The Sweatbox is a documentary directed by Trudie Styler, wife of pop artist, Sting. The film covers the long and troubled production of The Emperor's New Groove and how it started as a musical epic called Kingdom of the Sun directed by Roger Allers (director of The Lion King) until being transformed into a comedy directed by Mark Dindal (director of Chicken Little and Warner Bros.' Cats Don't Dance).
In 1997, director Roger Allers asks British singer-songwriter Sting to help write the music to a new Disney animated feature entitled Kingdom of the Sun, which he has opted to work on after completing The Lion King. The film follows a llama-herder named Pacha who wanders into an Incan city and discovers that the self-conceited emperor Manco is an exact duplicate of himself. They switch places, but the evil sorceress Yzma discovers the deception and transforms Manco into a llama with the intent to kill him so that she can summon Supai, a shadow demon that will block out the sun and restore her youth. Meanwhile, Pacha meets Nina, Manco's betrothed who suddenly falls in love with the "emperor" after he supposedly changes his ways, while the real Manco is with Mata, a tomboyish girl who would help him foil Yzma's plans. Intrigued with the premise and mythology of the film, Sting agrees to the project.
The crew is thrilled with many of the ideas. Andreas Deja voices his approval of working on Yzma due to the character's vanity, Doug Frankel searches for inspiration to create the extravagant backgrounds for the film, Sting begins writing much of the songs for the film with "One Day She'll Love Me" being his favorite to work on, and actors David Spade, Owen Wilson, and Eartha Kitt are all signed on to voice the cast, Manco, Pacha, and Yzma, respectively. Allers hopes to make the film just as epic as The Lion King with memorable music and characters on par with the hit film.
The crew then present what they have finished so far to executive producers Thomas Schumacher and Peter Schneider in the titular sweatbox, the room where they screen their half finished product. Schumacher and Schneider insist that they are simply trying to steer the animators and storytellers from making a "disaster" before they realize that it is too late. However, they are dissatisfied with the movie and claim that none of it is working; the characters are hard to follow and the pacing is off, with them adding that they cannot tell if it wants to be a comedy or a drama. They underhandedly state that they did love the "love song" (One Day She'll Love Me) and the "llama song" (Walk the Llama, Llama).
Allers and the crew are taken aback as they feel that all of their hard work has been for nothing. Allers, producer Randy Fullmer, and fellow writers and directors from other animated features lock themselves away to figure out what to do with the story. The animators hear rumors of the film either changing the voice cast altogether, the film's setting being changed from Peru to Jamaica or Nebraska, to Pacha being dropped entirely. Ultimately they settle on an idea that Chris Williams conjured up about a "common man [teaching] an arrogant man how to be a good leader". Unfortunately, Shumacher recognizes that Allers is disinterested and he leaves the project. Fullmer informs Sting on the new direction and he decides to go abroad to figure out his new plan.
Mark Dindal takes up the directing duties with the title now slightly changed to Kingdom in the Sun. Spade and Kitt are kept on while Wilson is replaced with John Goodman and Patrick Warburton is added as a new character named Kronk. Manco's name is changed to Kuzco to avoid international complaints and the story and art style are changed to make the film more concise and quick to the point. Kitt is only mildly bothered by the changes made to Yzma while Deja feels that much of what made her interesting is gone and leaves the character.
Schneider and Schumacher see a rough cut of the new film and love it with the former calling it a "broad and kinetic" farce. Sting is slightly concerned with the new direction as all of his songs are gone, but Fullmer wants him to write at least one song to book end the film as well as one to sing over the credits. At one point, Schneider and Schumacher complain about Pacha's family as they feel that it slows down the film, but are conflicted as they feel it is necessary to give his character dimension. Frankel voices his frustration over being constantly told that Pacha's wife Chicha is going to be in or out of the movie.
Sting finally writes "Perfect World" and performs it, but he and his partner David Hartley decide to have Tom Jones sing the song instead. Another screening of the almost finished product is shown, but Sting is upset over the ending. Kuzco decides not to build his water park on Pacha's hill, but instead another hill right next to it. He feels that this goes against his conservationist beliefs and writes a letter to the producers though he is unsure they will listen. To his surprise, they are happy with receiving the letter with Roy E. Disney voicing his approval to alter the ending.
John Debney gets to work on composing the score for the movie while Dindal reveals that he has been receiving updates on the state of the movie from Fullmer and is anxious to know how it is doing. Eventually the crew get together to discuss the marketing for the film and prepare for the now titled The Emperor's New Groove's eventual release. Sting is at first indifferent to the title, but upon seeing a clip from the new film embraces it.
Despite the ups and downs and frustration of losing a film in favor of another one, everyone is ultimately satisfied with the final product. Fullmer reveals that he is working with Dindal on another project (later revealed to be Chicken Little) due to their mutual bond working on this one. Don Hahn explains that he loves working on animated movies despite the controversies, arguments and long process and that it is about convincing the audience to love drawings come to life. Sting finally records "My Funny Friend and Me" as the documentary ends.
The full documentary can be seen here.
Trudie Styler, a documentarian, had been allowed to film the production of Kingdom of the Sun/The Emperor's New Groove as part of the deal that originally brought her husband Sting to the project. As a result, Styler recorded 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.
The naming is due to the screening room at the Disney studio in Burbank, 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 as the documentary was about "the process of making an animated film", the term was chosen as the title.
This "making of" documentary was co-directed by Styler and also John-Paul Davidson, who had produced Davidson's previous directorial works.
A review by MotionPictureComics.com explains the plot: While "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"...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". Dorse A. Lanpher said the film "documents the pain and anguish of the maneuvering to get The Kingdom of the Sun/The Emperor's New Groove made into a movie.
Release and Reception
The 84 minute 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 named 'Making the Music Video' and only featuring the Oscar-nominated song, "My Funny Friend and Me". A Disney-approved version of 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".
According to Wade Sampson, staff writer at MousePlanet who attended a screening, each time Tom Schumacher or Peter Schneider (Disney Feature Animation president and Disney Studios chairman respectively), were on the screen, "there were howls from the audience that was partly composed of animators from Disney Feature Animation Florida". He says 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".
Sampson adds "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". He says 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 underwraps 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 CartoonBrew 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.”
Rich Juzwiak of Gawker said it was more of "a too-many-cooks-in-the-kitchen story about sensitive creative types and the people in charge who have to tell them, 'No'", rather than a story full of "fury or vengeance".
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