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The Boys: The Sherman Brothers' Story DVD Review

the boys: the sherman brothers' story (2009) movie poster the boys: the sherman brothers' story

Theatrical Release: May 22, 2009 / Running Time: 101 Minutes / Rating: PG

Directors/Producers: Jeffrey C. Sherman, Gregory V. Sherman

Interview Subjects (in order of appearance): Richard Sherman, Robert Sherman, Julie Andrews, Randy Newman, John Lasseter, Ben Stiller, Roy E. Disney, Barbara Broccoli, John Landis, Dick Van Dyke, Robert Osborne, John Williams, Sam Goldwyn, Jr., Lynda Rothstein, Milt Larsen, Elizabeth Sherman, Hayley Mills, A.J. Carothers, Leonard Maltin, Stephen Schwartz, Brian Sibley, Bruce Gordon, Tony Walton, Thomas Schumacher, Cameron Mackintosh, Karen Dotrice, Marty Sklar, Sheldon Harnick, Tracy Sherman, Laurence Juber, Debbie Reynolds, Alan Menken, Lindsay Conner, Jeff Kurtti, Vicki Wolf, Lesley Ann Warren, John Davidson, Angela Lansbury, Wendy Liebman, Kenny Loggins

Tagline: brothers. partners. strangers.

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If you're a big Disney fan, then you know about Richard and Robert Sherman. If not, you probably still know their music. It has enlivened such beloved films as Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, and The Parent Trap,
not to mention theme park attractions like It's a Small World, the Carousel of Progress, and Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room. The Boys: The Sherman Brothers' Story is a Disney-funded feature-length documentary directed and produced by Jeffrey C. Sherman and Gregory V. Sherman, each a son of one of the siblings.

Right away, the offspring explain their reasoning for making this film, their first as directors (although each has over a decade of television experience as writers and producers). They have lived their lives not knowing one another and being told that this was for the best. It appears that the directors' fathers, the creators of sweet and cheery songs enjoyed by countless families, haven't had such a sweet and cheery brotherhood, being socially estranged for several decades. Investigating and understanding that rift is the film's hook, but it is set aside in favor of a chronological celebration of the songwriting siblings' impressive body of work.

Richard and Robert Sherman pose together for a picture as teenagers in "The Boys: The Sherman Brothers' Story."

This begins with childhood memories and Richard visiting their first home. At 17, Robert, 2 years older than Richard, fought in World War II, widening the experiential gap between the brothers. Though each had a separate circle of friends, they ended up sharing an apartment together and trying to cut it as a music and lyrics team. Their first song sold would not become the Gene Autry hit it was intended to be. But "Tall Paul", a 1959 tune for Annette Funicello, the most famous Mouseketeer of "Mickey Mouse Club", would launch their careers and open a partnership at Disney that soon saw them writing songs for the many live-action movies being made there.

The film acknowledges these, with excerpts of The Parent Trap and Funicello's TV movie The Horsemasters. Clearly, though, it is Mary Poppins that would become an apex for the Shermans, and for Walt Disney. Much attention is paid to that 1964 musical, for which the brothers crafted over a dozen indelible songs including the Oscar-winning "Chim Chim Cher-ee." Beginning with that project, Richard and Robert became Disney staff members, although Walt's death two years later would cool things off a bit. Still, the efforts of this most productive era are considered, from Annette and the Beach Boys' The Monkey's Uncle title theme to Bobby Darin's for That Darn Cat! to Louis Prima's infectious "I Wan'na Be Like You" in The Jungle Book.

The stories and comments that go with each creation are not tremendously insightful, but they don't really have to be. The music speaks for itself, delighting in the movies' context as well as pieced together here with praise and recollections. The film proceeds to cover the Shermans' post-Disney work, on films like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the animated Charlotte's Web, the Peanuts movie Snoopy, Come Home, and 1973's Tom Sawyer.

Richard "Dick" Sherman spiritedly recalls the roof-jumping adventures of his youth. Expatriate Robert "Bob" Sherman leans back from his painting canvas for a look outside his London home.

When the film finally comes back to its human hook, the unease that kept the directors' families apart, its findings prove to be less than revelatory and groundbreaking. The brothers' wives didn't really get along and they themselves had different personalities. We hear from their grown-up children and the one surviving wife, but no one hits upon anything that couldn't apply to any family estrangement issue. Frankly, the film is a little disappointing on this front, because this seemed to be the heretofore unknown titular story set out to be told.

At least we gain insight into the brothers' striking differences. In contrast to their physical similarity in their heyday, today one can hardly believe that these two are brothers just 2 years apart in age. Clean-shaven and with his hair dyed brown, Californian Richard is full of vitality and quick to crack a corny joke. Solemn Robert, meanwhile, who has relocated to London following his wife's 2001 death, has white hair, a goatee, and difficulty speaking. They offer conflicting versions of memories and get emotional at different things. There is no happy reunion for them. When they are seen together, such as at the 2006 Broadway premiere of the Mary Poppins stage show, their amicability seems put on and superficial.

