By Michael Miller
6:16 PM EDT, April 29, 2013
They're words that echo at the back of my consciousness, as deep as an embedded memory or a recessive gene:
It's a world of laughter, a world of tears
It's a world of hopes and a world of fears
That simple tune with dozens of children's voices singing along, cranked time and again over my plastic Fisher-Price record player:
There's so much that we share that it's time we're aware
It's a small world after all
Sunday night, I sang those words along with the man who co-wrote them. The Newport Beach Film Festival's annual "Another Evening of Disney Rarities" program, which screens obscure items from the studio's vault, ended this year's offering with an in-person surprise: an appearance by Richard Sherman, who sat at a modest piano below the big red curtain and plowed through snippets from "Mary Poppins," "The Jungle Book" and other classics that he helped to score.
I know some people who carry their Disney obsession well into adulthood, and though I applaud their spirit, I'm not among them. When Sherman sang "Feed the Birds" or "The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers," I couldn't remember much more than a few basic notes. But when he ended his set with "It's a Small World (After All)" and invited the audience to join in, my lips took on a life of their own and started forming lyrics I thought I had forgotten decades ago:
There is just one moon and one golden sun
And a smile means friendship to everyone
Come on, you know them too:
Though the mountains divide and the oceans are wide
It's a small world after all
Oh, what a night. And it got even better than that. But first, let me describe the show.
Last week, when I interviewed co-host Don Hahn for a preview story about the Disney program, he intentionally kept mum about most of the items on the schedule. He mentioned a Broadway rehearsal clip for "Newsies" and a behind-the-scenes look at the recording of "The Little Mermaid," but otherwise said he wanted the audience to be surprised.
So my wife and I attended the show at the 1930s-vintage Lido Theatre, and I brought my notepad in case of any unexpected moments. There turned out to be quite a few. After Mayor Keith Curry gave an opening speech, Hahn and co-host Dave Bossert stepped before the curtain to serve as emcees, punctuating the film clips with clearly rehearsed banter that was still amusing (as when Hahn explained that a ragged Elton John demo of "Circle of Life" was used in inner-city parking lots to drive criminals away).
In addition to the previously announced items, we got to view a clip from the controversial "Song of the South," about which Hahn and Bossert expressed hope for an official DVD release; in-studio recording footage of "A Whole New World" from "Aladdin"; an excerpt from the often-overlooked "A Goofy Movie" (which featured a live appearance by Bill Farmer, the voice of Goofy); the clever new Mickey Mouse cartoon "Croissant de Triomphe," and more.
(Introducing that last one, Hahn and Bossert described some of the future Mickey installments, including one whose premise I've been waiting to see for years. In "No Service," Mickey and Donald Duck get refused service at a restaurant because their attire violates the dress policy: Mickey has no shirt, Donald no shoes. For that matter, Donald doesn't wear pants. It's high time we acknowledged that these supposedly innocent cartoons advocate public nudity.)
Anyway, when the last film clip ended, the night appeared over all too quickly — but then the hosts announced Sherman, whom I had glimpsed on the red carpet Thursday evening. His appearance was doubly poignant considering that his brother, Robert Sherman, who cowrote all those classics with him, passed away last year. As soon as Sherman pounded out the last chords of "Small World," he bowed to the audience and then, through a stroke of serendipity, came and sat two rows behind me.
Someday, I may find myself a few yards from Paul McCartney or Bruce Springsteen, and then I can corner them and rave about how their songs impacted my formative years. For now, I was two rows in front of the man whose work reached me before either of theirs. I inched my way into the crowd of reporters and other admirers gathered around him, and when it looked like he was about to drift across the room, I raised my voice. "Mr. Sherman!"
He turned, and I introduced myself and handed him my card. "I have to thank you for writing that song," I said. "When I was a kid, I forced my parents to take me on that ride so many times."
Sherman grinned. "You're a glutton for punishment, aren't you?" he said.
"I'm a glutton for something," I replied. "Seriously, it's a wonderful song. Thanks for writing it."
He nodded his approval, and then others pulled him away.
As we drove home minutes later, my wife played back the iPhone video she had taken of that final number — Sherman at the piano in the corner, the audience singing along, and my painfully flat, off-key harmonies right at the forefront. It's a memory I feel privileged to have preserved on video. And it's one Disney rarity that, at least during my lifetime, will stay mercifully in the vault.
MICHAEL MILLER is the features editor for Times Community News in Orange County. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (714) 966-4617.