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The Emperor's New Groove - Nuttier Than a Holiday Fruitcake!

Jun 21, 2008
Most fans agree that The Emperor's New Groove lived up to its tagline: "nuttier than a holiday fruitcake!" It was a highly regarded, if not ultimately successful, animated feature, and the first Disney animated film to ever feature a pregnant woman. Released in December 2000, The Emperor's New Groove mixes a careful balance of humor designed to appeal both to adults and children. It marked the 39th film in Disney's canon and was initially slated to be a traditional musical along the lines of The Lion King. Though the title refers to the Danish fairytale, The Emperor's New Clothes, by Hans Christen Andersen, the original story was based on Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper. The initial incarnation of the project was titled Kingdom of the Sun, with the creative team behind The Lion King, director Roger Allers and producer Randy Fullmer, at the helm. So prestigious was the production that Allers and Fullmer contracted Sting to write the music for the film.

Kingdom of the Sun centered on the emperor Manco, voiced by David Spade, switching places with a humble peasant, Pacha, voiced by Own Wilson. The evil witch, Yzma, voiced by Eartha Kitt, turns Manco into a llama and twists the naive Pacha to do her bidding, which involved a gruesome ritual that would block out the sun forever, thereby saving her from ever aging. Manco, now a llama, learns humility, while Pancha falls in love with the emperor's betrothed, Nina, voiced by Carla Gugino. This initial incarnation tested so poorly that Disney suspended any further production. Feedback indicated the film suffered from a lack of direction and the tried-and-true Prince and the Pauper formula proved too stale.

Disney hastily hired Mark Dindal, the director of Cats Don't Dance, to create a more original take on the production. Unfortunately, this new comedic take was in direct opposition to Allers's dramatic vision. The uneven storyline was met with frowns, especially from then-chief, Michael Eisner. By the summer of 1998, it was apparent to all parties involved that Kingdom of the Sun was not going to make its Summer 2000 deadline. Failure to make the deadline would have jeopardized lucrative promotional deals with the likes of McDonald's and Coca-Cola. Allers was denied a six month extension, Prompting him to quit the production and subsequently opening the door to Dindal's off-beat comedic conception. The Emperor's New Groove was born.

The changes were fast and furious. Owen Wilson's character was written out while David Spade's character was renamed Kuzco, and given the lead role. The Prince and Pauper angle was shelved, and Pacha was recast with the voice of John Goodman. Yzma and her henchman Kronk were tweaked while the emperor-as-llama idea was used to great comedic effect. The end result is perhaps one of the most original Disney movies to date. Indeed, it's been lauded as one of the funniest.

Though not a remarkable blockbuster, it did recover its estimated $100 million budget, and did enjoy a nomination for Best Song for Sting's "My Funny Friend and Me." The Emperor's New Groove did prove successful enough to warrant a sequel, Kronk's New Groove, though it was a direct-to-video release. In 2006, the premise was reconceived as a television series, entitled The Emperor's New School.
About the Author
Steve Collins is an Author and Journalist based in Encino, CA. A big Disney fan, he uses the Disney Movie Club to complete his collection. Read his reviews of the Disney Movie Club
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