The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story Celebrates A Legacy

L-R: Robert B. Sherman, Richard M. Sherman, and Walt Disney in a still from The Boys: The Sherman Brothers' Story. © Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story celebrates the lives and legacy of songwriting duo Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman.

My rewatch of the film comes upon learning that Richard M. Sherman passed away over the weekend. It also comes a few days after the documentary marked its 15th anniversary. The film didn’t have a big theatrical run. In fact, it’s probably had a better post-theatrical life, especially on Disney+. In fact, my initial viewing came as a Netflix rental in 2013, around the time Saving Mr. Banks was coming out in theaters.

When one takes a look back at the many films in the Walt Disney Studios catalog, two pairs of composers stand out the most. They are the Sherman Brothers and Howard Ashman/Alan Menken. There’s a good chance that one or both of the pairs wrote the soundtrack to your childhood. I know this is certainly the case with me alongside composers such as John Williams and Alan Silvestri. After all, Disney would take films out of the vault every now and then during the 1980s and 1990s. This doesn’t even begin to get into the music from rock and roll bands like The Beatles and The Beach Boys. Their musical legacy spans 50 films and over 1,000 songs written for movies, TV, records, theme parks, and the stage. They penned “You’re Sixteen,” a song that Ringo Starr took to #1 on the charts in 1974.

“What we recognize as the American sound…so much of it came from people like Aaron Copland or George Gershwin,” says legendary Oscar-winning composer John Williams. “Similarly, Al Sherman. Interestingly enough, all three of them were first generation children of immigrant Russian Jews. Probably the least likely people you could imagine that were able to manufacture what we all recognize as being quintessentially American. It’s kind of a…In the history of music, it’s a miracle.”

While they are among the greatest composers, there is a history of estrangement between them. Co-directors Jeff Sherman and Gregory V. Sherman are cousins but never really knew each other growing up. They caught up with each other at a London premiere of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in 2002, breaking decades-long tradition. The fact that the brothers would only work together and not see each other outside of work is very surprising. How do you not let your families gather for birthdays or holidays?!? The brothers open up about the estrangement in the film. Initially, the two cousins considered a biopic about their fathers but it didn’t sell. With a new Mary Poppins adaptation coming to the stage, they started considering a documentary. All in all, they use original interviews, archival footage, and personal photographs in allowing the audience to learn about the Sherman Brothers.

How is it that they made so much magic throughout the decades? This is a benefit from watching the film because we get an eye-opening look at their creativity at work. But before we reach that point in the film, we learn about their childhood. Their father, Al Sherman, was also a songwriter/composer in the Tin Pan Alley era and his father, Samuel, was a violinist. Samuel’s father, Otto, played clarinet. Robert J. Sherman now carries on the tradition. Many pop songwriters would make their way out to California during the 1930s. Anyway, what’s fascinating about their professional relationship is that neither brother were close as children. They would even have different lifestyles as adults. And yet, they could be geniuses while working together professionally despite not being so close outside of the office. It’s  ironic for a pair of brothers who wrote so many songs for family entertainment.

Robert Sherman had been writing with Bob Roberts. Richard started writing with them but it led to a rift with Bob. From then on, it was the Sherman Brothers writing together. They contributed songs to The Parent Trap, The Jungle Book, Mary Poppins, the 1964 World’s Fair in NYC (“It’s a Small World (After All)”), the list goes on and on. Robert relocated from Beverly Hills to London but the brothers were able to work in a long-distance relationship. One of Richard’s final contributions at Disney was a new arrangement of “Feed the Birds” for last year’s 100th anniversary short film, Once Upon a Studio.

With both Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman having passed away, The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story ensures that their legacy will never be forgotten.

DIRECTORS: Jeffrey C. Sherman, Gregory V. Sherman
FEATURING: Richard M. Sherman, Robert B. Sherman, Julie Andrews, Barbara Broccoli, A. J. Carothers, Jim Dale, Roy E. Disney, Micky Dolenz, Karen Dotrice, Linda Ercoli, Samuel Goldwyn Jr., Bruce Gordon, Sheldon Harnick, James Jenson, Jeff Kurti, John Landis, John Lasseter, Kenny Loggins, Cameron Mackintosh, Leonard Maltin, Alan Menken, Hayley Mills, Randy Newman, Robert Osborne, Guy Pohlman, Debbie Reynolds, Thomas Schumaker, Stephen Schwartz, Dick Van Dyke, Lesley Ann Warren, Ben Stiller, Jon Turteltaub, Tony Walton, Johnny Whitaker, John Williams, Maury Yeston

Disney released The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story in theaters on May 22, 2009. Grade: 4/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.