"The Boys: The Sherman Brothers' Story" is a documentary about Robert and Richard Sherman, the legendary songwriting brothers who composed the music for such films as "The Jungle Book," "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," "Bednobs and Broomsticks" and their indisputable masterpiece "Mary Poppins," which features one of the finest scores ever written for an original movie musical.
Though "The Boys" was produced and distributed by The Disney Studios - for whom the duo worked for many years and was written and directed by their sons, Gregory V. and Jeff Sherman, this is no hagiography designed to provide a whitewashed account of its subject. On the contrary, it provides us with a warts-and-all look at the siblings who, while they could make great music together on a professional level, found it virtually impossible to harmonize on a personal one. In fact, their relationship was so strained that they essentially raised their families in isolation from one another (they even attended separate funeral receptions when their parents passed away) - and still today, the two men, even in the twilight of their lives, have yet to heal the breach that separates them.
What's interesting and, frankly a little maddening - about the film is that we're never quite sure what it is that caused this rupture, mainly because the boys themselves seem unable to account for it (half the time they seem to be unaware it even exists). All we know is that, for decades in public, they were able to put on a happy face and maintain the fiction that they were every bit as close as brothers as they were as songwriters, while out of the limelight and to the awareness of those who knew them, they had drifted irrevocably apart.
Through interviews with their children, co-workers and admirers over the years, as well as with Bob and Dick themselves, the movie chronicles their childhood growing up in New York City, then Beverly Hills; their devotion and indebtedness to their songwriting father, Al Sherman; Robert's injury in World War II and the trauma of helping to liberate Dachau; their early years writing pop songs together and with others; their entry into composing for the movies with a song for "The Parent Trap." Then it's on to their years as the only songwriters lucky enough to be under contract to Disney; their close personal relationship with Walt himself; their Oscar-winning triumph with "Mary Poppins;" their eventual split with the studio after the death of Walt; their later work through the 70s and beyond; and their reunion at the London premiere of the stage version of "Poppins" in 2006.
Despite the fact that the rift between the two is never adequately explained, the movie provides a treasure-trove of information, clips and snippets from that period in which they produced their work. There are moments of ribald humor and wistful nostalgia as we relive the memories the Sherman boys have provided for those of us fortunate enough to have grown up on their songs (they were even responsible for that most maddeningly memorable of ditties, "It's a Small World"). Indeed, in the face of all the personal animosity between the two men, it's the music and the memories that ultimately "help the medicine go down" while watching "The Boys: The Sherman Brothers' Story."
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