11 of the Most Beloved Sherman Brothers Songs

Whether you’re a Disney fan or not, chances are pretty good that you’ve had a Sherman Brothers song firmly stuck in your head at one point or another.

The songwriting duo got their big break when Annette Funicello turned one of their songs – “Tall Paul (He’s My All)” into a hit in the late ‘50s. Disney asked them to write more songs for the popular Mouseketeer, and you could say that things kind of took off after that. The Sherman Brothers’ influence can be found in everything from classic Disney movies to theme park attractions. Their music pretty much shaped the way most of us think not only about Disney, but about childhood.

Robert B. Sherman passed away at the age of 86 on Monday, so in tribute, here are 11 of our favorite Sherman Brothers songs.

1. “Let’s Get Together” from The Parent Trap. If you think the song is a bit catchy (you’re singing it right now, aren’t you?), you’re not alone. The ditty was a top 10 hit for actress Hayley Mills; billing was given to “Hayley Mills with Hayley Mills.” The success of this song resulted in the future Miss Bliss recording an entire album called, appropriately, Let’s Get Together with Hayley Mills.

2. “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The Sherman Brothers have said they loved working with Dick Van Dyke and have remained good friends with him after all of these years.

3. “The Tiki Tiki Tiki Room” from the Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom. Start at 5:35 unless you want to sit through the whole Tiki Room schtick.

4. “A Spoonful of Sugar” from Mary Poppins. To woo Julie Andrews to the part of Mary Poppins, Walt Disney had the Sherman Brothers write a tune that was sure to convince her. The duo penned a lovely song called “The Eyes of Love.” Andrews hated it. Walt asked for something catchier, which was a struggle for Robert until he went home to see his kids. They had received their polio vaccine that day and informed him that it hadn’t hurt at all – the medicine was simply placed on a sugar cube and they ate it like candy. Voila.

5. “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” from the Carousel of Progress, originally an attraction at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. If you’ve never had the pleasure of experiencing the Carousel of Progress, it’s an audio-animatronic show that marvels at the technological advances we’ve made since 1890. Before the show premiered, Disney called the Sherman Brothers into a studio somewhat unexpectedly to shoot a video to share with General Electric, the sponsor of the World’s Fair Pavilion. Here’s a clip that rather fascinating pitch film - the Sherman Brothers crooning with Disney himself.

6. “I Wan’na Be Like You (The Monkey Song)” from the Jungle Book. This is probably one of my favorite Disney songs, due in large part to the amazing vocals of Louis Prima and Phil Harris.

7. “Winnie the Pooh” from The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.

8. “Chim Chim Cher-ee” from Mary Poppins. Julie Andrews singled this song out as one of her favorite Disney songs, and it’s no surprise – the Andrews/Dick Van Dyke duet earned the Sherman Brothers an Oscar for “Best Original Song.” They also won a Grammy for Mary Poppins’ overall score.

9. “it’s a small world (after all)” originally from the 1964 World’s Fair. Imagineers originally intended to have all of the “small world” dolls sing their respective country’s national anthems. As you might imagine, they didn’t all sound great together. To replace that idea, Robert and Richard were tasked with creating a song that would basically convey the message, “it’s a small world – let’s not kill each other,” without being preachy. I’m going to do you a favor and spare you the video embed on this one. You’re welcome.

10. Substitutiary Locomotion from Bedknobs and Broomsticks.

11. “Feed the Birds (Tuppence a Bag)” from Mary Poppins. The Sherman Brothers were once asked if Walt had a favorite song of the more than 200 they had composed for him over the years. Richard Sherman immediately said that “Feed the Birds” was it, without a doubt, and that Walt would often have the brothers come to his office on Friday afternoons for a quick private performance of the tune.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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