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“Once Upon a Studio” Quietly Highlights Disney Legacy, Richard Sherman’s Sad Secret

"Once Upon a Studio" Quietly Highlights Disney Legacy, Richard Sherman's Sad Secret
Credit: Disney

If you haven’t seen Disney’s latest short, Once Upon a Studio, stop scrolling! Seriously, there are spoilers ahead. Also, watch it quickly, and we’ll wait for you. It’s only 13 minutes long. We’ll be here.

Okay, you back? Great! Adorable, right? Once Upon a Studio doesn’t just serve up a ton of fan service by including so many of our favorite Disney characters in one program; it also leans heavily on the greatness of some very magical people who helped make Walt Disney Animation what it is today. 

once upon a studio group photo

Credit: Disney

Seeing Mickey Mouse, Moana, and Robin Hood on the same screen was beautiful. However, the short, which Walt Disney Studios made to celebrate 100 years of Disney animation, had a much deeper meaning for some.

Magic is Nostalgic

“You’re dead if you aim only for kids. Adults are only kids grown up, anyway.” – Walt Disney.

As a self-proclaimed Disney adult, most of us remember what we consider to be “the good ole days” of Disney animation. This was a time when Walt Disney Studios was consistently putting out iconic animated titles such as The Little MermaidBeauty and the Beast, or Pocahontas

Although we all were raised on Peter PanPinocchio, or the Aristocats, our golden era of Disney animation defined our childhoods, and those characters still hold a magical allure over us, reminding us of a time when things were simpler. In this world, responsibility and obligation don’t get in the way of dreaming. 

Walt Disney drawing and creating animation

Credit: D23

Once Upon a Studio gave us back that same feeling. Even if for only 13 minutes, it gave us and other generations that childlike flutter in our chest as our favorite characters were front and center, all together, alongside Mickey Mouse.

For a second, Disney animation did what Walt Disney World and Disneyland do so well; it made nostalgia feel magical again. In a world so hellbent on eating its own, it was nice to just be a kid again, sitting there, eyes swelling up with tears, watching with wonder as decades of beautifully designed characters we hold dear came back to life to celebrate Disney’s 100 Anniversary.

“Once Upon a Studio” Proves Disney Still Knows How to Make Us Cry

In the past few years, many have walked away from Walt Disney Pictures. Convinced that the studio doesn’t have an original bone left in its body and concerned over what seems to be an all-out money grab, many Disney faithful, loyal to Walt’s original vision, have washed their hands of Mickey Mouse and the gang.

Despite the momentous occasion, which saw famous voice roles such as Robin Williams as Genie, or Josh Gadd as Olaf come back to celebrate the Disney 100, some have chosen not to follow along as the company gets set to undertake its second century of making magic. It’s understandable, as product after product in recent Disney history has been reimagined, recycled, and reused, in complete disregard for what made Walt Disney and his cartoonist successful in the first place.

Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse in The Walt Disney Company's 'Once Upon A Studio' new short film

Credit: Disney

However, Once Upon a Studio, although bringing back almost all Disney creations, doesn’t reuse its characters to retell an old classic with modern tropes and messages; instead, it tells a new story, one of celebration for a company that many have been fatigued with.

Relying heavily on the emotional response from its audience, Disney created something that encapsulates everything that we hold dear regarding the company. Mickey Mouse, classic stories, and, of course, Walt Disney himself all tug at our heartstrings, and Disney utilized them all perfectly, with slight nods to real-life animators and legends of Disney’s Burbank studio. They showed that they can still hit us where it hurts when they want to, despite years of mediocre productions.

Once Upon a Time Has a Slight Nod to Richard Sherman

Culminating with teamwork set to “When You Wish Upon a Star,” Goofy is finally able to set the timer, immortalizing all of Disney’s creations in one 100-anniversary photo. However, as emotionally demanding as that scene was, there’s another, although short, that left all of us in tears. 

In one scene, Mickey Mouse stops to pay respects to a live portrait of Walt Disney. Despite the chaos surrounding him, Kaa trying to hypnotize characters, and Rapunzel taking a pan to his head offscreen, Mickey stops to reflect on what Walt Disney means to him. At this moment, we were all Mickey Mouse.

Genie 'Once Upon a Studio'

Credit: Disney

However, there was another classic Disney song choice made in this moment that only heightened its somber mood. “Feed the Birds,” written by the famed Sherman Brothers for Mary Poppins, is played in the background as a single piano arrangement. Although sad, there’s more to this selection of music than meets the ear.

According to @imaginationskyway on TikTok, this particular tune was Walt Disney’s favorite. He loved the song so much that he would request the Sherman brothers to come into his office every Friday afternoon to play it on a piano Walt kept there. Sadly, after his passing in 1966, Richard would still make the walk to Walt’s office, still playing “Feed the Birds” for the “old man down the hall.”

@imaginationskyway

Once Upon A Studio is a love letter to Disney fans and is now available to watch on Disney+. Here’s my favorite story about this animated short which I learned at Destination D23. What was your favorite moment from this new short? oonceuponastudioddisney1001100yearsofdisneyddisneycharactersddisneyanimationd#disneymovies

♬ Feed the Birds (Tuppence a Bag) – Walt’s Piano

The intense emotion doesn’t stop there. For Once Upon a Studio, it sounds as if Disney actually had Richard Sherman sit down and play the song for the short. Not just that, they actually recorded the famous Sherman brother playing the song in Walt’s office, like he did for so many years. Ugh! It’s a lot to handle; we understand if you need a second.

“Once Upon a Studio”: A Job Well Done

Are you okay? Do you need more tissues? It’s okay; we understand entirely. Despite so much going on with shooting the short film throughout the Burbank Disney Animation Studios, and combining those live-action shots with characters that span over 100 years, this detail was the one that hit home the hardest. 

The Sherman Brothers

Credit: Pinterest.com

The song, enjoyed so many times by Walt Disney, encapsulates so much about Walt’s outlook on life, his approach to Mr. Banks in Mary Poppins, and his desperate attempt to keep magic alive for us as we, too, grow old. Although Once Upon a Studio was meant as a celebration of Disney’s 100th birthday, it was also a call back to Walt’s true ambition of bringing joy, hope, and wonder to those who dare think happy thoughts. 

About Michael Arnold

Michael is a father, husband, and an Army Veteran. Michael spends his weekends at Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando checking out new merchandise and food. Michael is a graduate of the University of Alabama and has an education background in Public Health. You can find Michael riding Pirates of the Caribbean over and over again or binge watching new Marvel and Star Wars content. Han shot first. Thor is the strongest Avenger. Roll Tide and Wash Your Hands!

4 comments

  1. I’m crying. This was so beautiful. I’m one of those grown up kids who loved my Disney childhood, full of music, fun, laughter & happily ever afters! Here’s to more of that!

  2. I didn’t see Bree Bear, Bret Fox and Bree Rabbit in the short.

  3. Mickey said it best….”the show must go on……”. That had me in tears.