Today I’m happy to welcome Marshal Knight, a frequent writer for The Disney Blog, as he shares his enthusiasm for 2000’s The Emperor’s New Groove!
Walt Disney Feature Animation is known for two peak points in its 50+ movie career: From Snow White through The Jungle Book, and the “we will never forget thee…” Disney Renaissance. After 1994, the animation department took a bit of a slump, and after Fantasia 2000, it took another. When the year 2000 hit, WDAS spiraled out of control (according to box office and the points of view of critics). People just weren’t seeing these films, and critics were agreeing with people’s decisions to stay away from them. As a result, if you are to mention a Disney film from 2000 up until 2010’s Tangled to someone, chances are they will have either forgotten about the film all together, or they had no idea it existed in the first place. I have decided to go back to those films-that-should-not-be-spoken-of and revisit one of my favorites.
My first post-2000 film choice HAD to be The Emperor’s New Groove. As Disney fans, you learn 3 things when starting out: #1, Most Audio-Animatronic figures in the ride Splash Mountain were taken from the extinct America Sings. #2, EPCOT is an acronym for Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow. And if you investigated a little more, your #3 would be how Kingdom of the Sun became The Emperor’s New Groove. The original story was more of a “Prince and the Pauper” retelling, with Yzma as an evil witch trying to stay young forever and kill the sun (no more wrinkles!), Owen Wilson as the peasant who looks strikingly similar to the emperor (David Spade) and Sting pulling a Phil-Collins-winning-an-Oscar-for-Tarzan with his music.
Months went by, and more and more rewrites of the script happened as Disney tried to make their story more and more original. One director wanted a more serious tone to the film, while the other wanted to go the more humorous route. After the dramatic one left, the film received an even bigger re-haul which included deleting the “Prince and the Pauper” plot, making Yzma a mad scientist/throne successor, and creating an entire movie about the formation of a bromance. (Yes, I just used the term bromance to refer to a Disney film…sue me!) John Goodman also took over for Owen Wilson in the newly renamed The Emperor’s New Groove. The worst to come out of this deal was Sting, who had most of his music cut from the film. (Though he did get nominated for an Oscar for his song “My Funny Friend and Me” in the credits, but lost to Bob Dylan’s “Things Have Changed” from the film Wonderboys).
Now, I really don’t understand why people forget about this film. Rotten Tomatoes has it as an 85%, which is very good for a movie, let alone an animated one. I think what I like about it so much is how “out there” it is for Disney with a very distinct animation style (along the same lines…no pun intended…as Meg from Hercules, it features a lot of harsh angles and little to no curves) and an abundance of breaking the fourth wall moments. So not typical for a Disney film. While this movie has some sad/meaningful parts, it is meant to be a comedy…and it does that flawlessly in my book.
I laughed out loud A LOT watching this again.
The best part about the film, though, is Yzma, played by the incredible Eartha Kitt. In my personal opinion, Yzma is the best Disney villain. She has a unique humor and is deliciously evil, but in a way where you still want to see her come out on top. Apparently, a lot of people agree, since not only did Kitt win an Annie Award for her voiceover work, she also won two Annie awards and two Emmy awards for her portrayal of Yzma on the Disney Channel animated series “The Emperor’s New School” (which also wonderful, I might add!). After voicing this incredible character over a feature length animated film, a direct-to-video sequel, and three seasons of a TV show, I also believe that she should be a Disney Legend… but that is a whole other article in itself.
If you are looking for a gritty animated drama set in the Incan civilization, then this is not the film for you. Now, if you are in the mood for a incredibly funny animated comedy with incredibly voice acting (Get ready to laugh every time that Kronk speaks!), then go pick up a copy of the under appreciated The Emperor’s New Groove.
Side note: After you realize that it should become a modern Disney classic, come back and sign my petition for Disney’s Hollywood Studios to receive an “Incan Empire” expansion with the roller coaster from Yzma’s lair.
(Photos courtesy of disneyscreencaps.com)