The Emperor’s New Groove was a switch to a new, modern direction when it was released in 2000. We have the film that we have, because a decision from the head of Disney at the time, Michael Eisner. Now I’m a little hot or cold on Eisner and I will probably go deeper in to why in a later post. But for now, a bit of history and a review of a much-loved Disney film.
The story that became The Emperor’s New Groove started out as ‘Kingdom of the Sun’ a ‘traditional’ Disney, Incan themed version of The Prince and the Pauper. It featured a greedy and selfish emperor (still voiced by David Spade), a peasant who looks just like the emperor (in this version, voiced by Owen Wilson) and an evil witch also named Yzma. The two main characters would switch places, so the emperor could escape his boring life. Yzma wanted to destroy the sun to regain her youth and wanted the emperor out of the way so she could achieve this goal. She discovers the switch and turns the real emperor in to a llama and threatens to reveal the peasant’s identity unless he obeys her. The real emperor learns humility as a llama and falls in love with a llama herder. He and the llama herder set out to stop the witch and undo her plans.
After the box office performances of Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame were underwhelming, Eisner gave the development team two-weeks to completely overhaul the film, adding more comedy and lightening up the overall feel of the movie. By reading the plot of the original story, its clear that much of the original content was kept, the main changes added modern references and changed the character of the peasant, aging him up and giving him a family. So there’s your quick history of ‘Kingdom of the Sun’ now let’s talk about The Emperor’s New Groove.
Set in the Incan Kingdom the story revolves around Kuzco (David Spade), the egotistical emperor who is turned into a llama after he fires is adviser, Yzma (Eartha Kitt). Yzma, along with her (fan-favourite) henchman, Kronk (Patrick Warbuton), plans to take the throne for herself and attempts to kill the llama. Llama-Kuzco finds himself on a cart belonging to a peasant named Pacha (John Goodman) and after a series of events that teaches Kuzco humility and friendship, the two attempt to stop Yzma and return Kuzco to the throne.
The characters in the film are fantastic, despite Kuzco’s selfishness he is relatable to most of the audience. Yzma’s overacting and her reactions to Kronk are fantastic and one of Eartha Kitt’s best roles, she continued to receive praise for her performances of Yzma in the follow-up tv series, The Emperor’s New School. Kronk, as mentioned before, is a fan favourite with people falling in love with his simple mind and his kind demeanour. However, the internal debate with his conscious personified by angel and devil versions of himself is my favourite part of Kronk’s character and the film.
The Emperor’s New Groove is arguably one of the funniest films in Disney Animation Studio’s repertoire and is one of the better films to come out of the post-renaissance era. The script is tight and the performances of Spade, Warburton and Kitt add to the film’s greatness. A perfect example of this is Warburton’s Mission: Impossible-esque theme music for Kronk being ad-libbed. So yeah, I’m sure you’ve worked out who my favourite character of the film is. Wouldn’t it be great if Kronk had his own movie? Turns out no, the direct-to-video Kronk’s New Groove received nothing but negative reviews.
The Emperor’s New Groove did it’s best to change the direction of Disney Animation Studios away from the classic way of story telling and update it to make it more relevant to the audience. This helped pave the way for the rest of the post-renaissance era films for better or worse. The film was an attempt for Disney to show that they were in touch with modern audiences. But it failed. The Emperor’s New Groove was a Box Office disappointment, it performed worse than Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the films that caused the massive retooling of the script. Despite this the film has become a cult-classic and often features middle to high on many top Disney movie lists.
Personally, I think The Emperor’s New Groove is a good film, it’s very funny however the story is shallow. The characters are what makes the movie memorable. Could ‘Kingdom of the Sun’ have performed better at the Box Office and won over more people when it was released? Who knows. Can we say that The Emperor’s New Groove was ahead of its time due to the cult-following it has today? I think, no. The following around this film can be drummed up to two things, nostalgia and Kronk.