If you enter the film hoping to understand what has driven the brothers away from one another, you may be disappointed not to get clear answers. If, however, you're looking for a documentary on the Shermans' legacy in film music, you won't find a better or more comprehensive piece than this.

Even so, you can tell that the next generation Shermans aren't established documentarians. The film lags a little bit and suffers some from them relying on their own knowledge and distanced understanding. They also don't have any aces in their deck visually. There are home movies, film clips (all looking pretty terrific and most in their original aspect ratios), some TV appearances with Walt, and event footage. None of this is especially stimulating (or unfamiliar to a Disney buff), nor are the many personal photos and new talking head material.

A graphic displays some of the many Disney works of the 1960s for which the Sherman Brothers created music. Child star Hayley Mills is among the many actors who recall giving voice to Sherman Brothers songs. Mills held three leading roles in two Sherman films, "The Parent Trap" and "Summer Magic."

However, that new talking head material does serve the film extremely well in regards to the interview subjects. The younger Shermans have assembled a truly impressive roster of relevant individuals. They include friends/collaborators (Mary Poppins costume designer Tony Walton, Star Wars composer John Williams, and the late A.J. Carothers, Bruce Gordon, and Roy E. Disney),
actors who sang their songs (Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, Angela Lansbury, Hayley Mills, The Happiest Millionaire's Leslie Ann Warren and John Davidson, Charlotte's Web's Debbie Reynolds, Tom Sawyer's Johnny Whitaker), historians (Brian Sibley, TCM's Robert Osborne), and accomplished fans (including John Lasseter, Stephen Schwartz, Randy Newman, and unlikely executive producer Ben Stiller).

Two of the more interesting and less documented chapters in the Brothers' careers involve their more recent work; Kenny Loggins discusses working with them on The Tigger Movie (singing their collaboration "Your Heart Will Lead You Home") and director John Landis explains their involvement in Beverly Hills Cop III, for which they created a song parodying their theme park music and filmed cameos (one of which was cut). There are clips of that 1994 sequel and anything else mentioned. No expense has been spared to clear relevant works from outside the Disney family for sampling, even if the internal works might have sufficed. The film definitely benefits from that, making it a Sherman Brothers documentary and not just a Disney Sherman Brothers documentary.

The Boys was given a very small theatrical release in five theaters back on Memorial Day Weekend 2009, the same weekend Stiller's Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian opened on a few thousand more screens. Now, a year after that sequel debuted on home video, the Sherman Brothers film has come to DVD, arriving alongside fellow recent Disney documentaries Waking Sleeping Beauty and Walt & El Grupo.

The film is "rated PG for mild thematic elements, smoking, and brief language." I honestly don't recall any of those things, but I'll take the MPAA's amusing word for it.

The Boys: The Sherman Brothers' Story DVD cover art - click for larger view and to buy from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Surround 2.0 (Spanish)
English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Closed Captioned
Extras Subtitled and Captioned (with the exception of song lyrics)
Release Date: November 30, 2010
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Black Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover

VIDEO and AUDIO

The Boys appears in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and it looks pretty great on DVD. All the films sampled look their best, even ones not widely released on DVD (The Monkey's Uncle, The Horsemasters). The new footage is also sharp and clean. The older footage can't hide its age but even it is quite presentable. Music, of course, is a large part of the Dolby 5.1 soundtrack and it does not disappoint in range or clarity.

The DVD supplements offer a healthy serving of DVD (Dick Van Dyke, that is) discussing his 1960s experiences at the studio. The Shermans' theme tune for rotational attraction Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress is given notice in the disc's longest bonus featurette, "Theme Parks."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

The bonus features consist largely of short featurettes.

First up is "Why They're 'The Boys'" (2:37), which explains the title and how the Shermans have been referred to by it their whole lives. "Disney Studios in the '60s" (3:34) gathers unused memories from the film's interview sessions regarding the studio atmosphere in the decade during which the Shermans thrived. "Casting Mary Poppins" (3:40) interestingly recounts how Walt Disney extended offers to Julie Andrews (on the Shermans' indirect suggestion) and Dick Van Dyke, with Audrey Hepburn's My Fair Lady casting being Disney's gain. "The Process" (4:21) collects general insights into a creative process, with remarks from the Shermans, fellow musicians (including Alan Menken and The Monkees' Micky Dolenz), and their admirers.

"Theme Parks" (9:09) expands upon the film's brief coverage of the Shermans' contributions to Disneyland, presenting performances of and enthusiastic comments on their famous and more obscure attraction songs. It includes a fascinating anecdote about Walt's unexpectedly strong reaction to the brothers' charitable "It's a Small World" plan.

