The Disney Marathon: ‘The Emperor’s New Groove’


Australia summer doesn’t really lend itself to staying inside and watching movies, so we’ve had a bit of a break from this feature. But we’re back, it’s is a fan favourite! Time to find out if it’s more than just a meme.

For those new to this series, we have myself (roughly 40 year old cynic) and my children Amelia (7 year old princess loving drama llama) and Joshua (9 year old stoic Pokemon obsessive) individually ranking the Disney movies we watch.

Film: The Emperor’s New Groove

Released: December, 2000

Director: Mark Dindal

Cast: David Spade, John Goodman, Eartha Kitt, Patrick Warburton, Wendie Malick, Tom Jones

Plot: Kuzco rules the Inca Empire, but only serves himself. His extreme narcissism angers both village leader Pacha and his twisted advisor Yzma. In an assassination attempt Yzma magically turns Kuzco into a llama, and he’s forced to rely on Pacha for help.

Review: This is an odd film. It’s little wonder than it came out kinda twisted after it’s rollercoaster production period. It’s also a wonder it turned out to be so much fun.

If you’re unfamiliar, The Emperor’s New Groove came into being as Kingdom of the Sun. This was a more traditional Disney animated musical with a ‘Prince and the Pauper’ type story. It included a talking rock as a sidekick. Through an endless stream of notes and direction from the Disney higher-ups, the project morphed in the comic farce we’re more familiar with, with work by Sting and voice performances by Owen Wilson winding up on the scrap heap. It’s covered in a fascinating documentary called The Sweatbox…which Disney have taken efforts to ensure you don’t see.

But enough about what the movie could have been, let’s talk about what it is.

Feeling more like a ‘Looney Tunes’ cartoon than a classic Disney feature, The Emperor’s New Groove mostly succeeds through the comedic performances from the main cast. That’s something we’ll come back to, because I want to point out some problems. As a result of the behind-the-scenes production upsets the movie has come out looking a bit shonky. Some scenes are quite simple, with simple character designs failing to convey the feelings of the characters. For a short while after Pacha’s first appearance he looks like he was drawn in MS Paint. There’s a few scenes in the palace where there’s no background drawn, such as Yzma’s secret lab. Whether this is a coner cutting measure or a stylistic choice, it’s doesn’t work for me.

What elevates the film above the sketchy design are the performances. We have the otherwise grating David Spade in the lead role of Kuzco and the fuzzy, warm voice of John Goodman as downtrodden villager Pacha. In the roles of the villains there’s the perfectly cast and having way too much fun Eartha Kitt and Patrick Warburton as Yzma and Kronk. As an added bonus is Wendie Malick, who worked with Spade on ‘Just Shoot Me’, as Pacha’s wife Chicha.

Patrick Warburton and Eartha Kitt are easily the best part of the movie. They lean heavily into the stereotypical evil villain and henchmen archetypes. Yzma has secret passages, hidden laboratories and hidden daggers, whilst Kronk is loyal, naive and a dedicated chef. They both take such delight in their roles that you can’t know love them. It’s little wonder both performers returned for the spin-off media and the focus was shifted onto them. The ‘pull the lever’ routine is worth the viewing time alone.

We’ll never know how the original concept would have shaken out, but what we got is a delightful and lighthearted comedy. It’s certainly a stand-out from the Disney post-renaissance era. Like that’s hard.

Coolest Easter Egg: It goes quick, but watch the cactus Yzma tips her ‘poisoned’ drink into. For a brief moment you’ll see that it’s taken the shape of a llama.

Weirdest Trivia: Chicha is, according to DVD commentary, the first pregnant woman in Disney animation.

Rating: SIX out of TEN

THE RANKING

ME

It looses some points for the at times lacklustre animation. Disney should be showcasing the best animation available at the time, and this film does not distinguish itself in this field. Kronk is still rad.

  1. Big Hero 6
  2. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
  3. The Emperor’s New Groove
  4. Fantasia

AMELIA

So Amelia wanted to change her list and swap Snow White and Fantasia. We allowed this because it’s her list. She does love Emperor though, and found the subversive humour and dramatic characters very funny.

  1. The Emperor’s New Groove
  2. Big Hero 6
  3. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
  4. Fantasia

JOSHUA

Josh is also a fan, enjoying the Looney Tunes style physical comedy. Can’t beat awesome robots though.

  1. Big Hero 6
  2. The Emperor’s New Groove
  3. Fantasia
  4. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves