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Ken Pellman: Disney at the 10th Annual Newport Beach Film Festival
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There were two nights of Disney-related treats this year, and so I attended this film festival for the first time.
“the boys: the sherman brothers story”
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
I laughed. I cried. I was moved.
This project represents a tricky irony in that it is primarily a masterful collaboration between cousins whose fathers – brothers – have collaborated for decades on songs that included such themes as bringing families together, the importance of family, peace, and togetherness; and yet those brothers have often festered with painful emotional distance between them and have fathered families that had minimal interaction with each other.
A perfect example of how this manifested was that the two families held separate simultaneous receptions after a family funeral.
As such, cousins Gregory V. Sherman and Jeffrey C. Sherman really didn’t begin to know each other until they had been around for about four decades. Yet it is that alienation that helps to give the film much of its gripping flavor and makes it all the more fascinating. To be sure, the Dick and Bob Sherman are more than accomplished and influential enough to warrant a biographical documentary examining solely their professional careers. Millions of people who don’t know their names have used words they’ve coined, or had one of their songs stuck in their heads. However, the depth that is added by showing some of the personal lives of the brothers, and that their interaction has been not all peaches, cream, and roses even as successful, family-friendly songwriters, makes this a more moving experience.
These men have brought smiles, cheers, and elation to our lives, but now we get a glimpse of their pain along with the insight into how they worked together to brings us the music that has become deeply imbedded in our culture. The tag line “brothers. partners. strangers.” is a concise, yet effective description.
I purposely avoided learning much about this feature-length documentary before viewing it. But I knew enough about it to be surprised to see the Walt Disney Pictures intro hit the screen. Walt Disney Pictures – doing a documentary that shows the warts and everything in a very grown-up biography? Not far into the film, it became apparent that it couldn’t have been anything like it was without being a “Disney” project. Artistically, there were cute touches featuring Disney characters and illustrations. Practically, many of the clearances needed regarding music and footage were Disney’s to give. There are around 160 songs used in the film.
Most people associate “the boys” - which is what Walt Disney called them – with Disney, which is understandable given that Walt put them on staff and that their most well-known work powers “it’s a small world”, Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room, the Carousel of Progress, “Mary Poppins”, and “Winnie the Pooh”. However, anyone who is unaware of their work outside of Disney could learn a lot from this film. In addition to the silver screen, the theme park scene, and the Great White Way, their music has topped the pop music charts.
One moment of the documentary that was especially emotional for me involved the appearance of the late Bruce Gordon in interview segments. Bruce was one the producers, and had previously worked with the Sherman Brothers. But I’m not going to sidetrack this edition of this column with my mourning over Bruce – he deserves his own edition of this column, and it is high time I write it.
Gregory V. Shermanon (left) and Jeffrey C. Sherman (next to their respective fathers' photos)
“the boys” seems like a no-brainer project for Gregory and Jeffrey. They were already experienced in media production, and by laboring to bring us this documentary they got to know each other, and they got to learn more about their own fathers and their uncles and each other’s family, all while putting the pieces together of some remarkable showbiz history. That history is still being made as Sherman Brothers projects thrive anew. In peeling back the public photo-op façade, they have created for all of us to view a gem with the insight of a family home movie library and the quality of professional Hollywood production values. In doing so, they have skillfully provided a must-see resource for artists, film buffs, music collectors, and Disney enthusiasts.
I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with Richard Sherman and his wife on a couple of occasions, and seeing Richard perform, and seeing Richard and Robert perform together. But now I feel like I know so much more about them as the men behind the music.
If there is something I thought was missing, it was the work the boys did for EPCOT Center; how their involvement came about and how they developed what they did. With how prolific these men have been, however, it would be impossible to include everything without making the film longer than something Peter Jackson would release on DVD.
Gregory and Jeffery, who were the directors and producers, were gracious enough to answer questions after the screening. According to that session, the project had its genesis in 2006, due to the opening of “Mary Poppins” on Broadway, and took about two and a half years and 88 interviews to bring to the big screen. It is their first documentary.
Don’t be surprised if you eventually see big name Hollywood actors portraying the Sherman Brothers in a dramatic movie. Their story is a fascinating one.
“the boys: the sherman brothers story” opens May 22 in four cities, and I strongly recommend seeing it if you are anywhere near those four cities. Check the official website at http://www.theboysdoc.com/
It was great to see and catch up with some of the usual suspects. The next night, some of them returned for…