goes both ways and It is a terrific thing.  So I think that dark period is over. And as side note, recently Alan Menken got a star on Hollywood Walk of Fame and my dad was the one that presented it to him.  Because Alan wanted that.  My dad was extremely happy to do it.

Greg E: And they’ve won so many awards, justifiably, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Jeffrey Sherman: You know, for the longest time he kept all of his awards—his Oscars, his certificates and everything up in his bathroom. He’s always been kind of humble and shy. But I mean, these things were in his bathroom! I would say to him “Why?” And he said, “The work speaks for itself, its not about the awards, its about the work.” My mother finally had a room built in the house so they could display the gold records and all. 

Greg E: Now that The Boys is on DVD for everyone to enjoy in their homes, it’s a great way for families and friends to get together and relive all the memories of those songs. Can you tell me about some of the bonus features?

Jeffrey Sherman: They are mostly the things we wanted to put in the film that just didn’t completely fit the premise.  There’s a whole section on their contribution to the theme parks. There’s another called “Why They Are ‘The Boys’?” about all the different people reflecting on how they got that name.

Gregg Sherman: In the bonus feature about casting Mary Poppins, our dads talk about how Julie Andrews came in to the project. Then we have one whole section called “Jukebox,” with different versions of their songs, some of which they sing, and even some with lyrics you may have never heard before. 

On the set of Mary Poppins.

Jeffrey Sherman: There is one very special one, from 1924, of Eddie Cantor singing one of our grandfather’s songs in one of the first ever recorded sound sync tests. We even put in some fun things like the Der Weinersnitzel commercial that our dads wrote. 

Greg E: When you’re not working on this project, what are your other pursuits?

Jeff Sherman: I’m a writer, producer, director and composer.  I worked on Boy Meets World as a producer and writer for four and a half years.  I did the Au Pair movies for ABC Family and Fox Family, stuff like that. I wrote a movies like Up The Creek and The Soldier. My passion is music, though, and sooner or later I am going to do something with that.

Gregg Sherman:  I also am a writer/producer and was a staff sitcom writer on a bunch of different shows, then went from that to game shows—one in particular was Win Ben Stein’s Money on Comedy Central. We won a bunch of Emmys for it. It was kind of fun. I have done features as a writer and as a producer and written some music as well.  So I have been a little all over the map. Yes, that is my career trajectory.

Greg E: It sounds like creativity runs in the family.

Jeffrey Sherman: Yes, it goes back several generations, back to deep, dark Russia.  There were violinists and musicians. Our grandfather, Al Sherman, taught me piano early on, so I have been playing pretty much my whole life. And we each have two sons—Gregg says we both have Sherman brothers in our families! My older son, Alex, is very gifted guitarist he picks up everything and he plays piano and drums and everything else.  My younger son. Ryan, who is a math science whiz, he is like a Mensa kid.  Over the summer he decided he wanted to teach himself “Moonlight Sonata.”  He plays it perfectly and now he has to get piano lessons. Also, my two sisters Laurie and Tracy were professional singers and sang in many of the Sherman Brothers sessions. 

Gregg Sherman: Yeah, I did too.

Jeff Sherman:  They wouldn’t let me, I would get asthma and they would kick me out!

Gregg Sherman: Music has been a common theme for all of us but I think the creative process has been alive and well in all of our family members. Our grandmother was a silent movie actress. My youngest is kind of a ham. He has a beautiful singing voice and he is in the choir. He is nine and definitely has filmmaking qualities about him.  He’s got a Mac book and makes all kinds of stuff. My older son is sixteen and he is a rap artist.  He has been signed and is really doing well.  He is an amazing lyricist—a gifted, gifted talented boy. So I think that creative spirit is alive and well in all our kids.

Greg E: And it still seems to be continuing with your dads, from Robert’s magnificent paintings to Richard’s latest music—the song from Iron Man 2. Do you think there will ever be a collaboration between both of them again?

Gregg Sherman: We don’t know. 

The boys are still "the boys."

Jeff Sherman: If I were to hold up the Magic Eight Ball, sources point to no but you never know.  We would never want to rule it out.

