The Sherman Brothers’ Story
Walt Disney Pictures and Crescendo/Traveling Light release, a biographical documentary of Robert and Richard Sherman.
The feature is assembled from a variety of sources, and in many cases, recomposed for the purpose of this documentary for the 16:9 frame, and is accompanied by a Dolby Digital 5.1 sound-track. There is a Spanish language track, as well as subtitles in both English and Spanish. Without interruption, the disc will run previews for two other Disney documentaries being released at the same time, Waking Sleeping Beauty and Walt & El Grupo. There are extensive other on-disc features, and a reproduction of the original music for Tuppence a Bag, from Mary Poppins.
The packaging is much like many other Disney releases, with a cardboard slip-cover over a conventional DVD case. Enclosed within the plastic shell is the reproduced music and, of course, the DVD itself. Suggested retail for this disc is $29.99, and will be released in North America on Tuesday, November 30, 2010.
The Feature — ••••
After World War II, somewhat goaded by their father, two relatively unsuccessful brothers — one a composer, the other a writer — joined forces and actually started on the road to success. Songs written by the pair started to get recorded and radio-play. A few chance encounters writing music for the Mouseketeers brought them somewhat to the attention of Walt Disney. A few fits and starts later, and they became ‘on-staff’ songsmiths for Disney Studios for thirteen years. As their compositional genius also thrived on a somewhat adversarial relationship, their enforced togetherness also drove them (privately) far apart. During this time, and even afterword, they created over a thousand songs, composed for fifty films, winning a number of accolades, not the least of which were two Oscars for Mary Poppins (Original Song and Original Score, 1964.) And, of course, one of the greatly loved, and most loathed of theme-park music, It’s a Small World, After All.
This film, directed and produced Jeffrey C. and Gregory V. Sherman, cousins and sons of Robert and Richard, explores their lives. Their similarities. Their differences. How they came together to work as a team, and how their successes and differences conspired to drive them apart. And how that division kept the family apart, even at their father’s funeral. The film is told through a combination of file-footage, interviews of the Sherman Brothers during the time, as well as new interviews of the Sherman Brothers shot for the film. And there are numerous interviews of other composers, musicians, actors, performers, animators, and family members to help fill out the detailed and bittersweet picture. Names include, but are not limited to, John Williams, Angela Lansbury, Roy and Walt Disney, Dick Van Dyke, Ben Stiller, Julie Andrews, and Annette Funicello.
Suitably, the film is ‘scored’ primarily with selections of the music of the Sherman Brothers, with more than 90 different songs and recordings listed in the credits.
[Note: for those, like me, not familiar with the Sherman brothers, included here is a very partial list of features that they composed for: The Parent Trap, Sword and the Stone, Mary Poppins, Winnie the Pooh, Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, The Jungle Book, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, AristoCats, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Charlotte’s Web, and so on.]
The Picture — •••½
The picture quality, of course, varies. Early television recordings and kinoscopes do not compare well to modern video. Given the nature of the sources used for this program, however, the picture quality is generally quite good — or faithful — with little in the way of extraneous digital artifacts.
The Sound — •••½
Here especially, the sound is important, particularly given the ninety plus samples of the team’s music. The audio is clean and clear, and the interviews are completely intelligible.
The Extras — •••
And there are Extras. Most ‘feel’ like a deleted scene, where they just would not fit into the flow of the film, or, to be useful, would run too long for the film.
• Why They’re The Boys: 2.5 minutes on others remembering them as just ‘the boys.’
• Disney Studios in the ’60s: 3.5 minutes on life at the studios, from actors, animators, and others.
• Casting Mary Poppins: 3.5 minutes on the process and secrets of casting Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke for Mary Poppins.
• The Process: 4 minutes from the Sherman Brothers, and other composers and songwriters on the art of songwriting.
• Theme Parks: 9 minutes on ‘story music’ for ‘the Tiki Room,’ ‘World of Tomorrow,’ a few others, and, of course, ‘Small World.’
• Roy Williams: 3.5 minutes on their next-door-neighbor in the Disney Animation Building. Roy heard a lot of noise from the songwriters, and routinely scribbled sketches of what he thought caused those noises, to slip under their door.
• Bob’s Art: 2 minutes on painting, and showing paintings of Robert Sherman.
• Celebration: 4 minutes of people praising the Shermans and their music.
• Sherman Brothers’ Jukebox: samples and stories about twelve of their songs.
In The End — ••••
Ultimately, we have here a fairly well-told story of brothers growing up together, working together, and then growing apart. While many people do not recognize their names, most of those people will have heard at least some of their works. And, as it is truly based in ‘real life,’ the fact that the film finished production with the brothers still unrepentant, the film ends on something of a low note.