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Disney Has Kept ‘Sweatbox’ Doc Hidden for 19 Years, but Its Creators Still Want It Released

"Disney+ is just gobbling things up. So why not just put it out?" asks the former president of Walt Disney Animation.

Sting behind the scenes of "The Emperor's New Groove"

Sting behind the scenes of “The Emperor’s New Groove”

Buena Vista Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

One of the more interesting elements to emerge from Vulture’s oral history of the Disney animated comedy “The Emperor’s New Groove” is the reminder of a nearly 20-year-old Disney documentary that’s never been released and will most likely never break out of the Disney vault. “The Sweatbox” was directed by John-Paul Davidson and Trudie Styler, wife of musician Sting.

As documented in the oral history, “The Emperor’s New Groove” got its start at Walt Disney as a much different film titled “The Kingdom of the Sun,” which was to feature original songs by Sting. Davidson and Styler documented the making of that movie, but Disney ultimately shelved the project after “doubt-filled meetings and catastrophic screenings and arguments.” Pieces of “The Kingdom of the Sun” found their way into 2000’s beloved “The Emperor’s New Groove,” including two Sting songs and the voice of Eartha Kitt, but the documentary capturing the making and shelving of the original film was never officially released.

Per Vulture: “Over the course of production, [‘The Sweatbox’] went from being an informative making-of to a riveting, no-holds-barred, occasionally funny, often heartbreaking look at how the Disney sausage is made, and sometimes unmade. Premiering at festivals in 2002, ‘The Sweatbox’ ultimately proved so awkwardly truthful that Disney has refused to release it, though the film does occasionally pop up on YouTube and torrent sites…’The Sweatbox’ has become the finished movie Disney doesn’t want you to see, transforming from what was supposed to be a promotional documentary to an intimate, hilarious, heartbreaking glimpse into what really happens behind the scenes of an animated project.”

Davidson participated in the oral history and had this to say about the documentary that Disney is keeping hidden from the public: “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. Disney owns the thing. We don’t have any clout in terms of releasing it ourselves. I would love to have released it. It pops up online now and then, and the lawyers take it back immediately.”

Peter Schneider, who served as president of Walt Disney’s feature animation department at the time, told Vulture, “I’m disappointed ‘The Sweatbox’ didn’t come out. No matter how good or bad we all come off in it. I think it’s an interesting movie. Disney+ is just gobbling things up. So why not just put it out?”

“The Emperor’s New Groove” assistant production manager Tracey Miller-Zarneke said around 150 hours of footage was shot for “The Sweatbox,” but “Disney was mortified. So they pretty much buried [it]. They did let us do the Academy run.”

Head over to Vulture’s website to read “The Emperor’s New Groove” oral history in its entirety.

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