When Walt Disney Animation Studios’ new short Once Upon a Studio makes its broadcast debut Sunday, October 15, at 8 p.m. ET/PT as part of ABC’s The Wonderful World of Disney: Disney’s 100th Anniversary Celebration!, it will feature a newly recorded version of the classic Mary Poppins lullaby “Feed the Birds” by Academy Award-winning composer, songwriter, and Disney Legend Richard Sherman—who, at age 94 in 2022, returned to Walt Disney’s office to play piano for the new short.
“It’s hard to talk about without making ourselves cry,” director Dan Abraham says of Richard returning to the same place where he and his brother, the late Disney Legend Robert Sherman, would regularly perform the song for Walt on Friday afternoons. According to director Trent Correy, “Those sentimental moments can be really tough onscreen, and usually they need to get worked a lot. Dan pitched me the idea, and then he went off to board it. We both knew ‘Feed the Birds’ would be an important part of this.”
Correy continues, “We watched it play for the first time and it brought tears to our eyes. A couple of days later, we bumped into our head of music, Matt Walker, and he asked us, ‘Why don’t you just get Richard Sherman to play it for your short?’ We said, ‘Is that possible?’ Matt said, ‘Oh, yeah!’ Matt followed that up by suggesting, ‘Why don’t we do it in Walt’s office where he originally played it for Walt?’ We said, ‘OK… but don’t lie to us, Matt! This is a very big deal for us.'”
Walker wasn’t the only one who had a hand in bringing Richard onboard. Howard Green, Legacy Communications Executive for Disney Animation, had mentioned earlier to producers Yvett Merino and Bradford Simonsen that he would be having a birthday lunch with Richard. “Howard asked, ‘Would you would you guys want to show him the short?'” Simonsen recalls. “That was when it was in storyboards. So, we all went over and showed him that. It was an amazing experience and he asked great questions. At the end of that, he asked, ‘When are you guys done? I want to see it.’ Trent said, ‘We’ll be done in a year. We’ll show it to you for your birthday next year!'”
Richard was touched by what he saw, and with Walker’s help, filmmakers set up a time to rerecord “Feed the Birds.” On a Friday afternoon in August 2022, the directors put on their sport coats and joined the producers in Walt’s office. “It looks exactly like how Walt left it, including with the piano the Sherman Brothers played for him back in the day,” Abraham explains. “And there was Richard Sherman! He sat down and played ‘A Spoonful of Sugar,’ and he was just going to town on this piano. Then, when he went into ‘Feed the Birds,’ it was just… I can’t even talk about it without getting chills. I will never, ever forget that day.”
Merino echoes that sentiment, saying, “It was a magical day. It truly was a ‘pinch-me’ moment, because he just came in and sat down at the piano and was so natural. He started playing ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.’ It was a very special day.” Credit goes to the Walt Disney Archives staff for “tuning the piano,” Simonsen adds.
For Richard, getting involved with Once Upon a Studio represented a chance to celebrate 100 years of Walt Disney Animation Studios and Walt’s dream in a touching, magical way. “I think Walt had a very deep-rooted feeling about this song; he could understand what we were saying. It doesn’t take much to give love, to give kindness, to give thought to people,” Richard explains. “Giving a little something of yourself… it doesn’t take much to do that.”