Snuff Out the Light: Part Two: Sting

In last week’s blog post, we talked about the film Kingdom of the Sun, which was re-worked into The Emperor’s Groove. In particular, we looked at the song “Snuff Out the Light” to have been performed by Eartha Kitt as Yzma.

This week we’ll take a closer look at the man who wrote the song: rock and roll icon Sting. 

The Man from Northumberland

Plenty has been written about the rock and roll career of Sting, born Gordon Matthew Sumner. More than a few books have been devoted to that very tasks, so I won’t try to smash all of that information into a single blog post. But here are a few essentials.

Sumner was born in Northumberland, England on October 2, 1951. The eldest child of a hairdresser and milkman/engineer, he fell in love with the guitar when a friend of the family left his instrument with the family. 

He began his career in music during college, playing jazz during his free time with the Phoenix Jazzmen, New Castle Big Band, and in a jazz fusion group called Last Exit. In early 1977, he formed the Police, blending reggae, punk, and jazz into a brand new sound that would effectively change popular music. By the time they disbanded in 1986, they had released five albums (beginning with Outlandos d’Amor and ending with Synchronicity), wong five Grammy Awards, and two Brit Awards. In 2003, they would be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 

Sting began his solo career shortly before the Police broke up, releasing the album Dream of the Blue Turtles in 1985. Improbably, his solo career proved just as revolutionary and successful as his work with the police, adding another 12 Grammys to his collection.

Meeting the Mouse 

On the surface, Sting working with Disney seems like an unlikely pairing. In Vulture’s, “An Oral History of the Emperor’s New Groove” they note, “After the breakup of the Police, Sting had become a massive international solo star. Meanwhile, Elton John’s songs for The Lion King had proven to be unforgettable. It only made sense that the company would now approach another star to do something similar: to compose a broad variety of songs to enhance a film’s musical-theater-style appeal — which was, after all, part of the Disney formula.”

At first, he had mixed feeling about the prospect of working with the company, stating, “”I had concerns about working for a big corporation. But two of my close friends, Elton John and Phil Collins, had worked with Disney and they encouraged me to do it. Like everybody else, I had grown up with Disney movies and I was aware that it had a legacy with a very long reach. I was intrigued by the idea that people would be watching the movie and listening to my songs in 20 or 30 years’ time. Also, writing for animated characters was a challenge that appealed to me.”

Rogers Allers, director of Kingdom of the Sun, remembered, “ had put a year or more in before I had the idea of asking Sting if he would like to do the music. On one of his albums, he had something that was Latin American–sounding. We met with Sting at his home in England which is sort of near Stonehenge. I met his wife Trudie. They were very gracious people. Pretty shortly after that, Trudie came up with the idea of doing a documentary about Sting’s experience on a Disney film. She and her filmmaker J.P. Davidson would come periodically and canvass us, film things, interview people. They got to watch the whole up and down of the movie.”

According to John Paul Davidson, director of The Sweatbox (the documentary detailing the disaster that was Kingdom of the Sun), Sting’s work on the film may have been some of the best of his career. Allers was also enamored of the pieces he created, taking special note of Yzma’s song. 

“I love the one he wrote for Yzma, ‘Snuff Out the Light,’ where she goes down to the catacombs and has a song and dance with all the mummies,” Aller said.

Unfortunately, it and the other five songs he came up with were all ditched when the movie changed direction and transformed into The Emperor’s New Groove. As noted previously, Sting was understandably less than thrilled with Disney’s decision to cut his work. An article in the Guardian quoted him as saying, “”At first, I was angry and perturbed. Then I wanted some vengeance. We couldn’t use the songs in this new film because the characters they were written for didn’t exist anymore.”

Luckily for Disney, the bad feelings didn’t last long and Sting contributed two new songs that would appear in The Emperor’s New Groove. He noted, “After about five minutes of ranting and raving, I thought, ‘OK, let’s get back to work. Let’s try to make this thing happen.’”

But there were still hiccups. Sting didn’t care for the plot of the new film. Instead of a re-telling of Twain’s Prince and the Pauper, it told the story of a theme park being built in the heart of indigenous land. Sting saw it as an affront to his beliefs, stating, “ I told them I was resigning because it was the exact opposite of what I stand for. For the past 12 years or so I’ve been involved with the problems in the Amazon and the destruction of the rain forests. The people who live there don’t have any human rights or legal protection, and I’ve been raising money to try and provide that. More than saving trees, we’re trying to save people’s lives. I’ve spent years trying to defend the rights of indigenous peoples and they wanted to march over them to build a theme park! I wasn’t going to be a party to it.”

Changes in the story re-assured him. As fans of the movie will no doubt recall, Emperor Kuzco never builds Kuzcotopia, instead building a simple small cabin near his new friend Pacha’s home instead.  As a result, Sting did contribute a pair of songs to the final product. The end results were “Perfect World” and “My Funny Friend and Me,” the latter of which was nominated for Best Original Song at the 73rd Academy Awards, but lost to Bob Dylan’s “Things Have Changed.” 

Looking back on the journey, executive producer Don Hahn stated, “Sting was a real mensch. When he saw the movie changing from the thing he signed up for, he sent a nice letter saying, “I didn’t sign up for this, good luck.” But Randy wasn’t going to let him resign. He was like, “Okay. We’ll talk next week and then we’ll send you the new assignment.” Sting would say, “No, you don’t understand.” Randy and Mark were persistent about keeping him involved. In the end he had some really great work in the movie. But I think it’s a difficult memory for him, because he wanted to do what Elton John did on Lion King.”

Finishing the Story

Next week, we’ll take a look at the final piece in the story of “Snuff Out the Light,” the performance of the one and only Eartha Kitt as Yzma.


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