Gregg Sherman I think if the right assignment came along for them and they wanted to do it together, they would probably do it together.


Blog, Movies
Posted on Dec 08 2010 by Greg
Some of us can remember a time when it seemed unthinkable that a classic Disney animated feature would ever be broadcast on TV at all, and with the rare exceptions of Dumbo and Alice in Wonderland (which was edited), they were not broadcast for decades but only reissued to theaters.

When home video came along, again it seemed out of the question that Snow White, Sleeping Beauty -- and especially Fantasia -- would ever, ever be released on VHS tape. Now it's become a nostalgic memory to recall the fervor that arose when, one by one, they all did become part of many home libraries.

The release of Fantasia was always an event when I was growing up because Disney didn't release it nationwide with a big ad campaign. It just suddenly appeared every few years in theaters and each time, seeing it was like living through a multi-sensory experience. It's not like a movie, per se, but more of a journey.

When it was issued on VHS, it was a huge seller. Surely Walt Disney, who was apparently disappointed throughout his life that the public never embraced Fantasia the way he dreamed they would, might have felt some closure. It was the success of the VHS sales that helped Roy E. Disney convince Michael Eisner to green light what became Fantasia 2000.

This new multi-DVD/Blu-Ray package combines both films for the first time. If you didn't get the DVD last time, do not hesitate this time because it should be in every home. If you want to see and hear it as never before -- plus finally get a look at the fabled Disney/Dali collaboration, Destino, this may be the thing that tips the scales in favor of getting that Blu-Ray player for a holiday gift.

There is nothing like Walt Disney's Fantasia, including its countless imitators. You never run out of things to notice with each viewing. And thanks to the generous audio commentaries and supplemental materials, you can gain an even greater insight into what a mammoth enterprise Walt Disney had the tenacity to take on. It was produced during a period when his artists were at the peak of their form and right before the strike and the war changed things forever.

Some of my own little notes about the original Fantasia:
Ever notice how many characters are waking up and going to sleep? What's that big blocky thing going down the hallway in "Toccata and Fugue?" (Even Roy didn't know.) How many action, horror and sci-fi movie scores must have borrowed elements of "The Rite of Spring?" And was I the only person in the late '60s/early '70s who burst out laughing during "Dance of the Hours," not because of the funny hippos and ostriches, but because Allan Sherman used the tune for "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh?"

It's fitting that Fantasia 2000 is being reissued to the public after Waking Sleeping Beauty, in which we learned more detail about Roy E. Disney's pivotal role in turning the Disney corporate tides, and then seeing and hearing him as a major guiding force behind this film, which was very much a personal triumph for him.

The miracle is that such an ambitious project as Fantasia 2000 is excellent, too, combining reverence for the original film and its techniques with the newest innovations. How can you not admire the brilliant "Rhapsody in Blue," the hysterical flamingos, the lush and lovely "Firebird" sequence, and the rest?

The live-action 2000 "interstitials," though largely amusing to diffuse the stuffiness that one might have found in the 1940 Deems Taylor hosting duties, will probably date 60 years from now, too, with several of the celebrities being obscured by time and generations, but they are there merely for marquee value and are fine.

My only quibble is that Bette Midler seems a little too flip and dismissive of the early Fantasia sequences that were considered then dropped from the original. Nothing against Ms. M, but the approach comes across as if these lost concepts were all "losers," reducing these ideas to mere eye-rollers, like the one about "Salvador Dali and baseball." It kind of flies in the face of the years of effort Roy put into restoring Destino and to the countless artists whose work was deleted for reasons other than "dumbness." It's a cute segment, and she is charming as ever, but it just seems a little insensitive.

The new audio commentary by the always welcome historian Brian Sibley is, as expected, richly detailed with endless facts about every minute of the 1940 film, along with mini bios on the artists involved. Some of it overlaps with earlier commentary from other historians, particularly John Canemaker, but if you don't have a Blu-Ray, you only get the new one and not the two earlier ones.

