“Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” and “Winnie the Pooh.” These songs define the joys of childhood, but songwriting was not always a jolly holiday for Richard and Robert Sherman, the Academy Award-winning songwriters at the heart of a fascinating new documentary, THE BOYS: THE SHERMAN BROTHERS’ STORY.
Dick wanted to compose music, Bob wanted to write the Great American Novel. But with their father, Tin Pan Alley songwriter Al Sherman, songwriting was in the Sherman Brothers’ blood.
The brothers wrote songs for Gene Autry, Annette Funicello, Bobby Darin, and even Ringo Starr (the #1 hit, “You’re Sixteen”). But they are best known for their years as Disney songwriters. The only songwriting team to be under contract at the studio, their Disney song catalog contains some of the most beloved films of all time–THE PARENT TRAP, THE JUNGLE BOOK, THE ARISTOCATS, and, of course, MARY POPPINS.
The film interviews not only former Disney stars such as Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, Angela Lansbury, Karen Dotrice, and Johnny Whitaker, but also friend and longtime Disney scriptwriter A.J. Carothers, director John Landis, and Ben Stiller, one of the film’s producers.
Of particular interest to film score fans will be the interviews with Alan Menken, Randy Newman, and John Williams, including a rare clip of Williams with the brothers at the piano while they were working on TOM SAWYER, for which Williams arranged the Sherman brothers’ songs.
The film is produced and directed by the sons of Dick and Bob–Emmy Award-winning producer and writer Gregory V. Sherman, and writer, producer, director, composer Jeffrey C. Sherman. Even though Dick and Bob lived 7 blocks from each other, a rift that began some 40 years ago caused their families to lead separate lives and the cousins never connected until 2002.
THE BOYS is an entertaining look at 60 years of film music history. While it tries to explain Dick and Bob’s complicated relationship, don’t expect some big revelation. Yet it is this complexity and lack of easy answers that gives the film its depth and poignancy. I found myself humming along, reliving childhood memories, and even shedding a tear or two.
The songs of the Sherman Brothers have become part of our cultural heritage. But to paraphrase Stiller, we forget that these songs originated from two men who had to sit in a room and write them. THE BOYS celebrates this musical partnership, not always friendly, not always easy, but magical just the same.