The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story (2009)

When Saving Mr. Banks came out in 2013, it renewed public interest in Disney history. It feels like back then, the public did not have as much backstage information as we do now. While I am not interested in that sort of information ahead of seeing a movie, I am intensely interested in all of that information. I especially enjoyed the movie’s depiction of the Sherman Brothers, two guys I did not really know about before the movie came out. The Sherman Brothers seemed like blue-collar guys who worked a long time at banging out songs for Disney and eventually for other studios. At the time, this documentary was suggested to me to learn more about them but I never got a hold of it. While I was looking at The Aristocats as a movie to watch this month and also after watching Mary Poppins Returns, my interest was renewed. Thankfully, streaming has gotten better and more accessible and I could now easily rent the documentary.

The Sherman Brothers spent the majority of their careers and in fact their lives working for Walt Disney. Among other awards, they won two academy awards both for Mary Poppins. However, even some huge Disney fans like did not realize how prolific they were. They are most famous for stuff like Mary Poppins, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, The Parent Trap, The Jungle Book, The Aristocats, Winnie the Pooh, and also the Disney park attractions It’s a Small World and The Enchanted Tiki Room. But the documentary stunned me pretty quickly by pointing out that they also wrote a hit song for Ringo Starr. Also, outside of Disney, they wrote the music for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Snoopy Come Home, and Charlotte’s Web. Those are just the cream of the crop selections. Their work together was so much more than that. They wrote hit songs, they scored whole movies and put a lot of the soul into very good films. They also did a bunch of stage musicals. However, they are most known for films and they still hold the record for most scored musical films. They also hold the record for most performed song of all time for It’s a Small World.

Their story is a reminder that, under the surface, Disney is not always the saccharine sweet world that appears to be. Two guys who worked together for most of their life ended up having a fractured personal relationship with each other even as their professional relationship flourished. Part of what made them successful was their clashing personalities. In fact, the two of them come off as two sides of the same coin to me. Dick Sherman was fairly manic and enjoyed more positive and optimistic songs. Bob Sherman was a little dourer and lowkey and had more of a traditional writer’s soul and embraced tragedy more. Maybe each was inspired differently from one of their most formative experiences, the US Army during World War II. Dick was drafted into the Army and spent his entire tour of duty working with the Army Glee Club and the USO and never even left the United States. On the other hand, Bob enlisted at age 17 and ended up getting shot in the knee and sent home with a Purple Heart and in a severe amount of pain.  He was one of the first American soldiers to walk into Dachau.  However, even if they did not like each other, they always pushed each other and supported each other.

The story of the two brothers is supported by the great production values I have come to expect from Disney. The first big thing is that they were able to secure the rights to most (if not all) of their music. That allowed them to underscore each little part of their story with a song from their vast music library. Much like the songs’ original purpose, the songs help tell their story in an emotional way. It also serves to astonish with how much they contributed to projects I knew about and ones I had never even heard of. It also highlights how much their songs were influenced by what they went through in their lives. Additionally, the movie was high profile enough to get big names to talk about how the Sherman Brothers influenced them. I was astonished to see John Williams pop up and comment on two fellow film composers, giving them a lot of credit for what American movies sounded like. Same goes for Randy Newman, Kenny Loggins, and Alan Menken. Of course, performers like Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews get to talk as their careers owed a lot to the brothers. Same goes for Hayley Mills who also benefitted from the brothers’ songs.

Of course, the center of this documentary are interviews with the brothers themselves. Both Bob and Dick were still alive when this movie was made and it is so good that they could get their story down on film in their own words. This was made possible through the efforts of their children who got together years into their own lives, feeling too much distance from each other because their fathers were estranged. Everybody involved was interested in telling a complete story, with both the good parts and the uglier parts. And frankly, the ugly parts could have been way worse. The story also makes clear how many lives the brothers changed with their music. Mary Poppins alone changed people for all time and is still changing people generations later. It also shows how infused they were with the Disney spirit and how much they influenced that same Disney spirit for the better. They attacked their work with enthusiasm and it really shows.

Overall, I loved this movie. The movie paced itself and told their story beat by beat without going over the top in celebrating two people that I could spend two hours gushing about. It is really inspiring to see how their minds and process worked. They really were compliments for each other, with the dark meeting the light and joining together for something great.  Their creativity came from conflict which is astonishing.  They created a lot of stuff for family entertainment but it had heart, soul, and intelligence.

(Written on 3/30/19)

Tags: , , , , , , ,

2 Responses to “The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story (2009)”

  1. Melfka Says:

    I rarely watch documentaries about famous people, but I enjoyed your post – maybe because it’s like reading a biography instead of watching it ;). Until it, I wasn’t really aware of the brothers’ existence (even though I heard their music), let alone their lives. Thank you!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: