The Emperor's New Groove is the thirty-ninth animated feature in the Disney animated features canon. A wacky comedy having more in common with a Looney Tunes or Tex Avery cartoon than a traditional Disney film, The Emperor's New Groove was produced by Randy Fullmer and directed by Mark Dindal. It was produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation over a troubled six-year timeline. During that time the film was altered significantly from its original concept as a more traditional Disney musical entitled Kingdom of the Sun, to have been directed by Dindal and Roger Allers (co-director of The Lion King). The title of the film derives from that of the popular Danish fairy tale, The Emperor's New Clothes.
The Emperor's New Groove was released by Walt Disney Feature Animation and Buena Vista Distribution on December 15, 2000. While not a box-office hit, it was successful enough to warrant a direct-to-video sequel, Kronk's New Groove, released December 2005, and an animated television series, The Emperor's New School, in January 2006.
| Spoiler warning: The following contains plot details about|
the entire movie.
The story revolves around a self-centered South American emperor named Kuzco and a humble peasant and family man named Pacha. Teenaged Kuzco is the self-proclaimed "King of the World" at this time. Although he is not an overly cruel tyrant, he does harbor a childish and selfish will to have everything go his way. After firing his ancient and power-hungry advisor, Yzma (pronounced "EEZ-muh"), he reveals to Pacha that Pacha's village is to be destroyed in order to build Kuzco's 18th birthday gift to himself: a gaudy summer-home called Kuzcotopia, complete with pool and waterslide. Pacha starts to protest, and is dismissed from the palace. Before the final construction order can be issued, however, Yzma and her muscular, easily-distracted lackey Kronk launch a poisoning plot against Kuzco. The plot is botched, resulting instead in Kuzco being turned into a llama, and then, unknown to Yzma, accidentally spirited out of the capital.
Kuzco ends up at Pacha's village and arrogantly orders the peasant to return him to the palace. At first Pacha lets the newcomer wander off into the jungle, but then repents and goes after him, rescuing the llama from a pack of jaguars, an effort which ends with the two of them tied to a dead tree trunk and taking a plunge over an enormous waterfall. Recovering from this, Pacha says that he will take Kuzco home only if the Emperor agrees to build Kuzcotopia somewhere else; Kuzco pretends to agree, and they set out for the palace. The emperor only truly begins to change after the two of them are forced to work together to survive the collapse of a rope bridge, even returning the favor of saving Pacha's life.
Back at the palace, Yzma has staged Kuzco's funeral and taken over as ruler of the Empire. She only then learns that Kuzco is still alive, and she and Kronk set out to look for him. After a string of near-misses at a roadside diner, they find and chase the heroes, who appear to decisively give them the shake, leaving the lightning-struck pursuers plunging towards the bottom of a chasm. Kuzco and Pacha make it back to Yzma's secret lab beneath the palace, where it turns out that in violation of all laws of physics and common sense (as the movie itself explicitly notes) Yzma and Kronk have somehow gotten there first and now hold the antidote to Kuzco's condition. Yzma demands that Kronk personally kill the heroes. When he gets bogged down in a coversation with the good and bad sides of his conscience, Yzma viciously berates him for his stupidity, and, then in the last straw, insults his beloved cooking. Kronk changes sides, but his attempt to destroy Yzma fails and he is dropped through a trapdoor.
Kuzco and Pacha take advantage of this distraction to steal the antidote, but Yzma manages to mix it in with numerous other identical potions and then summon the palace guards. While being chased, the duo tries to find the right potion through trial and error, turning Kuzco into a turtle, a songbird, a whale, and back into a llama again. Finally, they escape the guards and narrow the choice down to two potions, but Yzma catches up with them. In her haste to reclaim the antidote, she accidentally smashes the other vial and turns herself into a kitten. Following a struggle high on the palace's outer walls, she still manages to steal back the final potion, only to be foiled at the last second by the sudden reappearance of Kronk.
