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The Boys: The Sherman Brothers' Story


Known as "the boys" when they worked for the Walt Disney factory in the '50s, '60s and '70s, Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman turned out hundreds of tunes for the studio's family movies, winning two Oscars for their signature work, 1964's Mary Poppins. This fascinating documentary looks at all the stages of their lives, from their childhood through their heyday and beyond — and it's not nearly as sweet as a spoonful of sugar. These prodigiously talented collaborators may be brilliant songwriters, but behind the scenes, they barely talk to each other, cursed by a dysfunctional family dynamic which informs everything they do. Ultimately, The Boys: The Sherman Brothers' Story is a moving film about life, family, creativity, conflict, sibling rivalry and two brothers who made musical history in spite of themselves.


Both Richard and Robert Sherman participate in the film but are rarely seen on-screen — much less interviewed — together. Richard works in Los Angeles while Robert is filmed in London, where he now lives. It took their respective sons, Gregory and Jeffrey, to even get them to be in it; as the film's co-directors, they're the people imaginable who could have pulled this off. Along the way, there are also interviews with the likes of Julie Andrews, Angela Lansbury, Hayley Mills, Roy Disney, Dick Van Dyke, John Williams and many others who have known and worked with the Shermans, but it's the "boys" who really make up the heart of this film. And their story is a corker. The guys who wrote the number-one single "Let's Get Together" for The Parent Trap will not be doing that themselves, at least not anytime soon.


Not content to deliver a cookie-cutter vision of their fathers, Gregory and Jeffrey present them warts-and-all. But The Boys also tells a tale of an indelible pair of songsmiths who not only wrote Poppins but also Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, The Jungle Book and countless other hits from just about every Disney project of the '50s and '60s. They offer a unique look at family conflict and amazing insight into the mysteries of the creative process.


The effect the brothers' stormy relationship has on family, friends and themselves is dealt with in detail, but the actual reasons for their estrangement are glossed over — largely because neither Richard nor Robert will offer an explanation. Since this is such an integral part of their story, it would have been nice to see a little more investigative work devoted to revealing the truth between the split. Perhaps even the Sherman brothers themselves don't know the full extent of it.


The genesis of their famous song "It's a Small World," played endlessly on a loop at the Disneyland attraction, is priceless. Unfortunately, you may find it hard to get this infectious tune out of your head afterward.


This limited release from Disney, a tribute to two of their own pioneers, may be hard to find in theaters. But it will most certainly have a long life on DVD — and that's just supercalifragilisticexpialidocious! rated this film 3 1/2 stars.