|By Keith Mahne|
The year was 1997, musical performer and composer Sting was asked by the Walt Disney Company to write the music for a new animated feature to be called Kingdom of the Sun. Sting agreed on the condition that his wife, filmmaker Trudie Styler, could document the process of the production with their own production company, Xingu Films. The result, an intimate look at the process that goes into making a Disney animated film, was a 86-minute documentary called The Sweatbox. Originally set for release in early 2001, the film was heavily edited down by Disney into just a short extra feature on The Emperor's New Groove DVD and titled it "Making the Music Video". Here is your chance to see the complete, 95-minute unedited version of the film that Disney never released...
Disney allowed Trudie Styler to film the production of Kingdom of the Sun, later changed to The Emperor's New Groove, as part of the deal that originally brought her husband Sting to the project. As a result, Styler captured on film much of the struggle, controversy, and troubles that went into making the picture (including the moment when producer Fullmer called Sting to inform the pop star that his songs were being deleted from the film). Disney owns the rights to the documentary and has not released it on home video or DVD.
|Sting and wife Trudie Styler|
The naming is due to the screening room at the Disney Studio in Burbank during Walt's time which, when originally set up, had no air conditioning, causing the animators to sweat while their rough work was being critiqued. The process of reviewing the animation as it developed became known as "the Sweatbox" and, being that the documentary was about the process of making an animated film, the term was chosen as the title.
|Animators sit in Walt's "sweatbox" at the studio|
The first thirty-to-forty minutes of The Sweatbox unfolds as one might expect any in-depth look at the making of an animated film to go, but at about forty minutes in, we witness the fateful day in which an early story-boarded cut of the film is screened for the heads of Disney Feature Animation, Thomas Schumacher and Peter Schneider. They hate the film, declare that it is not working, and begin a process of totally scrapping and reinventing huge chunks of the story. Characters are totally changed, voice actors are replaced, and the entire story is shifted around. The film documents the pain and anguish the team goes through as they maneuver to get The Kingdom of the Sun/The Emperor's New Groove made into a movie.
|Original movie poster for The Kingdom of the Sun|
According to Disney historian Jim Korkis, the 86 minute Disney-approved film, which was originally supposed to be released at the beginning of 2001, was heavily edited down into a short extra feature on The Emperor's New Groove DVD and only featured the Oscar-nominated song, My Funny Friend and Me. The film received a worldwide premiere at the Toronto Film Festival on September 13, 2002. It also had a short run at the Loews Beverly Center Cineplex of Los Angeles in an unpublicized, one-week run in order to be eligible for an Academy Award nomination. In addition to this, the film was also shown at The Enzian theater in Orlando as part of the Florida Film Festival.
Disney historian Jim Korkis (author of the amazing Vault of Walt books), who attended a screening of the film, says that each time Tom Schumacher (former Disney Feature Animation president) or Peter Schneider (former Disney Studios chairman), were on the screen, "there were howls from the audience that was partly composed of animators from Disney Feature Animation Florida." Jim stated that "the two executives did come across as nerdy bullies who really didn't seem to know what was going on when it came to animation" and that they "were unnecessarily hurtful and full of politically correct speech." He adds that it is left to the viewer to decide if this impression is due to editing or a "remarkable truthful glimpse".
|Peter Schneider (left) and Tom Schumacher (right) at a Disney Animation meeting|
Jim also adds that "rarely have artists been caught so evocatively in fear of executives, or executives portrayed as so clueless as to how to deal with artists, how to resolve story problems and how to understand what audiences wanted." Kingdom of the Sun was to be directed by Roger Allers, who was basking in the success of his work on The Lion King. Korkis goes on to say that "supporters of Allers' original vision still feel that if he had been given the time, money and support that the film would have been a masterpiece, but instead of the more ambitious Kingdom of the Sun, the Disney Studio decides to go with a supposedly more commercial film incorporating some of the same characters and location, Emperor's New Groove."
Although the film in its completed form had been kept under wraps for about a decade, on March 21, 2012 it was posted online by an eighteen-year-old cartoonist in the UK. After the documentary was leaked online, Amid Amidi of Cartoon Brew gave the following analysis of the film:
"The Sweatbox is at turns infuriating, hilarious and enlightening. You’ll cringe in sympathy with the Disney artists as you see the gross bureaucratic incompetence they had to endure while working at the studio in the 1990s. The film not only captures the tortured morphing of the Kingdom of the Sun into The Emperor’s New Groove, it also serves as an invaluable historical document about Disney’s animation operations in the late-1990s. If any questions remain about why Disney fizzled out creatively and surrendered its feature animation crown to Pixar and DreamWorks, this film will answer them."— Amid Amidi, Cartoon Brew
|Sting in a storyboard meeting for Kingdom of the Sun|
(For your viewing pleasure, please remember to pause the Disney Avenue Music Player in the top, left-hand corner of the page prior to playing the video below if you are on a desktop computer. Also, please be aware that the video does contain some strong language that may be unsuitable for small children as this is the "unedited" version.)
(If the movie doesn't play on a mobile device try watching on a desktop computer.)
Keith Michael Mahne is the owner and editor of Disney Avenue and the host of the Disney Avenue Podcast. He has made countless trips to the Walt Disney World resort since his first trip in 1989 at the age of four. Keith has a strong passion and respect for Walt Disney, the parks and resorts, and the men and women who help create them. He started Disney Avenue as a way to inform and entertain readers and to repay all those who make dreams come true every day.