Chances are you’ve seen – and at least reasonably dug – Walt Disney Pictures’ The Emperor’s New Groove, the 2000 animated comedy in the breezy style of Aladdin and the 40th entry in their feature-length Walt Disney Classics canon, featuring the voice talents of David Spade, John Goodman, Eartha Kitt, Patrick Warburton and Wendy Malick and directed and executive-produced by (sadly seemingly former) Mouse House traditional hand-drawn animation titans Mark Dindal and Don Hahn, respectively.
Chances are you’ve never even heard of Walt Disney Pictures’ Kingdom of The Sun, the 2000 animated epic in the grand style of The Lion King and 40th Disney Animated Classic-that-would-have-been, featuring the voice talents of David Spade, a pre-CARS Owen Wilson, Eartha Kitt, Harvey Fierstein and Carla Gugino and directed by Roger Allers, co-director of….well, The Lion King.
This is due in no small part to the fact that The Walt Disney Company is notorious for keeping any skeletons that may be found lurking in Mickey’s closet safely hidden away under lock and key in the name of ruthlessly protecting the brand and shielding their precious, picture-perfect image from taint, at all costs. After all, there is absolutely no struggle or strife, folly or foible in the mythical Disney dojo – or so the magical powers that be in Burbank, California would desperately wish and cunningly lead you to believe….using unfortunate methodology such as hopelessly condemning something as honest, enlightening, entertaining and fascinating as The Sweatbox, a documentary film chronicling the collapse of a Kingdom and the subsequent finding of a Groove, to the cruel fate of languishing deep within the shadows of a mysterious Disney vault somewhere forever.
At some point in 1997, multi-platinum recording artist, multiple-Grammy Award winning singer/songwriter, activist, philanthropist and Tantric sex god, Sting was approached by Disney to compose and perform the soundtrack for their next big-deal full-length animated opus from big-deal director Roger Allers entitled, Kingdom of The Sun. Being quite aware of how hugely successful, acclaimed and popular Elton John’s own previous big-deal creative collaboration with Allers and the Disney team contributing the music for The Lion King ultimately turned out to be, Sting enthusiastically accepted the offer but with one bold and interesting condition: his wife, film producer and actress Trudie Styler and her production company, Xingu Films be given an all-access backstage pass of sorts to the project and allowed to document their own collaborative experience.
And so Sting swiftly set to work on the movie’s music as the movie soon began to utterly fall apart only to be completely re conceived and reconstructed around him, thus forcing the man to cut compositions, rewrite, rerecord, regroup and rethink his soundtrack on-the-fly as many of the songs he had created now had no place in the movie given its new creative direction. Meanwhile, Ms. Styler and her filmmaker partner, John-Paul Davidson rolled cameras and captured the chaos with the end result ultimately becoming The Sweatbox, an all-too-appropriate title directly referencing an infamous, dreaded screening room on Disney’s Burbank backlot with no air conditioning where filmmakers would submit raw footage and rough cuts for review and rejection by the studio’s top brass.
Unfortunately, the studio-approved final cut of the film (with a run time clocking in at a ridiculously brief 86 minutes and a PG-13 rating for “brief strong language”) has heretofore only ever seen the light of day in exhibition at its world premiere in Canada at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 13, 2002, a quickie 1-week Oscar-qualifying run at the now-defunct Beverly Center 13 Cinemas in Los Angeles and as late-night programming at the Enzian theater as part of the Florida Film Festival in Orlando (which was apparently attended by some Disney employees who openly booed certain studio suits every time they popped up in the film). Disney also retains all distribution rights to the film and has steadfastly sat on them for a decade now, refusing to release it in any way, shape or form.*
At any rate, all of this just serves to bring us all to the next best thing and the only available alternative: a streaming video embedded below containing a very fortuitous recently-leaked 95-minute workprint cut of The Sweatbox for both educational purposes and your own viewing pleasure….
….WAIT – would you like to know MORE?
Well, below are links to both halves of an in-depth two-part series first published in September 2000 by Jim Hill, a renowned and acclaimed Walt DIsney Company historian; this compelling multi-segment piece offers heaping helpings of gory details regarding all of the blood, SWEAT and tears shed during the tortured and protracted genesis of the movie that eventually became The Emperor’s New Groove and is definitely also well-worth your time.
* Nevermind, that’s a lie, I suppose – a small snippet of the documentary was repurposed as a special feature called “Sting’s Making The Music Video” that simply touches upon the Oscar-nominated song, “My Funny Friend And Me” and can be fleetingly glimpsed on the long out-of-print THE EMPEROR’S NEW GROOVE: The Ultimate Groove 2-disc Collector’s Edition DVD set. I was gravely mistaken. Sorry.