From the vaults: excoriating Disney BTS doc ‘The Sweatbox’

Friday March 23rd 2012

Disney’s evil cyborg lawyers will doubtless have been switched to ‘cease and desist’ mode yesterday after one of the most notoriously elusive artifacts in the Disney vault leaked online. Shot over six years towards the end of the Disney Renaissance, The Sweatbox documents the mutation of Kingdom of the Sun (an ambitious musical ode to Peruvian mysticism) into The Emperor’s New Groove (the film that marked the downfall of the 90s animation golden age) through a process of gradual but dramatic Flanderization. It’s an extraordinary window into the harsh realities of blockbuster animation, in which idealistic creatives like producer Randy Fullmer and Sting (who was hired to write the songs) do near-constant battle with the suits over a period of many years. What emerges is a portrait of a studio both resolutely mercenary and (to their credit) genuinely concerned with the quality of their output. As The Sweatbox seems to suggest, The Emperor’s New Groove is what happens when these two instincts sit decidedly at odds with one another.

The film was co-directed by Sting’s wife Trudie Styler (the result of a clause in his contract), which goes some way to explaining the crew’s candidness — not to mention all the adoring footage of Sting hiking up the Himalayas and looking wistful behind pianos. It premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in 2002 but hasn’t been seen since, perhaps because it’s the one Disney-sanctioned movie in which Disney itself is — for all intents and purposes — the villain of the piece.

The workprint version above surfaced on YouTube yesterday, and probably won’t stick around for long, so it might be worth a KeepVid.