The two earlier Fantasia commentaries are wonderful because they feature Roy, Canemaker and "2000" Conductor James Levine on one, and Canemaker again on the other one with none other than Walt Disney himself in various clips, plus spot-on readings of his notes by an astonishingly gifted voice actor, who also redubbed Deems Taylor when the restored footage was found to be missing a lot of original audio.

[Note to collectors: If you have the three-disc Fantasia Collection DVD set, you'll probably still want to keep it, though, because there are still a lot of extras, like all the concept art and background materials, that were included on the Fantasia Legacy disc that are not in the new package.

The most touching moment, for me, came when the audio commentary for "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" started, and there was  Roy talking with Mickey Mouse, performed in the vocal persona who we have had the pleasure of enjoying for the past several decades. This was the Mickey I have personally witnessed doing radio interviews at various Disney events, filled with good humor and crackling wit. What a wonderful treat and what a irreplaceable treasure to have now.

So what's the big deal with Destino? Well, it is a big deal because it was considered unfinished and never to be completed. With the help of John Hench, who worked with Walt and Dali originally, and again Roy's dogged determination, it was completed with the original soundtrack intact (it's a Latin pop love ballad, by the way, sung by Dora Luz, who sang "You Belong to My Heart" in The Three Caballeros. It is strange? Weird? Disturbing? Nutso? Oh yeah! But how cool! And what a miracle that this once-in-a-millennium collaboration survived and we can actually see it at home!

One last note : on the commentary for the interstitials for Fantasia 2000, producer Don Hahn talks about the design of this otherworldly concert hall, with its "sails" carrying images around the frames (and on the selection menus).

How appropriate that a film that is so much a result of the teaming of Roy E. Disney with great Disney artists, past and present, should have "sails," since sailing was his passion?

Along with Disney heritage and legacy, of course.

Blog, Movies
Posted on Dec 04 2010 by Greg
Before he started making movies with Hollywood names and geting known for the breakneck editing techniques of Moulin Rouge, Australian director/co-screenwriter Baz Luhrmann gained international acclaim and a shelf of awards for Strictly Ballroom, a quirky, highly stylized light drama about a young dancer who apparently isn't allowed to improvise and the young plain Jane who becomes his partner.

Filmed with a marvelous Aussie cast, Luhrmann made up for a clearly limited budget with flashy lighting, dynamic color and a an eclectic mix of musical styles. Though referred to as musical, there is no on-camera singing and the songs are used as dance background for the most part. Doris Day's hit, "Perhaps" is referred to by Luhrmann as a "pricey" acquistion for the film but very much worth it.

Disney fans will want to listen for "Os quindines de ya ya" which serves as the key music for the father's dancing past. "Ya ya" was the big number in Walt Disney's The Three Caballeros in which the produce lady danced with Donald Duck, the townspeople and an animated dancing city. Another song, "No Other Love," was a '50s pop tune adapted from Chopin which was a hit for Jo Stafford and was one of the handful of Disney songs that were not created for movies but just as pop hits, like "Shrimp Boats" and "Mule Train."

I never could quite cotton to the whiplash pace of Moulin Rouge, so even though Strictly Ballroom sometimes has a Howard Hawks rate of speed, it's not all in the editing but rather in the performances, which are uniformly excellent. The opening scenes were so raucously done that they reminded me, of all things, of an episode of The Monkees.

Parents should take note that, although this film has a PG rating and is not as gritty as it might have been, there is some strong language and one scene in which a dance judge and and a young woman are seen in bed, vigorously engaged what my dad used to call "spoo-ja-doo."

This special edition DVD includes an audio commentary from 2002 with Luhrmann, Choreographer John "Cha Cha" O'Connell and Production Designer Catherine Martin and a new half-hour chronicle of the story behind the film, which was a Cinderella story in itself, from a student musical to a plucky little film with a first-time director and star to a dubious opening with a negative review, all the way to a Cannes Film Festival award win. This film was quite a change of pace in its day, many years before the dawn of popular TV dance competition shows like Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance.

Have to add, though, that the first time Antonio Vargas and Paul Mercurio begin the pivotal paso doble dance, it can't help now but conjure up an image of Buzz Lightyear's Spanish mode in Toy Story 3.

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