Kuzco returns to human form and sets out repairing the damage done by his arrogant behavior. In the end, he builds a tiny cottage near Pacha's village in lieu of his extravagant summer home, while outdoorsman Kronk becomes a scout leader, with kitten-Yzma as an extremely reluctant member of his troop.
Spoilers end here.
Kingdom of the SunEdit
Early in development, the film was titled Kingdom of the Sun, later Kingdom in the Sun, with Roger Allers as the film's director and Randy Fullmer as producer. Among those on Allers' production team were supervising animator Andreas Deja, who was in charge of the witch character of Yzma, and pop musician Sting, who, in the wake of Elton John's success with The Lion King's soundtrack, had been assigned to write several songs for the film.
Kingdom of the Sun was to have been a tale of a greedy, selfish emperor who finds a peasant (voiced by Owen Wilson) who looks just like him; the emperor swaps places with the peasant for fun, much as in author Mark Twain's archetypal novel The Prince and the Pauper. However, the evil witch Yzma has plans to lasso the sun and capture it so that she may retain her youth forever (the sun gives her wrinkles, so she surmises that living in a world of darkness would prevent her from wrinkling). Discovering the switch between the prince and the peasant, Yzma turns the real emperor into a llama and threatens to reveal the pauper's identity unless he obeys her. The emperor-llama learns humility in his new form, and even comes to love a girl llama-herder. Together, the girl and the llama set out to undo the witch's plans.
Development suffered from several attempts at trying to make the plot more original, and also from a general lack of direction. Upper management felt the plot was too similar to any number of other "Prince and Pauper" stories, and test screenings of the work-in-progress generated poor feedback. Disney hired Mark Dindal, director of Warner Bros.'s comedic animated musical Cats Don't Dance, in hopes that Dindal would be able to punch-up Allers' epic, yet uninvolving, story. The result was that Dindal and Allers essentially began making two separate films, with Dindal pushing his scenes toward comedy and Allers pushing his toward drama.
Disney chief Michael Eisner and his studio executives were not pleased at the uneven story, the lukewarm test-audience response, and the slow pace of production. However, the executives were at first reluctant to intervene because of Allers' success with The Lion King, which had also had a troubled time in production. In addition, most of Allers' crew had complete faith in the director, who was determined to create a sweeping epic on the scale of The Lion King.
By the summer of 1998, it was apparent that Kingdom of the Sun was not far along enough in production to be released in the summer of 2000 as planned. At this time, one of the Disney executives stormed into Randy Fullmer's office and, placing his thumb and forefinger a quarter-inch apart, angrily remarked that "your film is this close to being shut down". Fullmer approached Allers, and informed him of the need to finish the film on time for its summer 2000 release (crucial promotional deals with McDonalds, Coca-Cola, and others were already established and depended upon meeting that release date). Allers acknowledged that the production was falling behind, but was confident that, with an extension of between six months to a year, he could complete the film. When Fullmer denied Allers' request for an extension, the director quit the project.
Eisner, hearing Allers had quit, became furious, and gave Fullmer two weeks to prove the film could be salvagable or else Eisner would personally shut down production. Fullmer and Dindal halted production for six months to retool Kingdom in the Sun, while their animators were reassigned to work on the Rhapsody in Blue segment of Fantasia 2000. In the interim, Dindal, Fullmer, and writers Chris Williams and David Reynolds overhauled the film completely.
When work on the film resumed, it had a new title and a new story. Gone were the sun-capturing plot, the look-alike peasant, and the llama-herder love interest. Now the film was a buddy movie, with Yzma depicted more as a mad scientist. The co-lead became Pacha, a portly farmer from the countryside. Eisner worried that the new story was too close in tone to Disney's 1997 film Hercules, which had performed decent but yet below expectations at the American box office. Dindal and Fullmer assured him that The Emperor's New Groove, as the film was now called, would have a much smaller cast, making it easier to involve audiences.
