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The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story
December 6, 2010

It’s about time people learn more about the Sherman Brothers, Robert B. and Richard M. You know their many successful songs without realizing it. They wrote “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocous” and “Chim Chim Cher-ee” (which won the Best Song Oscar in 1965; the score also won an Oscar and a Grammy) and the other music for Mary Poppins; songs for “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” (the theme song of which got them another Oscar nomination) and Bedknobs and Broomsticks (ditto, for “The Age of Not Believing”); “I Wanna Be Like You” from The Jungle Book; what I know as “The Tigger Song” (actually named “The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers”); “The Tiki, Tiki, Tiki Room”; the pop hit “You’re Sixteen”; and “It’s a Small World (After All)”, originally written for the 1964 World’s Fair. (I’m partial to their “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow”, another World’s Fair song now used for the Carousel of Progress, because it’s so aggressively cheerily Disney.)

The Boys: The Sherman Brothers Story cover
The Boys:
The Sherman Brothers’ Story
Buy this DVD

As Barbara Broccoli says, “These are the people who wrote every song that every child has grown up with.” (The Broccolis, best known for producing the James Bond movies, also produced Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.) Underlying this prolific, fifty-year career is a secret: the brothers didn’t get along, even though they worked together for all that time.

Gregg Sherman (son of Dick) and Jeff Sherman (son of Bob) produced and directed The Boys in part to figure out this animosity and in hopes of bringing their fathers back together. The first time these two cousins met, even though they lived seven blocks apart as kids, was at the opening of the 2002 Chitty Chitty Bang Bang musical.

The Sherman Brothers Story covers how they started as songwriters and came to work on staff for Walt Disney, including writing early hits for Annette Funicello and Hayley Mills (“Let’s Get Together” from The Parent Trap). Their wordplay and not wanting to write down to kids is praised as they discuss their working methods. Their key works are featured with stories behind the songs, and we find out key events in their lives. A kitschy favorite of mine, “The Monkey’s Uncle” (sung by Annette with the Beach Boys), is mentioned as their followup to winning their first Oscars.

Other interviewees in this documentary include Randy Newman, Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, Angela Lansbury, John Lasseter, Ben Stiller (one of the film’s producers), Roy E. Disney, John Landis, Robert Osborne, composer John Williams, various family members, and the two brothers themselves. Unfortunately, in the most modern footage, Robert (the older by 2 1/2 years) does not appear to be doing so well, sometimes seeming to struggle to speak, while Richard tells much of their family history. Lots of prior interviews with both brothers are included as well, though.

The story of the Sherman Brothers is that of a certain kind of Hollywood. Disney was one of the last great moguls, pushing through a particular vision that the Shermans were part of. After Walt died, things changed, and the Shermans’ career tracked the rise and fall of the big musical movie as Hollywood became a different place in the late 60s.

I’m still not clear on why the brothers were so estranged. Some explanation about their different experiences growing up is given (one actively served in WWII, while the other was a reserve bandleader), and some brief mention about how wives of partners shouldn’t socialize is made. Their lifestyles are noted as being very different (without too many specifics), as well as their personalities (one dreamed of writing a novel, and he now paints, while the other was more about getting work done), but no one puts their finger on just what drove, and kept, them apart. They talk late in the movie about the separation growing and building over the years. Maybe it’s just that they worked together better than they interacted in other areas. Maybe touchy subjects couldn’t be tackled directly in a film made by their family that they’d end up seeing. Sometimes, life only makes sense to those who are a part of it.

I didn’t think I needed to see this movie, when I first heard about it, but it was really touching and informative about the brothers and their music, and I’m glad I didn’t miss it. I’m also very glad it was made while the two men at its center were still available to participate. You’ll also hear some wonderful music, capturing just the right moment for its work. I’m impressed that Richard Sherman is still working — he wrote a song for Iron Man 2. The theme for the Stark Expo, which plays primarily over the end credits, is inspired by “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow”.

Special Features

All of these are material that could have appeared in the film, or pieces of which did, so think of these as deleted scenes.

  • Why They’re “The Boys” (2:37) — How they got that nickname
  • Disney Studios in the ’60s (3:34) — Archival footage and some comments on working in that era
  • Casting Mary Poppins (3:40) — About discovering Julie Andrews on The Ed Sullivan Show and how Dick Van Dyke met the Shermans
  • The Process (4:21) — How songwriting works, and more praise for what the brothers accomplished
  • Theme Parks (9:09) — Some thoughts on composing for a ride and some of the songs the Shermans created for the Disney theme parks
  • Roy Williams (3:23) — A Mouseketeer (“Big Roy”) and animator who drew some of the cartoons that were included in the documentary
  • Bob’s Art (2:17) — Robert Sherman’s paintings
  • Celebration (3:54) — Other people say how great the Sherman Brothers and their work are
  • Jukebox — 12 tracks, clips of the brothers performing their songs, with stories behind some of the more famous, including “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocous”, plus an animated ad for Der Wienerschnitzel, and an astounding solo guitar version of “Spoonful of Sugar” by Laurence Juber

(The studio provided a review copy.)

One Response  
Disney to Produce Mary Poppins Documentary “Saving Mr. Banks” » DVDs Worth Watching writes:  

[...] Whitford plays screenwriter Don DaGradi with Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak as the songwriting Sherman Brothers (Richard and Robert). Screenplay is by Kelly Marcel, and director John Lee Hancock previously [...]

 

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