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.'s Cats Don't Dance).
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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