The Emperor's New Groove is an animated film produced by Walt Disney and released on December 15, 2000 in the US. When the self-centred emperor Kuzco ( David Spade) is turned into a llama by his ex-advisor Yzma ( Eartha Kitt), he and the kind-hearted peasant Pacha ( John Goodman) work together to try and regain his throne.
'Kingdom of the Sun' character model sheet
The Emperor's New Groove had a long and troubled development. Known from the beginning as 'Kingdom of the Sun', the premise was that a haughty prince by the name of Manco becomes bored
of his luxury life in the palace. One day, he discovers that he has an
exact look-alike in Pacha, a llama herder travelling through the
kingdom. They trade places so that Manco can gain a sense for freedom, but he does not realise that all of this is being observed by the wicked court sorceress, Yzma, who uses this to try and gain control of the throne. By turning Manco into a llama, she then informs Pacha he is not who he claims to be and threatens to expose him, which would result in his instant beheading, should he not do as she says. Yzma wants to regain her former beauty, which she claims to have lost due to the sun prematurely ageing her, and needs Pacha to help her sink the kingdom in eternal darkness.
Disney executives were worried that the plot was too similar to that of The Prince and the Pauper and concerns mounted when test audiences were not engaged by the work-in-progress. However, they took faith in the current lead writer Roger Allers, a man who had guided The Lion King out of its own development problems. After three years of active development and still no improvement (Allers was convinced that his original vision for the film would win over audiences), a Disney executive told producer Randy Fullmer that his film was very close to being shut down.
With the film 18 months and $25 million into production, the studio could not let Allers try much longer. With promotional agreements tied up with companies such as McDonalds and Coca Cola, Disney needed the film to be their big release in the summer of 2000, while Allers needed another unavailable six months to a year to complete the film. Seeing that Disney had seem to have lost confidence in him and placed more importance on their promotional deadlines than a quality film, Allers asked to be removed from the project. Disney CEO Michael Eisner became furious at the news and gave the animation studio to weeks to convince him that it was affordable to save the production, else he'd shut it down completely. Thus, secondary director on 'Kingdom', Mark Dindal, became the lead. Fullmer and Dindal worked together, removing some of Allers' story elements and opting for a more hip and comedic approach.
Michael Eisner did have initial reservations about the revised film, with worries that the storyline was of a similar approach to 1997's Hercules, Disney's lowest grossing film in the previous five years. Dindal appreciated the concern over the modern vibe of the film, but said it that this buddy movie, now donning the name The Emperor's New Groove, had a smaller cast in order to better connect to the audience. Eisner wasn't totally convinced, but he let production continue rather than waste the initial $25 million invested, giving the team extra time to storyboard the new script and pushing the film's release back to its eventual release of Christmas 2000.
Triangles, circles and grids that make up ancient art helped inspire the film's design
The artists working on The Emperor's New Groove went on a ten day trip to Peru in order to inspire themselves for the film's design. They studied the Inca artwork in Machu Picchu, like looking at their gold statues or textiles, and used it as a jumping off point. The team also looked at small sculptures, enlarged them and then placed them out of context; for example, Kuzco's throne came from an Incan mask. The angular geometrics that can be found in the Moche tribe's ceramic art, the African tribal masks and Oceanic artwork also found their way into the film.
My main focus was making sure the shapes spoke clearly because when people respond to a character, you are noticing the shapes and the gesturing. Then I would take some of the shapes from familiar icons and insert them into some of the patterns. I didn't want to affect the anatomy too much because I didn't want it to seem forced. I did it in small touches here and there. - Joe Moshier, character design artist
Disney's past films such as Peter Pan and Lady and the Tramp also served a role. The team mimicked the stage play lighting inherit to those films and used bold, simple values and pools of light in order to emphasize the characters and mood. Along with Cinderella, the aforementioned film's vintage background art was merged with the arched lines and deep angles that perpetrates Incan art. This allowed the team to create locations by using curves that don't actually exist in real life. In the jungle scenes, for instance, the earth swoops in a way that makes it more fun and interesting to the eye.
