The Boys: The Sherman Brothers Story (2009 movie) review…

The Boys: The Sherman Brothers Story (2009 movie) review after the break…

The Boys: The Sherman Brothers Story (2009 movie) review…

To paraphrase a quote – “Hot dogs are delicious but if you ever saw how they are actually made, you’d never eat another one ever again.”

Robert and Richard Sherman were, arguably, the writers of the soundtrack for the “Baby Boom” generation when they were children. Walt Disney’s favored songwriters, they would go on to write countless children’s song classics such as “It’s a Small World,” the Mary Poppin songs, “The Carousel of Progress,” “One Little Spark.” Their breakout success with “Mary Poppins” would land them their only Oscar win for songwriting but would be nominated for others until the mid 1970s.

Disneyana fans are well aware, though, that behind the success of the Sherman Brothers lay a darkened tale of two siblings who rarely related to one another once the cameras stopped rolling.

“The Boys: The Sherman Brothers Story” is a 2009 documentary that presents an overview of the professional lives of Richard and Robert Sherman as well as attempts to address the core issue of their dysfunctional relationship. The documentary is a modest affair – Close friends and family (some also with professional interests connected to the Disney Corporation) are interviewed and the entire documentary composed by the sons of the Sherman Brothers. At times, the documentary has the same feel of “Let’s borrow Grandma’s digital camcorder” picture quality.

Documentaries are different than fictional movies as those two types of films have different goals – Movies entertain through their fictional stories while documentaries must take actual fact and create a compelling narrative.

There’s nothing wrong with “The Boys” – It gives a compelling overview of the lives that Richard and Robert Sherman led, from the time that they entered the music business to the then contemporary event of the London premiere for the stage theater version of the film “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” in 2009. The highs and lows of participating in the music industry are addressed (The Sherman Brothers almost succeed right out of the gate but are undercut by topical news events, Richard Sherman must leave his first wife to pursue his songwriting career) and some interesting tidbits of information that general interest fans may not have known (The song “A Spoonful of Sugar” is inspired by an event at school that one of the Sherman Brothers’ sons participated in, the author of Mary Poppins was very difficult to work with) are shared.

As the saying goes, though, “A good documentary covers the topic but a great documentary uncovers the topic.” Sadly, “The Boys” simply doesn’t cover any additional ground that a good Internet search wouldn’t be able to pull up already. A good portion of the Sherman Brothers’ post-Disney career goes missing in the documentary – For instance, the Sherman Brothers participation with the EPCOT Center theme park isn’t even mentioned despite their song “One Little Spark” being one of the breakout hits from there or their (infamous) rejection of their score for the Horizons pavilion.

Intentionally or otherwise, the documentary is far more kind to Richard Sherman then Robert Sherman. Despite being younger by only two years, Richard Sherman looks and acts like a man nearly twenty years the junior to Robert Sherman. Robert Sherman, on the other hand, resembles a man wheeled out by an orderly from the local assisted living home for an interview who’s answers are often so slurred and whispered that the idea of subtitles would not have been an insult. The contrast is even more startling when archival interviews from decades past reveal a more competent Robert Sherman who, at least, resembles his age. A good documentary would have addressed this rather glaring observation – Was Robert Sherman suffering from an illness?

The central revelation of the Sherman Brothers’ private discord with one another is never adequately answered. Again, the documentary is far more kind to Richard then to Robert in this aspect. Was Robert forever haunted by being the first American to find one of the concentration camps in Nazi Germany? Was he jealous of Richard’s musical talents? Did Robert’s injury in World War II color his perceptions? The fact that his budding writing career never blossomed like his songwriting career? Did Robert develop a behavioral illness that was left untreated? The documentary makes it feel like the burden of the discord falls on Robert and not Richard. Richard’s supposed hot temper during songwriting sessions is mentioned but never elaborated on – Was it Richard who scared away a more mellow Robert?

“The Boys: The Sherman Brothers Story” is a good documentary for those who are not Disneyana fans as it gives enough general information to satisfy most peoples’ interest in the topic. Yet, for a documentary made by the Sherman Brothers’ own sons, you’d have expected it to go a little farther, to “drill down” (to use a tired business expression) a little further beyond what a major news network might put together for an one-hour special. The documentary is nice but not great, informative but not exhaustive and that’s too bad considering that Robert Sherman has since passed away and the window for a really revealing look at this seemingly complex relationship may never be completely analyzed.

The Sherman Brothers wrote many timeless classic songs and, despite knowing the discord behind the scenes while they were being made, are still enjoyable. The documentary is enjoyable as well… Just don’t expect it to be revealing.

 

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