The Boys: The Sherman Brothers' Story -- Film Review

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SAN FRANCISCO -- It might not break new ground, but this entertaining, inside-show-business documentary is greatly enhanced by the presence of the two engaging "boys" of the title -- brothers who found harmony through music and dissonance with each other. Although not well known outside industry circles, the prolific songwriting team of Bob and Dick Sherman had an uncanny knack for devising zingy lyrics and melodies impossible to get out of one's head.

Credited with 1,000 songs and music for 50 movies, they wrote "It's a Small World" and top 40 hits and upbeat tunes for Disney's "The Jungle Book" and "Mary Poppins," as well as non-Disney projects including "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang." Filled with a wealth of archival material, personal photos, original recordings and a parade of interviews with famous collaborators and friends, this is the story of a troubled relationship -- or lack of one -- that makes the film a cut above the standard musical biography.

An illuminating addition to the growing catalog of Disney lore, "Boys," which opens in limited release May 22 via Walt Disney Pictures, will be big with film buffs, Disneyphiles and fans of wholesome movie musicals. It's also an ideal candidate for cable television. Many certainly will identify with the problems of a dysfunctional family and find the songs familiar, but boxoffice prospects are modest.

It's ironic that the duo that made beautiful music together and, for better or worse, introduced "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" into the lexicon has been estranged for years, a state of affairs largely hidden from the public. The temperaments of these brothers, sons of the successful composer Al Sherman, couldn't be more different: Dick is affable with a sunny disposition and easy smile; older brother Bob is reflective, a brooding romantic, emotionally wounded by his experiences in World War II.

But the friction that drove them apart fueled their creativity. It was a case of can't stand him/can't have a career without him. But what a career. Starting out as starving artists, they wound up under long-term contract at Disney.

Produced and directed by the songwriters' sons, Gregory V. Sherman and Jeffrey C. Sherman, as both a tribute to their fathers and a vehicle for possible detente, the film skirts the edges of psychological inquiry but doesn't probe too deeply. The origin of the estrangement is hinted at but remains a mystery.

The families, who grew up without knowing each other, are in the dark, and neither elder Sherman sheds much light on the subject. Although the rift is a source of pain and bafflement for both of them, their lack of insight is a product of a generation allergic to insight and their partnership a testament to the unknowable nature of creative chemistry.

Screened: San Francisco International Film Festival (Walt Disney Pictures)
Production: Crescendo Prods., Traveling Light Partners
Directors: Gregory V. Sherman, Jeffrey C. Sherman
Executive producers: Stephen Buchsbaum, David Permut, Ben Stiller, Stuart Cornfeld
Producers: Gregory V. Sherman, Jeffrey C. Sherman
Director of photography: Richard Numeroff
Music: Richard Sherman, Robert Sherman
Editor: Richard Evirs
Rated PG, 101 minutes