The Boys: The Sherman Brothers'
Story is an unusually frank Disney production, and it wisely avoids
simplifying the strained relationship suggested by the evasive words
of the Sherman brothers themselves. Bob and Dick Sherman were
Disney's house songwriters beginning with Mary Poppins and
continuing through The Jungle Book, The
Aristocats, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and The
Tigger Movie. As prolific as their working relationship was
- including such non-Disney work as Chitty
Chitty Bang Bang, Charlotte's Web, and Snoopy Come Home
- the brothers were never exactly friends, having entirely different
personalities and an intense rivalry that bubbled just far enough below
the surface to allow them to continue working together.
Bob, senior to Dick by 2 ½ years,
began his adult life with aspirations to be a writer of fiction and
plays. Upon returning home, injured, following service in World
War II, Bob entered college at the same time as Dick, who was beginning
to show an aptitude for music and songwriting. The Shermans'
parents were both entertainers themselves; their father was a successful
Los Angeles-based songwriter, and their mother had been a movie actress
during the silent era. Their father posed a direct challenge to
his sons that they write a song together; that challenge successfully
met, they went on to start a music publishing company that gained a
high profile thanks in part to a relationship with Disney's music
publishing business. That led to the Shermans writing a hit single
for Annette Funicello, followed by another song for a Disney movie starring
Shortly thereafter began the Shermans'
very long and productive heyday, working full-time on the Disney lot
for movies both animated and live-action, for the Disney television
unit, and for the Disney parks (including "It's a Small World").
Their work for Disney in this capacity earned them Oscars, Grammies,
and, recently, the National Medal of Arts.
The brothers' story is of interest
for a number of reasons. First, their prodigious output of songs
that virtually everyone knows is staggering. They wrote "You're
Sixteen," "Chim Chim Cheree," "A Spoonful of Sugar,"
"Let's Get Together," "I Wan'na be Like You," and "Hushabye
Mountain," among countless others. Then there's the fact that
their story allows a glimpse behind the scenes at the Walt Disney Studios
during the 1960s, when the studio was responsible for an increasingly
varied output of motion pictures and television programming. The
story of the Shermans' strained relationship adds yet another layer
of interest to this documentary, which was produced and directed by
their sons, Jeff (Bob) and Greg (Dick). The younger cousins would
like to see their fathers reconcile, but it seems increasingly clear
as we listen to the elder Shermans' words that this is unlikely, although
Bob appears to be the one carrying the burden of bitterness, with Dick
appearing more or less as the admiring younger brother.
The film doesn't conclude with reconciliation,
and would have appeared suspicious if it had. The brothers'
largely unspoken animosity is mingled with a mutual respect and obvious
love, and the film works better and is more respectful of its audience
without attempting too smooth over these rough edges in their relationship
with facile "explanations" of the tension between them.
The Boys is a heartfelt portrayal of show business, a peek into
Walt Disney's managerial style, and a moving look at brotherly love
Image and Sound
This new film arrives on DVD with a very solid enhanced transfer
from Disney. Clips from Mary Poppins and other films are
shown in their original aspect ratios, with the exception of Chitty
Chitty Bang Bang (not a Disney property), which was shot in widescreen
and cropped to 1.78:1. Color and contrast is strong; no complaints
as to compression evidence or other defects. The 5.1 surround
soundtrack is good but unspectacular. Interviews and film clips
are all crystal clear and mixed smoothly.
Several extra features all appear to be in the form of deleted
scenes, although they are not grouped under that heading.
Each is given a separate menu title, but are clearly made up of cut
footage from the documentary. This footage - most of which is
very, very good - runs an aggregate of approximately 33 minutes.
There's also a Sherman Brothers Jukebox, which offers another
22 minutes of footage dealing with specific songs.
The Boys is a valuable and entertaining
documentary that showcases the vastly influential work of two somewhat
unsung figures in the Disney firmament. It's unexpectedly moving,
Casey Burchby lives in Northern California: Twitter, Tumblr.