The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story

Year: 2009
Studio: Walt Disney
Director: Gregory V Sherman/Jeff Sherman
Producer: Gregory V Sherman/Jeff Sherman

I got interested in the story of the Sherman brothers' relationship because I once met Dick Sherman, doing interviews at the time for Disney when publicising the DVD reissue of The Little Mermaid and The Jungle Book .

I'd heard about how this movie told the story of their supposed hatred for each other, but I thought that would just mean there was a bit of professional rivalry, maybe the tetchy relatinship all siblings (let alone lifetime creative partners) have. But no, Dick and Bob Sherman seem to genuinely loathe each other.

They worked together as the only on-staff songwriters for Walt Disney during the latter age when Disney himself was still at the helm, but only because they worked together so well. It seemed they spent most of their time trying to stay as far away from each other as possible, and the archive footage of them awkwardly greeting each other at the premiere of a London stageshow seems to show the first time they've set eyes on each other in decades.

Produced for Disney by two of the Sherman's grown sons, Gregory and Jeff Sherman, it makes sense the studio that made their name would back the movie, but it's still unusual for a Disney movie given the subject matter.

In may ways it's a traditional biopic, telling the stories of the Sherman's parents, childhoods, schooling and formative years, their work as songwriters (I for one had no idea that song 'you're sixteen, you're beautiful and you're mine' was theirs) their years at Disney and beyond. Famous faces whose careers their work has touched – Angela Lansbury, John Landis, Samuel Goldwyn Jr, Leonard Maltin, Roy Disney, Debbie Reynolds, composer Alan Menken, Hayley Mills, John Lasseter, Dick Van Dyke, Kenny Loggins and countless more – all appear, talking about their time working with, knowing or being influenced by the Shermans, and even though it's all very interesting the structure and story is quite what you expect.

But the sting in the tail is how estranged the Shermans were from each other throughout most of their lives. Their families had nothing to do with each other, the two cousins who made the movie and grew up a few blocks apart in Beverly Hills didn't even know each other until well into their 40s.

That a relationship can be so toxic and yet produce some of the most recognisable and enduring cultural artefacts of the modern era (any song from a Disney classic you care to name from before 1990 is probably theirs) is a huge question, and the movie seems less interested in answering it than merely posing it – it's probably one there isn't even an answer to. Though it seems disingenuous, The Boys proves that the work that comes out of a parntership can be something completely separate from the personalities of the creators.

The Shermans' relationship is the bedrock upon which the movie is built, but a ot of the rest of it is the kind of trivia that makes up any good non-fiction. Independently of each other, the Shermans (as well as many of their past collaborators) talk about the creation of many of the songs the world knows and loves. The movie even cheekily acknowledes How A Small World is as much a supremely irritating earworm as it is a classic and influential song. If you hate a sibling of your own it will just make it even more relatable.

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