Andreas Deja declined to return to the film, and moved to Orlando, Florida to work on Lilo & Stitch instead. Sting's songs, related to specific scenes that were now gone, had to be dropped. Sting was bitter about the removal of his songs (which are available on The Emperor's New Groove soundtrack album). "At first, I was angry and perturbed. Then I wanted some vengeance." 
The resulting film has a much different feel than most Disney animated features; it is irreverent and self-referential, much more like a Warner Bros. cartoon or DreamWorks' Shrek. The Emperor's New Groove made $89,302,687 at the U.S. box office, and an additional $80,025,000 worldwide; totals lower than those for most of the Disney films released in the 1990s. New Groove and all but one of the four future traditional Disney Feature Animation films - 2002's Lilo and Stitch - would sustain losses during their theatrical releases.
Sting's wife Trudie Styler, a documentarian, had been allowed to film the production of Kingdom of the Sun/The Emperor's New Groove as part of the deal that originally brought Sting to the project. As a result, Styler recorded on film much of the struggle, controversy, and troubles that went into making the picture (including the moment when producer Fullmer called Sting to inform the pop star that his songs were being deleted from the film). Styler's completed documentary, The Sweatbox, premiered at the Toronto Film Festival on September 13, 2002. Disney owns the rights to the documentary and currently has not allowed its release on home video or DVD.
A direct-to-DVD sequel entitled Kronk's New Groove was released in December 2005, and a Disney Channel cartoon series, The Emperor's New School followed, but without David Spade voicing Kuzco (There is a lot of confusion if David Spade Voiced Kuzco in the sequel, as he states on his comedy central show, he does voice Kuzco in the sequel.). Patrick Warburton and Eartha Kitt reprised their roles for the series.
- The setting and culture of The Emperor's New Groove are based on the Inca Empire that developed in what is now modern-day Peru. Along with the architecture, roads, intricate waterworks, sun worship, and llamas as domestic beasts, Kuzco's name is similar to Cusco, the Peruvian city considered the capital of the Inca Empire, and Pacha's name is drawn from Pachacuti, considered the most important ruler of the Inca Empire, and a historical figure. (Note: Pacha means "earth" in Quechua, but apparently there's no link between this and the character's name).
- Storyboard reels of deleted scenes appearing on the DVD release include Pacha's father, a hustling inventor of useless items, and a stoner neighbor, as well as a party with all the villagers and an increasingly beleaguered Kuzco-llama.
- The film's ending originally had Kuzco building his Kuzcotopia amusement park on another hill near Pacha's, and inviting Pacha and his family to visit. Sting, an environmentalist, protested against the ending because it appeared that Kuzco had destroyed portions of the rain forest to build his park. The ending was rewritten so that Kuzco changes his mind about destroying more land and simply builds a hut similar to Pacha's and spends his vacation among the villagers.
- In the German version of the movie, Kuzco was voiced by star comedian Michael "Bully" Herbig. His involvement has led this film to become a "cult movie".
Voice cast and animatorsEdit
- Kuzco: voice by David Spade, supervising animator: Nik Ranieri
- Pacha: voice by John Goodman, supervising animator: Bruce W. Smith
- Yzma: voice by Eartha Kitt, supervising animator: Dale Baer
- Kronk: voice by Patrick Warburton, supervising animator: Tony Bancroft
- Chicha: voice by Wendie Malick, animation by Doug Frankel
- Theme Song Guy: voice by Tom Jones, animation by Sandra Lucio Cleuzo
- Old Man: voice by John Fiedler, animation by Sandra Lucio Cleuzo
- Executive Producer: Don Hahn
- Produced by Randy Fullmer
- Directed by Mark Dindal
- Screenplay by David Reynolds
- Screen story by Chris Williams and Mark Dindal, based upon an original story by Roger Allers and Matthew Jacobs
- Score composed by John Debney
- Songs "Perfect World" and "My Funny Friend and Me" composed by Sting and David Hartley