On January 27th, Vulture published an oral history on the Disney animated film The Emperor’s New Groove (2000). The article encompasses various interviews from cast and crew, providing a more personal history of The Emperor’s production. What we learn is that The Emperor’s New Groove was once meant to be a totally different film than the Incan-prince turned-llama-comedy we have come to know. Its original title was The Kingdom of the Sun, a story much more in line with Disney animated classics like Beauty and the Beast (1991) and The Lion King (1994). Don Hahn, executive producer of The Emperor, calls this classic style “the Broadway musicals that we love and tried on for so many years” (Vulture).
What we are also reminded of in the oral history is that a documentary by the name of The Sweatbox (2002) was filmed simultaneously to The Emperor. The Sweatbox focuses on the film’s feature soundtrack artist Sting, the award-winning musician and front man of The Police. The doc is a collaborative effort of directors John-Paul Davidson and Trudie Styler, Sting’s wife.
It was intended to show the making of a successful Disney animation but quickly turned into “a riveting, no-holds-barred, occasionally funny, often heartbreaking look at how the Disney sausage is made, and sometimes unmade” (Vulture). This raw and tumultuous journey that The Emperor unexpectedly took is not the polished image that Disney has perpetuated for itself–thus explaining Disney’s swift action to hide it away in its famous vault. Unofficial versions of the doc sporadically find their way onto platforms like Youtube, but quickly vanish.
A large focus of, and absentee from, Vulture’s oral history is Sting himself. The cast and crew mention Sting as wholly frustrated and let down by the complicated process that became The Emperor’s New Groove. It is said that Sting intended for a more emotionally intense soundtrack like Elton John’s for The Lion King. Eventually, the production team veered down the outrageously comedic route The Emperor is known for. This, along with the persistent scrapping and regenerating of characters, led Sting to five attempts at quitting, but somehow he was always pulled back onboard. In the end, only two of Sting’s songs made it into the final cut, “Perfect World” and “My Funny Friend and Me,” the latter earning him an Oscar nomination.
Because of the less than perfect production of The Emperor’s New Groove, Disney refuses to release The Sweatbox, despite cast and crew expressing the value it holds. Production was not the fairytale experience Disney often portrays, and surely Sting’s documented experience would have exposed this. Nonetheless, The Sweatbox director John-Paul Davidson maintains the significance of its release, stating “I think all the people who do animation are fascinated by ‘The Sweatbox,’ because it’s not your saccharine making-of documentary. It gets into the sweat and the grit of it all.”
For the full oral history of The Emperor’s New Groove, check out Vulture’s article here: https://www.vulture.com/article/an-oral-history-of-disney-the-emperors-new-groove.html.