Source Photos: Walt Disney Pictures
How The Emperor Got His Groove
By Heather M. Leber
Kuzco: You threw off my groove!
Guard: I’m sorry, but you threw off the emperor’s groove.
Old Man: Sooooorrrrry!
The Emperor’s New Groove, 2000
Often overshadowed and forgotten, Disney’s The Emperor’s New Groove is considered by many to be one of the most underrated films produced by the studio. Critics felt the lines were funny and it was a fresh take on a coming of age story, showing a spoiled emperor that the world did not revolve around him through the friendship of a peasant. But, in order to reach this buddy comedy, the film underwent major changes from it’s first conception in 1994 to the final release in 2000. In order to understand how the story came to be, you must go back to the beginning.
Let’s take a step back to the year 1994. Amazon.com was founded, the Playstation was launched, and The Lion King had hit theaters as a major box office hit. The Disney Renaissance was continuing to entertain audiences. With the success of The Lion King, Disney wanted to continue the growth with the development of Kingdom of the Sun, a film to be based off Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper set in the Inca empire.
Originally, it was planned that Kingdom of the Sun would be a musical, with musician Sting writing the songs. The story was to follow Emperor Monaco (who became Kuzco) as he switched lives with the young peasant Pacha. As the story progressed the audience would meet Yzma, a powerful sorceress looking to plunge the world into eternal darkness, believing it was the sun god’s fault for her looks fading. Pacha’s job was to be a convincing emperor while Monaco learned what it was like to be a llama herder. As the story unfolded, Yzma would discover the plan and turn Manaco into a non-talking llama. Some accounts even say that Yzma would continue her pursuit of sending the world in eternal darkness by using Pacha to do her bidding.
The film was plagued with struggles from the beginning. Director Roger Allers, who was responsible for The Lion King, was tasked with directing the film. As production continued, test audiences reacted, at best, lukewarm to the film. This prompted Disney Studios to bring on Mark Dindal, who recently directed Warner Bro’s Cats Don’t Dance, to co-direct with Allers. The two directors had different visions for the movie, Allers looking for a more dramatic story while Dindal was pushing for the comedy.
Two stories were written for the movie and unfortunately, the team was unable to bring the two plots together for a cohesive film. Sting said he often felt like he was writing music for the film based of hearsay. With Allers and Dindal unable to compromise, the film lagged in development, cutting into the time line that the production crew had.
If the team had been able to blend their two viewpoints together, it can be speculated, that a beautiful film would have been produced. Unfortunately, it was this lack of cooperation that brought about the end of Kingdom of the Sun. With the Allers/Dindal division production time took a major hit. As the clock ticked closer to the year 2000, the intended release date, Disney Studios needed to make decisions about the future of the film.
By the year 1998, the Disney corporation were feeling the time strain. Production had started over four years ago and as far as the studio could tell, Kingdom of the Sun was far from finished. Allers asked for an extension – six months to a year. Allers had also had trouble with The Lion King and believed that with the extension he would be able to add another film to what we now know as The Disney Renaissance. He thought with a time extension, he and Dindal could work together and produce the story he knew was hidden among the struggles. Unfortunately for Allers, the company had already locked down marketing contracts with McDonald’s and Coca-Cola. When the extension was denied, Allers quit the project, leaving it in the hands of Dindal, the one who pushed for a comedy.
With Dindal being the sole director and the year 2000 nearing, decisions had to be made. The studio executives felt that Kingdom of the Sun had to many characters, to many plots and was to similar to other Prince and the Pauper films. In order to meet the deadline, the original idea was scrapped along with the music numbers. Pacha was aged up, Kuzco realized what it meant to be human, and Yzma became an adviser instead of a sorceress.
The production of The Emperor’s New Groove is complex and convoluted, but it is among all the confusion that we have the movie we do. Despite the drama and division, a strong movie was produced. One can’t help but to wonder what Kingdom of the Sun could have been. The movie that was produced is lighthearted and quotable. It many not be a masterpiece, but it is beautiful and a wonderful coming of age story. It is vastly different from the original concept but still good and often overlooked. Still, it should be remembered that through the turmoil, Kuzco found his groove.