More about the animated side of Annette Funicello’s musical legacy, including the stop-motion titles in the original Parent Trap and what her success helped make possible.
TOMMY SANDS AND ANNETTE
Sing the Title Song from
Walt Disney’s THE PARENT TRAP
also “Let’s Get Together”
Buena Vista Records F-802 (45 RPM 7” Mono)
Also available on the album THE PARENT TRAP Buena Vista BV/STER-3109 (33 RPM 12” LP)
Songs and album available on Amazon and iTunes
Released in May 1962 (Album released in June 1961). Executive Producer: Jimmy Johnson. Music/Lyrics: Richard M. Sherman, Robert B. Sherman. Musical Director/Producer: Camarata. Recorded at Sunset Sound, Hollywood.
Dynamic graphics and animated title sequences were a welcome sight in sixties and seventies films and TV shows. Artists like Saul Bass raised it to a fine art. DePatie-Freleng, in addition to its Warner Brothers character work, built a foundation with the 1963 Pink Panther main title animation, proving so successful that it became its own series. Even Hanna and Barbera, while at MGM in 1952, provided experimental TV ads for two features, Pat and Mike starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, and Scaramouche with Stewart Granger):
Walt Disney and his team contributed to the trend by eschewing static (though lovely) title images for clever animated gags at the beginning of 101 Dalmatians and whimsical stop-motion titles for The Shaggy Dog, a box office smash that offered Annette a small, non-singing role, her first in a theatrical film. The “found object” stop-motion in The Shaggy Dog (by T. Hee, X Atencio and Bill Justice) was an offshoot of the technique used in the Oscar-winning Noah’s Ark, explored in this Animation Spin.
Members of this small group, particularly Atencio and Justice, continued working with stop-motion for various projects, most notably the titles for the enduring 1961 Hayley Mills comedy The Parent Trap. This time, doll-like animation figures with movable armatures were manipulated in the manner that Rankin/Bass would make popular in TV specials for the next several decades.
An NBC Wonderful World of Color half-hour TV episode was devoted to the production of The Parent Trap animated titles and the recording of the song. Last week’s Spin feature about Babes in Toyland was a factor in the duet of Annette and Tommy Sands as both films overlapped in production.
Like Babes in Toyland, The Parent Trap played a more role in the long-range development of the Disney organization beyond its identity as filmed entertainment. Most Disney enthusiasts know the story about the Sherman Brothers, first considered relative obscure “rock and roll songwriters” until Annette’s records began to hit the top ten and help Disney’s fledgling in-house record company stay afloat.
Disneyland/Buena Vista Records President Jimmy Johnson brought the nervous brothers before Walt to get the song approved. Instead of talking about The Horsemasters, Walt described the plot of The Parent Trap in detail. Reminded about The Horsemasters, he quickly approved the “Strummin’ Song” (the sheet music for which sits on his piano in the formal section of his office). Johnson suggested the Shermans write songs for The Parent Trap. The strength of their songs and their keen sense of story impressed Walt so much that he had them added to the studio staff.
Richard Sherman often said, “Annette was our good luck charm.” It wasn’t long before the brothers were working on Mary Poppins in addition to an avalanche of films, TV shows and attractions. It would be difficult to deny that the music The Shermans created for Poppins was a key factor in it becoming the biggest film success in Walt Disney’s lifetime, as well as a bonanza for nearly every division of his company.
Like the magic carpet bag, Mary Poppins’ profits kept on giving. Poppins box office profits were invested in the Florida land that would become Walt Disney World Resort. A new company was formed called “MAPO” to construct much of that resort, also from Poppins capital. It all began with Annette, the Queen of Walt Disney World.
MERLIN JONES, THE SCRAMBLED EGGHEAD
ANNETTE AND THE WELLINGTONS
Buena Vista Records F-431 (45 RPM 7” Mono)
Also available on the album ANNETTE: MUSCLE BEACH PARTY Buena Vista BV/STER-3314 (33 RPM 12” LP)
Songs and album available on Amazon and iTunes
Released in December 1963 (Album released in April 1964). Executive Producer: Jimmy Johnson. Music/Lyrics: Richard M. Sherman, Robert B. Sherman. Musical Director/Producer: Camarata. Recorded at Sunset Sound, Hollywood.
Not long before the release of The Misadventures of Merlin Jones, the Oscar-nominated Symposium on Popular Songs was released. The 1962 featurette segments combine the stop-motion methods used in Disney main titles as well as Noah’s Ark, framed by a cel-animated commentary by Ludwig Von Drake. (It became a marvelous, currently available album called Tinpanorama which is discussed in this Spin.)
The paper cutout technique for The Misadventures of Merlin Jones features a wide-eyed cartoon version of Annette. It bears a similarity to all but the first stop-motion sequence in Symposium. It even uses some of the same props, such as the saxophone from “Puppy Love is Here to Stay.”
