51 Days of Disney (Day 40): The Emperor’s New Groove

Changes were happening at Walt Disney Feature Animation. The animated films were starting to not be nearly as profitable anymore once again, so some serious changes were starting to happen. The Emperor’s New Groove suffered through a great number of changes before it became the film that we know today.

Kuzco (David Spade playing David Spade) is the emperor of an empire heavily based architecturally and culturally (namely through the worship of the sun and the use of llamas as domestic beasts) off of the Incan Empire and he cares more about himself than actually ruling the empire. He even has his own theme song and theme song guy! Yzma (Eartha Kitt) is Kuzco’s advisor with aspirations of being the empress and Kronk (voiced by the always amazing Patrick Warburton, who’s voice I totally have a man crush for) is her dimwitted assistant. Yzma has gotten into a bad habit of doing Kuzco’s job for him, so he fires her just as Patcha (John Goodman), the head of a village in the empire, arrives for his summons. Kuzco tells Patcha that he is going to build his summer getaway on the hill that Patcha’s house currently occupies.

Yzma decides that she is going to kill Kuzco out of revenge with some poison and take over the empire as the emperor doesn’t have an heir. She accidentally mistakes the bottle of poison for a bottle of extract of llama and transforms Kuzco into a llama. She sends Kronk out to kill Kuzco, but he fails in a rather hilarious way and Patcha ends up unintentionally taking the emperor back to his village. Patcha agrees to take Kuzco back to the palace in exchange for his village being spared, and it’s up to Kuzco to grow as a person in order to follow through with the deal and save the empire from the reign of Yzma.

The humour in the film can best be described as random and somewhat similar to the random cutaways from Family guy, except they actually somewhat make sense within the context of the film. The writing for the comedy is very strong and easily made it the funniest film in the Disney canon and is definitely the most quotable, especially Kronk’s lines. The funniest parts in the film (in my opinion) are anything dealing with Kronk’s conscience and the map joke.

The Emperor’s New Groove was in production for a number of years and was very, very different stylistically when it was originally conceived. The movie was originally planned to be a film called Kingdom of the Sun and was somewhat based off of Mark Twain’s the Prince and the Pauper. The story was about a spoiled and selfish emperor who finds out that he has a peasant double and decides to switch places with him just for fun. A witch named Yzma plans to use a god named Supai to block out the sun to keep her from aging and decides to use the emperor’s switch to her advantage as she knows all about it. She turns the emperor into a llama in order to keep him from telling anyone about the switch, and it’s up to the now transformed emperor to stop the plans of Yzma with the help of a female llama herder who also would end up being the love interest.

The Kingdom of the Sun was to be directed by Roger Allers, who was one of the co-directors of the Lion King, and was to have music done by Sting, but the production suffered a lot of snags. Upper management didn’t like the direction that the story was going, citing the fact that it was very similar to other Prince and the Pauper stories, including the Mickey Mouse version that the studio had already made, and demanded rewrites to the story when test screenings received poor feedback. Eisner had Cat’s Don’t Dance director Mark Dindal brought on in order to try to spice up the film, but the two directors ended up starting to make two very different films. Allers wanted to make another drama-filled epic like the Lion King, Dindal wanted to make another comedy like Cat’s Don’t Dance, and eventually Dindal obviously won.

Allers had the full support of his staff as the project went on, and Disney kept funding him in the hope that Kingdom of the Sun would end up being another surprise hit like the Lion King, but in 1998 this all changed. In order to keep merchandising and sponsorships for the movie, the film had to be released by the year 2000, and the film was no where near far enough into production in 1998 for it to meet the release date. Allers went to the producer’s, Randy Fullmer, office and told him that if he had another 6 months to a year, the project could be finished. This request was denied and Allers quit the project. Eisner was furious when he found out that Allers quit and told Fullmer he had two weeks to prove that the film could be salvaged or the entire project would be shut down. Fullmer and Dindal shut down production for half a year and completely retooled the project to the film we know today.

All but one of Stings films were cut from the film and “At first, [he] was angry and perturbed. Then [he] wanted some vengeance.” Sting’s “My Funny Friend and Me” went on to be nominated for Best Original Song at the Oscars, but unfortunately lost to Bob Dylan’s song from Wonder Boys. The score for the film was done by John Debney (who would go on to score such classics as Chicken Little and Hannah Montana: the Movie) and does it’s job well. Over all, it’s a good but uneven score with some pieces being much better than others and some being just passable.

The Emperor’s New Groove is a very funny and enjoyable film, but I do wonder what Kingdom of the Sun would have been like if it had been completed rather than the film we actually got.

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