The comic cartoons of Roy Williams imagines the Sherman Brothers' working from what the Mooseketeer heard from his nearby office. Former Wings guitarist Laurence Juber blissfully shows off his full fingerstyle rendition of "A Spoonful of Sugar" via the Sherman Brothers' Jukebox. Sherman Brothers film clips and personal photos float by on "The Boys" DVD main menu.

"Roy Williams" (3:23) shows off some of the comic drawings done by the longtime studio employee and "Mickey Mouse Club" Mooseketeer, visualizing what he heard coming out of the Sherman Brothers' nearby office and their Academy Awards experience. "Bob's Art" (2:16) covers Robert Sherman's favorite pastime these days: painting, with looks at his work and some thoughts from him on the subject.

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"Celebration" (3:54) collects a final batch praise for the boys from the film's interview subjects (plus otherwise unseen Broadway Mary Poppins people and Jim Dale).

Last but certainly not least is a Sherman Brothers' Jukebox, which requires no quarters and even offers video to go with its twelve songs. Most of the songs are presented as archival footage of the brothers singing around a piano, with comments introducing them. Featured here: Annette's "Tall Paul" (0:49), Mary Poppins' "Chim Chim Cher-ee" (3:10) and "Feed the Birds" (2:48), their Gene Autry number "Gold Can Buy Anything (But Love)" (0:43), "(There's) A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" (1:35), "Jolly Holiday" (1:51), "Oh Gee, Georgie" written by the brothers' father Al Sherman and sung by Eddie Cantor (1:27), a couple of Winnie the Pooh songs (1:23), Wings guitarist Laurence Juber playing "A Spoonful of Sugar" (3:03), "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" (3:36), Summer Magic's "Ugly Bug Ball" (0:47), and an animated Der Wienerschnitzel commercial (0:32).

The DVD opens with a Disney Blu-ray promo, nifty trailers for Walt & El Grupo and Waking Sleeping Beauty, and a Cruella De Vil attack on smoking (where was this smoking?!). The menu's Sneak Peeks listing plays trailers for African Cats, Fantasia and Fantasia 2000: 2 Movie Collection, D23, Bambi: Diamond Edition, and The Lion King: Diamond Edition.

Walt Disney would love the DVD's main menu, which plays a tender "Feed the Birds" demo while pictures and clips from the Sherman's movies float by.

A slipcover tops the black keepcase. Neither employs the Disney DVD logo despite the film being a Walt Disney Pictures release. Inside is a Disney Movie Rewards code and an ad for Blu-ray. Infinitely cooler than those is a folded 8" x 11" reproduction of the Shermans' first page of hand-written song sheet for "Feed the Birds" (called "Tuppence a Bag" here), complete with notes and pencil marks.

A section on the Sherman Brothers' fondness for building children's vocabularies includes a clip of Clara's song "Fundamental Friendependability" from "Snoopy, Come Home." All is supposedly well as Richard, Robert, and Jeffrey Sherman walk the red carpet at the 2006 "Mary Poppins" Broadway premiere.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The Boys: The Sherman Brothers' Story left me wanting more about the men themselves, but their incredible catalog of music is dutifully celebrated in solid fashion with an abundance of valuable speakers and clips. The DVD's presentation satisfies and the bonus features add some value (though I would have liked to see more archival material). In short, while the documentary doesn't bowl over with unique content and revelations, it is certain to be enjoyed by anyone fond of 1960s and early '70s Disney and Disneyesque film and theme park music. "The boys" should be pleased with the way their sons have told their story.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com

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Related Reviews:
New: Waking Sleeping Beauty The Sound of Music Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Ultimate Edition) 'Twas the Night Before Christmas
Walt Disney Treasures: Disneyland -- Secrets, Stories & Magic Walt Disney Treasures: Annette Darby O'Gill and the Little People The Lion King
Jim Brickman at the Magic Kingdom: The Disney Songbook Night at the Museum Walt Disney Treasures: Behind the Scenes at the Walt Disney Studio



Music by The Sherman Brothers:
Mary Poppins (45th Anniversary Edition) Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Blu-ray + DVD) Bedknobs and Broomsticks The Jungle Book
The Parent Trap The Aristocats The Sword in the Stone The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh The Tigger Movie
Sing Along Songs: Disneyland Fun You Can Fly! The Bare Necessities Sing a Song with Pooh Bear and Piglet Too Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious
Summer Magic The Happiest Millionaire The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band The Gnome-Mobile That Darn Cat!
Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Rarities Follow Me, Boys! Those Calloways Monkeys, Go Home! Big Red The Absent-Minded Professor

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Reviewed December 4, 2010.