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Disney's Smoking Gun No One Will Ever See

'The Sweatbox' | Luther Vandross | President Reagan

Disney's Smoking Gun No One Will Ever See

I read with interest the story in yesterday's New York Times about Disney considering selling Miramax back to the Weinstein brothers. Without Miramax and Steve Jobs' Pixar, which has expressed a desire to leave Disney, I'm not sure what the Mouse House would have left. Certainly it wouldn't be a future for animated films.

This was hammered home to me over the weekend after I finally got to see a copy of Trudie Styler and John-Paul Davidson's 2002 documentary "The Sweatbox." You will probably never see this film and neither, I suppose, will the Disney board. If they did, you'd think their first move would be to shore up Disney's assets — i.e. Miramax and Pixar — and look to eliminate some real problems.

"The Sweatbox" is a document of the making of a Disney animated film called "The Emperor's New Groove." The project took a long and circuitous course, starting out as a serious minded cartoon called "The Kingdom of the Sun" directed by "The Lion King"'s Roger Allers and featuring several songs by Sting. Styler, Sting's wife and a movie producer, got permission to document the development of the film. What she and partner Davidson didn't bargain on was the entire project capsizing and being rebuilt not once but twice until it had a new director, cast and point of view.

By then Sting's participation had been significantly whittled down, millions had been flushed down the toilet and no one at Disney — particularly the subsequently departed exec Peter Schneider — seemed to have an idea of what they were doing or why they were doing it.

It's a shame that no one will ever see "The Sweatbox." Somehow Disney has managed to bury it, I assume, by not allowing its animated artwork — integral to the documentary — to be released. But cineastes and film students would find the film has the same reference value as Julia Phillips' "You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again" or the BBC's "Naked Hollywood" series. Rarely have artists been caught so evocatively in fear of executives, or execs framed as being so in possession of the Emperor's new clothes — forget about groove.

It's never discussed, but not just a little of this debacle is owed to the decamping of Jeffrey Katzenberg to start DreamWorks and his consequent pillaging of the Disney animations department beginning in 1995.

The animated Disney offerings after "Groove," like "Treasure Planet," were even more confusing, and troubled. If only the Disney shareholders could make the company show them "Sweatbox" as a measure of fiduciary duty, they might gain some insight into why the company seems so at sea now.

Meantime, Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" — which Disney refused to release — has been set for its first Los Angeles screening tonight. New York media insiders will see it on Monday, June 14. Stacked up against such Disney losers as "The Ladykillers," "The Alamo," and "Raising Helen," "Fahrenheit 9/11" — if it makes the money predicted — will make "The Sweatbox" seem like "Mary Poppins."

Could Luther Be Ready for a Comeback?

Luther Vandross may be thinking of a small comeback, his first singing gig since his terrible stroke more than a year ago. That was the word last night at the sensational fund-raiser for the We Are Family Foundation — created by producer/writer Nile Rodgers and his partner Nancy Hunt. Vandross, if he's ready, may contribute vocals to a new Chic album that Rodgers is assembling for a late fall release.

In the meantime, Rodgers reassembled the original members of Chic for a show at Studio 54 last night, and recreated all the excitement and energy of the pre-AIDS disco movement of the late '70s. I don't know if enough pop music critics give Rodgers enough credit for inventing the one truly seminal disco beat, unlike all the others and groundbreaking enough to make him the dance equivalent of Chuck Berry.

Revelers at the Studio 54 dinner and silent auction not only got to hear Chic perform lushly perfect versions of "Le Freak," "Good Times," "Dance Dance Dance" and "I Want Your Love," but they were also treated to wonderful cameos by R&B disco kings Tavares ("Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel") and Maxine Nightingale ("Right Back Where We Started From"). There was no sampling, no lip synching and nothing artificial.

"Do you remember real music?" shouted out Chic singer Silver Logan Sharpe to the crowd. If they didn't, hearing Dionne Warwick perform "What the World Needs Now is Love" and, with Fonzie Thornton, "Then Came You," should have done the trick. There was some talk in the recent past that Dionne had lost her voice to cigarettes, but last night she showed off her famous unerring pitch and swerving filigrees, launching some lines into the air like perfectly aimed arrows.

The We Are Family Foundation was launched right after Sept. 11 by Rodgers and Hunt with an all-star single and a video designed to raise consciousness and awareness, and, of course, to help educate children. It might very well have fallen apart just as quickly as it came together, but — nearly three years later — it seems like a group determined to grow and spread its word. It looks like they may make it after all.

Reagan Death Changes Dems' Social Sked

Former President Ronald Reagan's death over the weekend has thrown a lot of schedules out the window.

Last night's fund-raising concert in Hollywood for John Kerry, featuring Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond and Willie Nelson, had to be scrapped at the last minute. The word is the big money- maker will reconvene on June 24 at Disney Hall.

Similarly, the big concert on tab for Thursday night in New York at Radio City Music Hall — likewise to raise dough for Kerry — featuring Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg and a bunch of rock stars including Jon Bon Jovi and Sheryl Crow, has also been called off out of respect for Reagan and in keeping with Kerry's weeklong campaign moratorium. A new date being looked at tentatively is July 8.

This last event change is good news for the Songwriters Hall of Fame dinner and show in New York which has had June 10 locked up for months. Stevie Wonder, Neil Sedaka, Hall & Oates, and Michael McDonald are among the honorees and performers scheduled to appear, and the Kerry show threatened to siphon off attention. But now the Songwriters — always a big, big night in the music business — can proceed unimpeded.

Not so, however, for the screening scheduled for tomorrow night for Harry Thomason's documentary about Bill Clinton called "The Hunting of the President." This event promised for fireworks, with an appearance by Clinton himself and a panel discussion moderated by The Week's Harold Evans. It's been postponed until next week. The change couldn't be better for Clinton, who will be on the brink of releasing his autobiography by then.