Directed By: Gregory V. Sherman, Jeffery C. Sherman
Lennon and McCartney, Leiber and Stoller, Young and Young, Rogers and Hammerstein, Page and Plant, the Sherman Brothers belong on any list of the top songwriting duos of all time. The Boys takes a peek behind the curtain at the relationship that powered their genius.
It’s a Small World, Higitus Figitus, Let’s Go Fly A Kite, Feed the Birds, A Spoonful of Sugar, I Love to Laugh, Winnie the Pooh, Little Black Rain Cloud, Hushabye Mountain, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Portobello Road, Substituary Locomotion, No Dog’s Allowed, Snoopy Come Home, You’re Sixteen, It’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow, okay I got a little bit carried away but when you try to list a few of the songs that Dick and Bob Sherman wrote and it’s hard to stop. You think “wait I can’t leave that one out.” The Boys is the story of the brothers who wrote the songs but the more you learn about the brothers the more insight you gain into the music.
Bob Sherman was born to Rosa and Al Sherman in 1925. Two and a half years later Dick Sherman joined the family. Al Sherman was a successful Tin Pan Alley songwriter, so the brothers were exposed to the ups and downs of a life in the music business from their earliest memories. Living royalty check to royalty check meant a lot of moving around during their early years with the family eventually settling down in Beverly Hills. Growing up Bob was the stereotypical perfect older brother while Dick played the part of the younger sibling who clowned around to get attention. In 1943 Bob convinced his parents to let him enlist in the Army a year early at the age of seventeen. In 1945 Bob was one of the first Americans to enter Dachau. Days later a machine gun round hit him in the knee finishing the war for Bob. Meanwhile Richard was finishing high school.
Because of the time Bob spent in the service he and Richard both entered Bards College at the same time. After graduating Bob’s ambition was to write the “Great American Novel”, while Richard was trying to write the “Great American Symphony.” Due to financial reasons the brothers were sharing an apartment at the time. Their only neighbor was deaf woman so Dick could bang on the piano and Bob could bang on the typewriter all night long without anyone complaining. During a visit their father challenged that they couldn’t write a song together that someone would be wiling to pay for. Taking the challenge to heart the brothers did just that and with their fathers advice eventually ended up getting their Gold Can Buy Anything But Love recorded by Gene Autry. Unfortunately indirectly the resignation of General Douglas MacArthur led to the song being shelved. In 1958 one of their songs Tall Paul was recorded by Annette Funicello which led directly to them being hired as staff songwriters for Walt Disney Studios. One day Walt Disney called them into his office and pulled a little red book off his bookshelf by P.L. Travers and asked them their opinion. The book was Mary Poppins.
You don’t have to watch many documentaries before you notice a sub genre consisting of docs about families, even more specifically docs by sons and daughters or grandchildren trying to discover why their fathers or grand mothers did something or another. In this instance it’s the sons of Dick and Bob, the question they are trying to answer is why the two families have been estranged for the last forty years. While Dick and Bob have managed to maintain a public and professional relationship cousins Jeffery and Gregory have only seen each other at public functions despite living only seven blocks from each other while growing up. While this conflict drives the narrative most of the interviews are about Dick and Bob’s creative collaboration. The interviews are varied among people they worked with and those inspired by them as well as varied across time, historical footage is combined seamlessly with contemporary recordings and spiced up with clips of film and stock photos of the different projects they were involved with and of course constantly there either in the background or moving to the forefront in appropriate places the music. While the doc uses a conventional talking head type of presentation it’s very well put together. An immense amount of insight is provided into the creative process and the history of the Sherman brother’s career but that falling out that the whole narrative tentatively hangs on is never thoroughly explored at least not to my satisfaction. The doc is informative and moving but the narrative meanders some and towards the end anecdotes are thrown in seemingly just because they didn’t seem to fit anywhere else.
The video is presented in wide screen format; it is of course assembled from old interviews of varying quality and new contemporary footage. The new footage is all skillfully filmed with noticeabe care taken with the lighting and composition. The different media is skillfully blended and fits together as well as you can expect with such a variety of sources. I never noticed any aliasing, moiré, blooming or other digital artifacts.
The audio is presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital in English and 2.0 Dolby Digital in Spanish with English and Spanish subtitles. The audio is suburb I never noticed any distortion or mismatched levels.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The DVD comes in an eco-LITE case and a cardboard slipcase. There are a fair amount of extras. They are a little on the short side but they are all worth taking a look at. Some stand outs are Why They’re “The Boys” a series of outtakes from the interviews explaining why everybody called the Sherman brothers “The Boys”, The Parks provides a little more information about the work that Dick and Bob had in crafting the songs for some of the rides in the Disney Parks, then my favorite, the Sherman Brothers’ Jukebox which is a virtual jukebox which plays clips of some of Dick and Bob’s most famous songs. It’s unfortunate that it’s just clips and not the whole song, but what I loved about this featurette is that there are interviews providing real insight into the creative process behind the writing of each song. There is also a reproduction of the original song sheet for Tup-pence a Bag which grew into Feed the Birds.
Overall (Not an Average) 7/10
Even a bad doc can be interesting if the subject is compelling enough and this is far from a bad doc. I want to say that anybody mesmerized by Mary Poppins, or Winnie the Pooh, or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as a kid is going to love this doc. And that’s true but it’s about more than just that. It’s about family and creativity and a bunch of other stuff that’s hard to put into words but shines through in the music of the Sherman Brothers.
The Movie 7/10
The Video 7/10
The Audio 9/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 7/10
Overall (Not an Average) 7/10