If a tagline was written for “The Sweatbox”, there’s only one that could fit it perfectly: “Witness the making, unmaking, and remaking of a movie.” By “remaking”, I don’t mean one of Hollywood’s favorite hobbies, but how Disney’s “Kingdom of the Sun” turned into “The Emperor’s New Groove.”
Betcha didn’t even know that “The Emperor’s New Groove” was an entirely different film all together. Even trying to search for any information on it through the “Groove” DVDs won’t help either because you won’t find anything. Reason being is because this was not one of Disney’s prouder moments. Heck, they don’t even support this documentary for that reason, though John-Paul Davidson and Trudie Styler (Sting’s wife) was lucky enough to make the film under certain circumstances.
When Sting was hired by Disney to write 6 songs for “Kingdom of the Sun”, part of that deal was an agreement to let John-Paul Davidson and Trudie Styler chronicle the creation of the through their company, Xingu Films. Here’s the result of part of that filming, an 86-minute documentary that digs deep into what went on and sports a terrific load of information as well as many treasures.
“The Sweatbox” (Named for the non-air-conditioned Moviola screening room Walt Disney had in his day at the studio in Burbank) begins with a look at the premiere of the film and lots of thoughts conveyed by people such as David Spade, producer Randy Fullmer, and Sting that indicate they were amazed that they got to where they are with this project, being that it was quite a painful process. It all begins by way of Roger Allers who was coming off “The Lion King”, quite successfully. What was his next project going to be? Perhaps something about a South American culture? Allers chose to do research on the Incas and went down to Peru and Machu Pichu with his newly formed crew for that purpose. The scenery in Peru is astounding and we get a reprise of incredible scenery when Sting is at the Ganges River later on in the film, 10,000 miles west of Burbank.
Out of this came “Kingdom of the Sun” and in the simplest terms, it was a story about “a common man teaching an arrogant man how to rule”, as it was pitched to Sting. Despite this idea taking shape, one detail foreshadows what’s going to occur: While Sting was writing the songs; there was no script that was settled upon. However, out of watching many, many people trying to make “Kingdom of the Sun”, interesting stories spring up. For example, Pacha wasn’t the way he is as he is now in “The Emperor’s New Groove”. He was originally a llama herder who loved the sun and believed that there was a way to bring light into any situation and….he was voiced by Owen Wilson. In fact, there’s one great scene where we see Owen Wilson recording his role opposite David Spade’s ‘Manco’, the arrogant ruler that he does a prince-and-the-pauper switch with. Not only that, but there was also a love story and a new Disney villain, Yzma (Eartha Kitt), who has a few issues with the sun.
But seeing Owen Wilson working opposite David Spade for a couple of seconds is not the only treasure. There is extensive artwork and pencil animation for “Kingdom of the Sun” that’s revealed. At one point, Eartha Kitt performs a song for the film called “Snuff Out the Light” which is coupled with her performance footage and the animation that was to go along with it. But it’s not all kinds of fun like this in the Mouse House. Trouble arises when Thomas Schumacher and Peter Schneider (another Big Boss of Disney) don’t like how the story is going, based on what was screened for them, and want a lot of things re-done. Soon enough, it gets to the point where the project is so troublesome, that the guillotine comes down on “Kingdom of the Sun” and production comes to a halt and things need to be re-tooled. However, Roger Allers doesn’t like how things have progressed and how a pared-down story has been created and will be used instead of his vision. Therefore, he leaves the project. When you consider that it’s pretty much three years down the drain for the guy, his decision is reasonable. That leaves director Mark Dindal, who came to the project two years after Roger started it, flying solo (producer Randy Fullmer was still on board and was one of the people to hang on all the way) with a year and a half to work on what’s now called “Kingdom In The Sun”, to be changed later.
The interviews are well done and David Spade gets time to put in a joke about why his character’s name was changed from ‘Manco’ to ‘Kuzco’. During the “Kingdom of the Sun” section of the film, Andreas Deja shows us how he animates Yzma and it’s fun watching him work on the character. Sting’s not too happy when he’s told by producer Randy Fullmer on a speakerphone that his 6 songs are pretty much useless now because of the new direction the film is likely to take. It doesn’t work here because all we get is Sting’s reaction via his voice. I’d really prefer to see Sting himself reacting to the news while on the phone with Randy. Was that footage just not that interesting or was it not shot? That’s something to consider. Another great, though extremely short interview is where Tony Bancroft (co-director of “Mulan”) is now the lead animator on the newly created character of Kronk and we watch him work on the guy briefly.
It’s fun to see Tom Jones recording “Perfect World” and despite the energy felt in the song, Jones performs it with the greatest of ease. Before all that, we see Sting try his hand at singing the song, but it obviously doesn’t work and Sting made the right choice of not wanting to do that one. Some time is spent on choosing film composers as well and originally, Marc Shaiman was chosen but his score sounded too busy (trying to capture the physical movements of the characters with music along with so much else), and John Debney replaced him.
One thing that I’m really hoping for is access to more footage one day. 86 minutes are not enough and I wouldn’t mind something to the tune of a 6-hour cut or even more because this is a journey into a world that’s not seen by scores of people. This is a fine documentary that cuts those “making-of” featurettes like a paper shredder would do for harried business executives in deep s**t. Something like this is not likely to happen again.
In the middle of the film, Thomas Schumacher describes director Rob Minkoff’s feelings about screening work for bosses like him: “Screening the movie is like this; it’s having someone chop your hands off and pull your pants down in front of a crowd and you stand there with stumps bleeding, incapable of pulling your pants back up.” I only hope that this film can be seen more widely than it has been lately (limited to film festivals), so that this statement will make more sense: DISNEY’S PANTS ARE DOWN!!! COME HAVE A LOOK!!!!