After Merlin Jones, there wouldn’t be much stop-motion in Disney films on any major theatrical scale until Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (preceded only by Burton’s rarely screened stop-mo short Vincent) – save for some Monty Python-like imagery in Ward Kimball’s It’s Tough to Be a Bird (1969) and Dad, Can I Borrow the Car?
By 1965, Walt Disney brought Justice and Atencio to WED Enterprises were they became Imagineers, transitioning from a world of stop-motion figures, paper cutouts and oversized toys to the dawn of Audio-Animatronics, creating attractions that are still considering among the world’s greatest (and most profitable as extended IP for spinoff films and merchandise).
Merlin Jones would mark the only time Disney presented Annette as an animated character—and in stop-motion rather than cel animation–though she was often seen in illustrations for books and assorted merchandise. The film itself was a frothy, two-part situation comedy that generated a comic book, a Whitman hardcover junior novel and a huge amount of money at the box office.
For the Merlin single, Annette sings with The Wellingtons, a foursome signed by Walt Disney himself after a live appearance. They’re also known to Gilligan’s Island fans as the performers of the first-season theme song (recorded in show creator Sherwood Schwartz’s home). Some of them also appeared on the show as The Mosquitoes. The “B” side is called “The Scrambled Egghead,” a sort of spoken word version of the theme with Tommy Kirk and Annette, in their movie characters, discussing Merlin’s latest mind-reading invention.
Our own Jerry Beck has fond memories of seeing Annette and Tommy Kirk live and in person at a premiere event for The Misadventures of Merlin Jones in New York. “I got to meet each of them,” Jerry told me. “Tommy put on that crazy helmet with all the wires. I met him again years later and reminded him and he remembered—not about meeting me, I’m sure, but about the publicity tour. That helmet is such a wonderfully designed prop. You can tell it wasn’t just thrown together, but the wires were chosen by their colors and positioned to be funny. Sure, the movie was silly, but there was still a lot of skill and thought behind it, just like the helmet.”
Jerry also recalls a time he had asked songwriter Richard Sherman about Annette’s little lullaby, “I Can Fly”, heard in the Merlin Jones sequel, The Monkey’s Uncle. But Sherman had no actual memory of writing that song. The origins of that tune remained a mystery for years – becoming one of Disney’s “lost chords”. Disney composer and music historian Alex Rannie was also curious about that tune and researched it himself a few years ago – and graciously provided us with the answer: “Although it sounds very Sherman, it was actually written by Tom August (pen name of Alfred Lewis Levitt, along with Helen August (Helen Levitt), The Monkey’s Uncle screenwriter), lyrics, and Buddy Baker (who also did the score), music. (Levitt was blacklisted and used the pseudonym August when writing.)”
The Sherman brothers The Money’s Uncle title tune is probably better known than the film itself. It’s a quintessential Sherman “earworm” and is the only Disney song that the Beach Boys sang both on-camera and on Disney records with Annette (the credits were removed for the TV broadcast).
The recording used on the soundtrack is (yet again another uncredited) production by Camarata and recorded in his Sunset Sound Recorders “A” studio.
If you saw the movie The Doors, above is the control room that Jim Morrison historically trashed (though it was recreated on a soundstage for the film). Below is the real control room as seen in a 1979 episode of Wonder Woman with Lynda Carter (and guest star Rick Springfield in the background) called “Amazon Hot Wax.”
As Leonard Maltin pointed out in his book, The Disney Films, the credits for Merlin Jones and The Monkey’s Uncle are remarkable in that they closely match those of Mary Poppins (even the choreographers), which resulted in Academy Awards for some of them. (They were on the lot, why not?) If these films seem astonishingly like unsold TV fantasy series pilots, keep in mind that The Shaggy Dog was pitched to ABC and was turned down.
When it was released to theaters instead, The Shaggy Dog made more money than Sleeping Beauty in the same year. That’s not a statement about public taste, or the relative quality of the two films, so much as it is a note in the timeline of pop culture and entertainment trends. Walt Disney was ahead of the curve, making hit fantasy comedies before television launched an entire wave of magical escapist series: My Favorite Martian, Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie and so on. (Producer Irwin Allen also patterned his two most successful TV series, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea–which began as a feature film–and Lost in Space, after two of Walt Disney’s most successful live-action features, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Swiss Family Robinson.)
Still more Animation-ette! She also has a vinyl connection to classic Disney, as Disneyland Records’ first narrator of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Check out this Spin for a look. Beyond Disney, Annette starred in a beach party movie with clay-animated main titles. 1965’s How to Stuff a Wild Bikini was one of two main titles Gumby creator Art Clokey animated for American-International Pictures.
Direct or not, intentional or circumstantial, Annette made a difference, even in her darkest hours. She established the Annette Funicello Foundation for Neurological Disorders. It is one of the non-profits that, at no extra charge, anyone can contribute when making any purchases through amazon smile. We miss her, but she still makes a difference. There’s also a keen new book honoring her by Rita Rose called Annette Funicello: Tributes from Fans and Friends.
Special thanks to Stacia Martin, Hans Perk, Alex Rannie and Bill Morgan for their consultation on this article.