Disney has kept The Sweatbox locked out of sight for the past decade, but the 2002 documentary was posted online yesterday by an eighteen-year-old cartoonist in the UK. First, a little background on the film from Wade Sampson:
In 1997, musical performer and composer Sting was asked by the Walt Disney Company to write the music for a new animated feature called Kingdom of the Sun. It was to be directed by Roger Allers who was basking in the success of his work on The Lion King. Sting agreed, on the condition that his wife, filmmaker Trudie Styler, could document the process of the production with their own production company, Xingu Films…Sting’s wife was given unlimited access when it came to Production No. 1331 (aka “Kingdom”). She and her camera sat in on story meetings for the movie, rolled while actors auditioned as well as taping Sting while he recorded the score. No one expected two years into the production, it would shift direction drastically.
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captures the tortured morphing of the Kingdom of the Sun into The Emperor’s New Groove, it also serves as an invaluable historical document about Disney’s animation operations in the late-1990s.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.
UPDATE: I just checked another copy of the film and it appears that the version of The Sweatbox posted on YouTube is an earlier cut of the film. The final theatrical version was 86 minutes long with a significantly different opening. I haven’t watched both side-by-side to draw further comparisons between these two versions.