Posted on Thursday, March 22nd, 2012 by Germain Lussier
Disney is a prolific company with its name on a great many successes, and it likes to hide its missteps and failures. The process of doing so sometimes helps those mistakes become things of legend. Song of the South, with its politically incorrect and racist portrayals of certain characters, is likely the most famous example. Another example might be The Sweatbox, a very rarely-seen documentary about the failed making of an animated film called Kingdom of the Sun, which eventually morphed into The Emperor’s New Groove. (Pictured above.)
The Sweatbox filmmakers John-Paul Davidson and Trudie Styler were given unprecedented access to Disney’s process and the resulting film painted the executives in such a negative light, they more or less made sure the film would never been seen in public.
Until now. For a little while at least. After the jump, you can watch the rarely seen 2002 documentary The Sweatbox.
Here’s the film, for the time being.
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In 1997, musical performer and composer Sting was asked by the Walt Disney Company to write the music for a new animated feature called Kingdom of the Sun. It was to be directed by Roger Allers who was basking in the success of his work on The Lion King.
When Walt Disney set up his studio in Burbank, there was a screening room with no air conditioning, causing the animators to sweat while their rough work was being critiqued. The room became known as the Sweatbox and it became the name used for the process of reviewing the animation as it developed…
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 were unnecessarily hurtful and full of politically correct speech. They looked like the kids in high school that jocks gave a “wedgie” to on a daily basis. How much of that impression was due to editing and how much was a remarkable truthful glimpse is up to the viewer to decide…
Following a tense, brutal sweatbox screening for executives Schumacher and Schneider…the original story, which was a sort of a version of the well-known “Prince and the Pauper” story, is torn apart. Director Allers quits. Sting’s songs are suddenly out of key in a movie that is now going to be changed into a raucous comedy…
The documentary includes the animators’ initial research trips to Peru, rough sketches, long discussions of color palate and backgrounds, completed animation that was later totally discarded, intense story meetings, Eartha Kitt’s voice recording and glimpses of Sting’s songwriting process. The first 40 minutes or so document the great detail and effort in putting together Kingdom of the Sun. The remainder of the documentary showcases the breakneck rush to complete the film when it becomes The Emperor’s New Groove. The difference in quality is jarring.