Brothers, partners, strangers

I have wanted to see “The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story” ever since it was announced several years ago. I was thinking about it just last weekend – before I heard about the death of Robert Sherman.

To recap: Richard and Robert Sherman wrote about 10 times their share of unforgettable songs, many of which are wedged into your cerebral cortex at this very instant. Their output includes their tenure as staff songwriters for the Walt Disney Company, and I think they were the only ones to hold that title. Just think about the songs from “Mary Poppins” plus the “Winnie The Pooh” song plus the “Tigger” song plus the songs from “The Jungle Book” plus “It’s A Small World After All.” Their non-Disney product included “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” music from the animated “Charlotte’s Web,” one of the Charlie Brown feature films, and the Ringo Starr hit “You’re Sixteen (You’re Beautiful and You’re Mine).”

But the story gets more interesting – for much of that storied career, the brothers were estranged from each other – professional collaborators and nothing else. When a stage version of “Mary Poppins” premiered a few years ago in London, one of Richard’s kids started talking to one of Robert’s kids, and the two cousins – who barely knew each other – came up with the idea for the documentary. They were able to get the backing of Ben Stiller as an executive producer, and the blessing of Disney, which distributed the documentary. (Without the ability to license Disney clips, it would have been a pretty short documentary.)

The documentary is available from Amazon, both as a DVD and as a digital download, but I kept looking for it to turn up on regular TV. I may have to go ahead and rent it from Amazon.

Where is ‘The Boys’?

This morning, as I was getting ready for work, I watched last night’s “Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson” on the DVR. I got right up to the point where Craig introduced his first guest, Dick Van Dyke; I’ll have to watch the interview itself this evening.
Anyway, Craig’s introduction mentioned that “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” is coming out on DVD and Blu-Ray. That made me think about the fact that I still haven’t had a chance to see “The Boys: The Sherman Brothers Story,” about which I’ve blogged here several times before.
If you missed those earlier posts, Richard and Robert Sherman were staff songwriters for Disney during the era of “Mary Poppins,” “Jungle Book,” and so on. They wrote dozens of songs that you know by heart, including “It’s A Small World After All,” “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” “A Spoonful of Sugar,” “Chim-Chim Cheree,” “Winnie The Pooh,” “The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers,” and on and on and on. After leaving Disney, they wrote songs for “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” and “Charlotte’s Web” and “Snoopy Come Home,” among many others. At some point, they wrote the pop song “You’re Sixteen” (You’re Beautiful, and You’re Mine).
Very early in their songwriting careers, the brothers had a falling-out, and they’ve worked for decades as professional collaborators — and nothing else, having no other contact and raising their families separate from each other. A few years ago, at the premiere of a stage version of “Mary Poppins,” one of Richard’s adult sons and one of Robert’s adult sons, first cousins who at the time were virtual strangers, began to talk about doing a documentary to explore their fathers’ unique achievements and their somewhat-mysterious feud. They got Ben Stiller to sign on as executive producer.
The documentary came out in very limited release last year, but I’m waiting for it to show up on TV, or somewhere where I can see it. I checked Amazon just now and discovered that the movie is, at long last, going to be released on DVD later this month; that’s something.

Oswald’s revenge

In the early days of the 20th century, a young animator created a cartoon character, Oswald the Rabbit, and began producing cartoons under contract to Universal Studios.

Trouble is, Universal owned the rights to the character, and one day an executive at Universal stole the animator’s staff and his character right out from under him, taking the “Oswald the Rabbit” cartoons in-house.

The animator vowed that he would own his own characters from that point forward. He created a new character, also a rodent, but instead of big black rabbit ears, he had big black mouse ears.

Fast forward a few years. The National Football League decided to make Sunday, rather than Monday, its flagship night for prime time football. NBC hired John Madden away from Disney-owned ABC so that Madden could be the color commentator for “Sunday Night Football.” Al Michaels, who was still under contract to ABC, was originally going to stay and be the announcer for the lower-profile “Monday Night Football” as it moved to corporate sibling ESPN.

Then, Michaels decided he wanted to stay with Madden and many of the production staff who were moving from ABC to NBC. Michaels needed for ABC to release him from his contract, and so negotiations began between Disney and NBC Universal. As I posted in 2006, relatively new Disney CEO Robert Iger, fulfilling a promise he’d made to Walt’s daughter, made the nearly-worthless rights to Oswald the Rabbit a part of the negotiation. When Al Michaels went to NBC, a very small part of the deal was that Oswald came home to Disney.

After seeing a movie, I often go to its IMDb trivia page, and after seeing “Up” I discovered that the villain in the movie has a full name one letter away from the Universal executive responsible for stealing Oswald in the first place. The guys at Pixar take details like that seriously, and so it’s no coincidence.

Somewhere, Walt is smiling.

Up (no spoilers)

I wrote this last year:

It’s the law of averages; one of these days, the folks at Pixar Animation Studios are going to fire a dud. Maybe it will be a first-class stinker; maybe it will just cause people to shrug and say “that’s not up to their usual standard.”

Whenever that may happen, it did not happen in 2008.

It didn’t happen in 2009, either. “Up” is a wonderful, funny, sad, life-affirming movie that you need to see whatever your age or situation. Even though I am a guy, I have to tell you tears were running down my cheeks about five or 10 minutes into the movie, and again at the end (but for far different reasons!). In between, I laughed heartily, I was on the edge of my seat, and I was dazzled by a sense of place and wonder which would have been remarkable in a live-action movie but which is completely inexplicable in a computer-animated one.

I watched it at our local movie house (only $6), and so I didn’t get it in 3D. I’m sort of glad; I’m not sure the 3D would have added anything.

See this one on the big screen, though. Make the time.

Incredibles lost?

I recognize that the TV networks and their affiliated production houses or studios are not exclusively vertical. A show produced by Universal might find its way onto CBS, for example, even though NBC and Universal are part of the same conglomerate. There was even a case some years back where a show on NBC carried “CBS Productions” as one of its production company logos.

But Disney is much more of a “brand” than the other studios, and ever since Disney bought ABC I’ve thought of ABC as the broadcast home of Disney-branded product (less so for the other Disney-owned imprints, like Touchstone).

So I was startled to see that on Thanksgiving night, the broadcast premiere of Disney/Pixar’s “The Incredibles” will be on … NBC.

It’s a great movie, no matter what network airs it.