Yesterday, I had the distinct honor of speaking with Disney (and all-around) legend Richard Sherman, half of the Sherman Brothers, one of the most beloved and prolific songwriting teams whose music has been known and loved by generations of fans from all walks of life.
The occasion for our petit chat is the upcoming re-release of The Aristocats from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment on August 21, 2012. Available for the first time ever in Blu-ray high-definition format. The exciting tale takes place in the heart of Paris where a kind and eccentric millionairess, wills her entire estate to ‘Duchess,’ a high society cat, and her three kittens. When the bumbling butler Edgar tries to pull off the ultimate catnap caper in order to secure the fortune for himself, it’s up to alley cat Thomas O’Malley and his band of swingin’ jazz cats to save the day.
One of the brand new bonus features including in the Blu-ray is titled ‘The Lost Open.’ Through the use of animatics, an alternate, never-before-scene opening for the film unfolds before the viewers, including a demo of the deleted songs ‘How Much You Mean to Me / Court Me Slowly,’ recorded by Richard and Robert Sherman themselves.
Stitch Kingdom: Can you tell us a little about the alternate opening bonus feature?
Richard Sherman: In all pictures that are created, there are all these times that you attempt to do something and somebody else decides we don’t need it, you know, that type of thing. But there was a very elaborate opening — which I always loved — but I had forgotten about it, it was so long ago — but it had been storyboarded. In other words, the action had been laid out onto a drawing and everything and a song was written and dialog was written for it and it was never filmed. It was the opening of The Aristocats which told a little more about the background why they were these pampered kittens. And this lady, their Madame Bonfamille, and how much she loved them, it’s all in this. Also it gave the opportunity to explain why Edgar the Butler was so eager to kidnap those pussycats, because he wanted all the money for himself and he makes a big play for the housemaid because she was gonna receive half the money in the will and he decided he’d marry her and get all the money for himself (laughs) — a real crazy guy. And so you got a little more insight into those characters and it’s all done in fun. It’s done with a wonderful sequence, which I got a chance to tell the story of. So through the storyboarding, I talk about it and then you hear a demo that Bob and I did 40-something years ago of this duet that was talking place between Elvira the maid and Edgar the butler. So this all material that nobody in the world has seen for 40 years. People that buy the DVD are going to see something very, very special.
SK: Does this mean you got a chance to revisit the Disney archives?
RS: Oh sure, they have wonderful drawings. It’s wonderful they do have these things and now with the magic of Blu-ray and the re-issues of these wonderful films, it’s wonderful that they can show a lot more about what goes into making a film because for every song [you] hear, there are sometimes three, four, maybe five songs had been written for that sequence and not used and many times they’re brilliant songs.
SK: Speaking of unused songs, I understand you wrote another song titled ‘Le Jazz Hot.’ Can you tell us more about it?
RS: I love ‘Le Jazz Hot’ for a lot of reasons. One because it was a song written for the sequence ‘Ev’rybody Wants to be a Cat,’ that was a decision made by the people. (laughs) It’s my own personal opinion that ‘Le Jazz Hot’ would have become a standard, unfortunately they didn’t use it. I’d be lying if I said well, let the best man win, they decided to use ‘Ev’rybody Wants to be a Cat.’ I think there was a song written by [unintelligible], a very brilliant writer, another song that was not used in the picture. So they had two or three songs for that sequence and they decided to use that song — and it’s a good song, I’m not going to knock it, it works beautifully. But I like ‘Le Jazz Hot’ for a lot of reasons, one because it has French words in it — it’s more in keeping with the whole spirit of The Aristocats. Just like the opening song with Chevalier, it’s as French as it could possibly be and we felt ‘Le Jazz Hot’ is a French word — it means hot jazz — we were right on the button. And now after 40 years, we’re going to get our chance in the sun. I’m very happy.
SK: Because Walt Disney Records is preparing to release it on ‘The Lost Chords: The Aristocats‘ on the same day as the Blu-ray…
RS: Oh yes, very good song too. My God. I was there when they re-recorded it. I’m very excited about it. That’s wonderful. So you’ll hear material — and I’m sure there are other songs other writers wrote that are excellent songs that didn’t work for what they wanted. There’s a lot of reasons why these things are cut, I mean it’s not a question of quality because people that write songs for films are all pretty damn good people, right? So what matters is what they can use and what they don’t use.
SK: Are you encouraged by the release of these lost songs?
RS: It’s wonderful for the writers because [Disney's] breathing new life into material that [the songwriters] poured themselves into that nobody has ever heard except they and their piano bench (laughs) but now they hear it all done — and I know it’s kind of wonderful to hear them hugely produced and [Disney's] done a good job of it.
SK: If there is one standout from your experience working on The Aristocats, what would it be?
RS: The Aristocats marked something very, very special for me because the great Maurice Chevalier came out of retirement to sing that title song and that was a very big thrill for us, it really was. And the fact that he did that was very special and the whole world got the last performance of this great, great entertainer.
SK: With the 50th Anniversary of Mary Poppins approaching and it possibly being the pinnacle of your career — if you can even define a pinnacle —
RS: My brother Bob and I had been writing songs together and apart — but mostly together — for fourteen years before Mary Poppins had come out. And all of a sudden, people referred to us as the ‘overnight sensation’ (laughs). We had been writing and writing. We wrote pop songs, we wrote rock and roll songs, we wrong songs for Parent Trap, we wrote songs for Sword in the Stone, we wrote songs for Summer Magic, we wrote so many songs for so many projects and pictures, ‘It’s a Small World After All.’ So when Mary Poppins came out, all of a sudden we were ‘overnight sensations,’ so basically, yes, it was a pinnacle. It was a turning point, it put us on the map.
SK: What I was getting at was I was wondering if you were aware of anything being done for it, if you could maybe give us a tease…
RS: I’ll tease you with one thing. There is a very, very, very major movie that’s going to be going in front of the camera in the coming month.
And with that allusion to the Saving Mr. Banks movie, our interview sadly drew to an end, hopefully to be continued as we draw closer to the next item on Mr. Sherman’s very full list of upcoming projects.