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The Sweat Box (unreleased)

Josh Reviews The Sweatbox, the Documentary the Walt Disney Company Doesn’t Want You to See!!

April 6th, 2012
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Remember the Walt Disney Company’s 40th animated feature, released in 2000, called Kingdom of the Sun? It was an epic tale set in the Inca empire about a selfish king who briefly switches places with a poor farmer who happens to look just like him, and an evil magician with a plot to block out the sun.  The film featured the voices of David Spade, Owen Wilson, Eartha Kitt, Carla Gugino, and Harvey Fierstein, as well as six songs written for the film by Sting.

No?  You don’t remember seeing that movie?

That’s because after three years of work, Disney management decided to completely rework the film, throwing out much of the material they had created (along with all six songs recorded by Sting).  The film that was ultimately released to theatres was called The Emperor’s New Groove, and featured the voices of David Spade, John Goodman, Eartha Kitt, Wendie Malick and Patrick Warburton, with two entirely different Sting songs in the film (“Perfect World,” performed by Tom Jones, and “My Funny Friend and Me”, which played over the closing credits).

The long, torturous process by which Kingdom of the Sun became The Emperor’s New Groove was captured in Trudie Styler and John-Paul Davidson’s amazing but long-shelved documentary The Sweatbox. In addition to being a filmmaker, Trudie Styler happens to be Sting’s wife.  When he agreed to be involved with the music for the film, he got the studio to agree to allow his wife to document the process.  She got a lot more than she bargained for.

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.  We spend a lot of time with the film’s lead director, Roger Allers, who was a star at the studio after his work co-directing The Lion King, which had become a huge financial and critical success.  We meet various other key personnel on the Disney animation team — the co-director Mark Dindal, the producers, the lead animators tasked with bringing to life the film’s main characters, and more.  Meanwhile, we follow Sting and his collaborator David Hartley as they work to write and record six songs for the film.

Then, 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 (the villager Pacha changes from a teenaged boy who looks just like the king into a heavyset married … [continued]