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"the boys: the sherman brothers' story" spotlights two complicated men who wrote deceptively simple songs

"the boys: the sherman brothers' story" spotlights two complicated men who wrote deceptively simple songs

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You already know this story, right? Richard M. & Robert B. Sherman, the house composers for Walt Disney Studios while Walt was still alive.  Academy Award winners for their work on “Mary Poppins,” Dick & Bob (aka “the boys”) had a gift for producing eminently hummable tunes. As is demonstrated by their output for the Disney parks (i.e. “it’s a small world,” “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow,” “The Tiki Tiki Tiki Room” and “One Little Spark”).

So you’d think that – given that the Shermans wrote so many sunny, upbeat tunes over the years – that this must have been an easy collaboration. Two brothers working in perfect harmony.

The Boys poster
Copyright 2009 Disney. All Rights Reserved

Well, that’s where you’d be wrong. As Jeffrey C. Sherman and Gregory V. Sherman‘s excellent new documentary -- “the boys: the sherman brothers’ story” – proves, Dick & Bob had two very different temperaments. More importantly, two very different outlooks on life. Which – in the end – caused a rift that had a pretty horrific impact on the extended Sherman family.

Mind you, it wasn’t always like this. “the boys” skillfully takes you through Dick & Bob’s formative years. With particular attention being placed to Bob’s brutal experiences in battle during World War II (i.e. suffering a machine gun wound to the knee while being fired upon by the enemy; Bob’s unit being among the first to arrive at the concentration camps in Dachau, etc.) causing this Sherman brother to then have issues with depression.

The Boys
The Sherman brothers hard at work on the music for "it's a small world"
Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

Whereas Dick had a much sunnier disposition (playing Tigger to Bobs’ Eeyore, if you will) along with a truly explosive temper. “the boys” recounts how – once in a fit of rage – Dick overturned a piano. Which suggests that turning out tunes for family-friendly films like “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” “The Jungle Book” and “Charlotte's Web” may have been a lot harder than it looked.

Most of “the boys” running time is made up of Bob & Dick looking back over their careers. Though – that said -- Jeffrey & Gregory have lined up a pretty amazing group of performers & personalities to provide color & commentary on the Sherman brothers’ career. Chief among these are Disney Legends Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, Angela Lansbury and Hayley Mills. Who reminisce about the various projects that they personally worked on with Bob & Dick.

The Boys - Sherman Brothers
Robert M. & Richard B. Sherman, circa the late 1970s
Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

Then there are filmmakers John Lasseter & John Landis, who talk about the enormous impact that the Sherman brothers’ music has had on film history. Not to mention Alan Menken & Kenny Loggins, who comment on the boys’ craft. The wit & precision with which Dick & Bob assembled their tunes.

In the end, “the boys: the sherman brothers’ story” is a show business story that – while it celebrates Dick & Bob’s careers – has this real undercurrent of sadness. Because these brothers really haven’t been able to get along since the mid-1960s, their respective families have been at odds for decades. And one of the main reasons that Jeffrey & Gregory made this movie is … Well, the cousins were hoping that they then might be to heal this rift. Bring about some sort of reconciliation between Dick & Bob.

The Sherman Brothers with George Bush
Robert B. & Robert Sherman receive the 2008 National Medal of Arts
from President George W. Bush

Not to spoil the ending of this picture or anything, but that doesn’t happen in “the boys.” Life isn’t like a Disney movie, where you’re virtually guaranteed a happy ending. And given that Dick & Bob are such complex, complicated men … Well, it’s doubtful that the boys will ever be able to put their differences aside and really reconcile. And – yet – somewhere in their songs, they do actually meet.

“the boys: the sherman brothers’ story” is an entertaining & informative documentary that offers real insight into Dick & Bob’s career. As you exit the theater, you’ll come away with a deeper appreciation of how difficult it must have been – given who the Sherman brothers were & how different their lives seem to have been – to write all of those deceptively simple, eminently hummable tunes.

The Boys - Sherman Brothers - in Washington DC
Robert B. & Richard M. Sherman together in Washington D.C. last November

“the boys: the sherman brothers' story” opens this Friday at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema in New York City; Landmark’s Regent Theatre in Los Angeles; the AMC Loews Metreon in San Francisco and the Cinemas Palme D'Or in Palm Desert, CA.

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