The film was received positively by critics. A total of 127 reviews on aggregator Rotten Tomatoes awards the film as being "certified fresh" with an approval score of 85% and an average rating of 7/10. The top critics, those hand-picked for their known quality and level of professionalism, average a 7.3/10 rating and 100% approval. The general consensus is described as: "The Emperor's New Groove isn't the most
ambitious animated film, but its brisk pace, fresh characters, and big
laughs make for a great time for the whole family". Similarly, Metacritic, which generates a normalized rating from mainstream critics, created an average of 70% based on 28 reviews.
Writing for the Chicago Sun-Times,
Roger Ebert praised the film for being zany, upbeat and funny. He
compares it to being more like a Warner Bros. cartoon than a standard
Disney production, noting the value of jokes over sentimentality. George
Perry at the BBC also made the same link, calling The Emperor's New Groove "the best Warner Brothers cartoon Disney ever made" due to the energy and absurdity found therein. Robert Koehler for Variety wrote of the good mixture between comedy and danger, summing the film up as being "light, taut and compact". CNN's
Paul Tatara said that the film was hilarious in parts, going on to
praise most of the characters in this "silly little movie".
At the U. S. box office The Emperor's New Groove made $89,302,687 and $80,025,000 elsewhere, creating a total worldwide gross of $169,327,687. In the U. S. the film was the second biggest grossing G-rated film of 2000, behind Chicken Run, and the twenty-fifth highest grossing film of the year worldwide.
'Ultimate Groove' cover
The Emperor's New Groove came out on VHS and DVD on May 1, 2001 in the US and November 5, 2001 in the UK. The DVD came in two formats: a single disc including the film and some extras, and a two-disc 'Ultimate Groove' edition with more special features. This include features such as:
Audio commentary from people who worked on the film, such as Mark Dindal, Randy Fullmer, Colin Stimpson, Joseph C. Moshier and Stephen Anderson.
Going behind the scenes of the film's development, including the Disney animators research trip to Peru, the voice actors discussing their roles and the part that CGI played within the film.
Deleted scenes, including an alternate ending that was changed as Sting ecologically objected to it and a scene that "emotionally didn't fit the tone of the picture" due to the nature of Kuzco's selfishness therein.
A trivia game called 'The Emperor's Got Game' where, using your remote, you control Kuzco as he tries to find his way back to the palace, while answering questions about the film.
Kronk's New Groove
Kronk's New Groove, a direct-to-DVD sequel, was released on December 13, 2005. The film follows Kronk, now a chef and delivery boy for Mudka's Meat Hut, as he worries about the upcoming visit of his father. All of the main cast from the original film returned, along with key new voice talent from John Mahoney and Tracey Ullman.
The Emperor's New School
The Emperor's New School was a television series that aried on Disney Channel, ABC Kids and Disney XD. It ran for two seasons, totalling 52 episodes, beginning on January 27, 2006 and ending on June 23, 2007. The show followed Kuzco as he undergoes education in order to return to the throne. Patrick Warburton and Eartha Kitt returned to voice Kronk and Yzma respectively. Fred Tatasciore voiced Pacha for the first season, but John Goodman returned to the role in season two. David Spade was replaced with J. P. Manoux as the voice of Kuzco.
Video game front cover
A video game for The Emperor's New Groove was released alongside the film. Two separate versions were created for different platforms; Argonaut Games developed for the PlayStation and PC, and Sandbox Studios developed for the Game Boy Colour. The game follows the same plot as the film, with most of the voice actors reprising their roles, and includes clips of it interspersed throughout on the former two platforms.
The gameplay is set within the action genre and players take control of Kuzco from a third-person perspective, going through levels in places such as the jungle and catacombs. Some of the imagery featured in the film makes an appearance, like the silver and gold coins or Wampy toys. The game was received fairly positively by critics, a rarity for film-tie ins.