The Sweatbos--the debacle of the Emperor's New Groove

My wife just found this on anyone heard about this? The Sweatbox is a documentary film made by Sting's wife, chronicling the misadventures concerning the making(or, unmaking, actually) of the Emperor's New Groove--very interesting! It even has the video recording of Sting receiving the phone call telling him that most of his songs had been hosed for the film--at least they had the courtesy to put them on the soundtrack album. Does anyone know any more? This is certainly one film that I don't think will make it to Disney DVD anytime soon(maybe a pan 'n scan version on video only???). Mike.


Mike -

here is a review I found on-line. I know that as part of the deal of Sting doing the music, Disney had to allow his wife complete access to the project to make a documentary. I guess she ended up with more than she expected.

"The Sweatbox" - A Review by 'Lostinplace'

"The Sweatbox" is likely never coming to a theatre near you, and a video release is likely a long way off, if ever. Nonetheless, I wanted to alert you to this film. If you're an animation buff, try and remember this title and make every effort you can to get to it if they ever show it near you. "The Sweatbox" is a documentary produced by Xingu films, the tiny film company started by singer/songer Sting. As part of his contract to do the songs for a proposed Disney animated feature called "Kingdom of the Sun", String and his wife, Trudy Styler, were given complete access to do a documentary on the animation and story development process of the film. It would have been a fairly standard documentary, except that "Kingdom of the Sun" became a complete disaster, came close to being completely shut down, and was only saved after a complete revamp turned it into "The Emperor's New Groove" - and "The Sweatbox" documents all of it.

The project originally began as a serious animated feature. Roger Allers, then walking on air at Disney for having directed "The Lion King", was pretty much given carte blanch to choose his next project and decided to go with an Inca-themed version of "The Prince and the Pauper" where an obnoxious Incan prince switches places with his duplicate ( Owen Wilson, if you can believe it ), gets turned into a mute Llama, and learns to be a better ruler. It also had a scheming old witch, and an Incan princess who falls in love with the apparently-changed prince. Sting, working from only the broadest outlines since there wasn't any real script to the film, wrote six songs for the film and thought that would be that. But it wasn't.

"The Sweatbox" refers to the screening room in the animation building. After the first rough "cut" of the film, composed of black & white pencil test sequences are shown, the animation team and the animation brass then go over the film and decide what to do with it. To Allers, the judgement from Disney chairman Peter Schneider and Feature Animation President Tom Schumacher was devastating - they liked parts of it, but didn't think the story worked at all. The team was told to come up with a new storyline that incorporated the parts they did think worked and jettison the rest or the project would be cancelled. After about six stabs at it, the storyline that would become "The Emperor's New Groove" finally gelled, but Allers was broken-hearted that his vision of a grand Incan epic was now in ruins and left the project. Sting himself was also caught in the backwash. The six songs he wrote for the old version were now useless, and it was coming up on the time for him to work on his own album as well as prepare for a tour. Coming off the artistic high of creating some really lovely music for a movie that would now never be seen, Sting would have to find a way to remotivate himself to write new songs in the middle of an increasingly busy schedule.

Like I said, if you're an animation buff, "The Sweatbox" is something you should kill to see. It's one of the most complete looks at how Disney develops its animated features, but with the crashing of "Kingdom", it also is fascinating because it shows how the whole process has to recover from a near-mortal trauma. Whole storyboards are discarded. New sequences have to be written. It turns out that if something like this happens, all the other directors from the other features in development get pulled in to look at things and offer their suggestions. With old characters discarded and new characters created, new actors and dialog have to be quickly recorded. I'm a little torn because I liked "The Emperor's New Groove" but with the glimpses of the vanished "Kingdom", I wish I could have seen how that version would have worked out as well. As a rare, objective look inside the Disney animation machine, "The Sweatbox" is a fascinating treasure, unlikely to be duplicated anytime soon.
Wow--thanks so much for the further information, Will--fascinating! I wonder if Sting's film company, which produced the film, can simply release a video on its own of the film--or is "Disney"(whatever that implies these days) somehow part of the picture--I wouldn't be surprised if that condition somehow wasn't in the contract's "small print"! I'll have to try and remember to follow-up on this.....Mike.