The saying goes that you don’t want to see how sausage or legislature or children’s songs are made. Okay, they haven’t said it much about children’s songs in the past, but people might start saying it after they see the 2009 documentary The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story.
Of course, Richard and Robert Sherman didn’t just write children’s songs. The brothers began their career together writing pop songs like “Tall Paul” and “You’re Sixteen”. Disney Studios took an interest in them and asked them to write a song for the Hayley Mills comedy, The Parent Trap (“Let’s Get Together –Yeah, Yeah, Yeah”.)
Walt Disney put the brothers on contract (the only songwriters the studio had on contract.) At the studio they wrote songs for such films as The Sword and the Stone, Winnie the Pooh and The Jungle Book, winning Oscars for best score and best song for Mary Poppins (“Chim Chim Cher-ee”. They also wrote one of the most popular and annoying songs of all time, “It’s a Small World”, for the ride of that name.
After Walt Disney’s death, the brothers left the studio and continued to write for films like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Slipper and the Rose and Charlotte’s Web. During all this time, people assumed that since the brothers worked so well as a team, they must get along well together.
But we learn in the film that the brothers who were just two and a half years apart in age were much further apart in personality and disposition. They couldn’t stand each other. They worked together in the office, but kept their distance outside of it. They didn’t allow their families to socialize. When their father died, they held two separate receptions after the funeral.
Those closest to Richard and Robert knew their differences. Robert, the elder, born in 1925, is introverted, quiet and moody. Richard (born in 1928) is extroverted, talkative and on occasion has a sharp temper. In World War II, Robert experienced much. He said he had been a know-nothing kid, but in the war “I learned.” Richard, on the other hand, served in the USO.
Their differences arguably made them a great song writing team. Their differences also drove each other mad.
Really, not a very new and different story: brothers not getting along. Starting with Cain and Abel, on to Jacob and Isaac, and even Jesus had brothers who said he was crazy. What is strange is that the authors of “A Spoonful of Sugar” and “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” couldn’t get along.
In I Corinthians 13 we read that without love, one is nothing. So is there value in the work of the Sherman brothers? The odd thing is that although they couldn’t get along, the Sherman brothers surely love each other. In the interviews in the film, that love comes through, even as the brothers admit their resentment.
If this story sounds a little dark for a tale of the composers of “The Aristocats”, you might be interested to know who made the film. The film was directed by Gregory Sherman and Jeff Sherman, cousins who are sons of the composers. They were kept apart for decades by their fathers, but they came together to make this film with the hope of bringing their fathers together. We never see if that part of their plan worked. But this film, certainly, is a work of love.
(Two other documentaries about Disney film making have recently been released, Waking Sleeping Beauty about the revival of Disney animation and Walt and El Grupo about Disney in South America.)
(The Boys: The Sherman Brothers Story is rated PG for language and smoking.)