Wade Sampson at Mouse Planet has posted a piece on a pretty much unseen documentary entitled The Sweatbox. It tells the tale of how a Disney animated feature called Kingdom of the Sun morphed into Emperor's New Groove, causing collateral damage along the way, which included the singer-songwriter Sting. And how did Sweatbox come to be made?
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.
I remember the making of Emperor's New Groove/Kingdom of the Sun pretty well. It's development went on for a looong time (same was true for Mulan.) But long development times are nothing unusual at Disney Feature Animation (or other feature studios, for that matter.)
...the tone of the documentary is established fairly early when at the premiere for Emperor's New Groove, Sting, Schumacher [then head of Disney Animation}, and a number of other people discuss what a painful experience it has all been.
Following a tense, brutal sweatbox screening for executives Schumacher and Schneider with about 20 percent or more of the animation completed, the original story, which was a sort of a version of the well-known "Prince and the Pauper" story, is torn apart. Director Allers quits. Sting's songs are suddenly out of key in a movie that is now going to be changed into a raucous comedy.
...Styler captures the phone call to her husband from producer Randy Fullmer where Sting learns that the six songs he has struggled over with collaborator David Hartley have been cut from Kingdom of the Sun.
The documentary is pretty extraordinary. It played in L.A. for a week, and I ran across town to see it at the single theater where it ran. The film documents a period of time at Disney Feature Animation when the place was somewhat unmoored and production executives and the animation bureaucracy held a lot of power.
The film that emerged from the chaotic development -- Emperor's New Groove -- I happen to like a lot. When it was released, it didn't have energetic backing from the studio's publicity machine. (Eisner is reputed to have disliked it.) As I recall, the flick opened with something like a $10 million gross on its opening weekend, but rose by 50% in its second weekend. It ended up somewhat shy of a $100 million domestic gross.
A wide release going up that much in week #2 is something that almost never happens. Audience word-of-mouth was a lot more robust than Disney's sales campaign.