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Ink & Pixel: The Emperor's New Groove

07.07.2016

Ink & Pixel is a source of pride and joy for me as a writer and as such, I'm always striving to take this column further for those who read and enjoy it. In an effort to widen the reach of our continuously growing fan-base, Ink & Pixel has broadened its horizons with the inclusion of films from the Horror, Sci-Fi, Action-Adventure, and Fantasy genres. Additionally, if you yourself, or anyone you know, helped to make any of the amazing feature films found within this column, I would love to talk to you to further my knowledge. Please contact me at [email protected] so we can discuss it further.

* Kicks the door in * Boom, baby! Hello peasants, my name is Emperor Kuzco, and I'd like to welcome you to gaze from afar at my own magical and sun-soaked getaway – Kuzcotopia! Built atop a plot of prime hillside real estate, this private paradise is the perfect place for me to disregard the everyday concerns of my subjects, sip delicious beverages from my favorite goblet, and dream of new and creative ways in which to ride the water slide that I've just had installed. Do you want to know the best part? It's all for me!

Whoa, whoa whoa! Okay Kuzco, I think we've all heard enough out of you for the time being. This is my column, and I'm not about to let you seize control over it. I don't care how chiseled your features are, or that you've got some of the sweetest dance moves in all the kingdom. The fine readers of Joblo came here to learn a bit about your movie, and that's precisely what we're going to do. So sit back, eat your freshly peeled grapes or whatever, and let me get my groove on.

Okay, sorry about that, folks. You're totally not peasants. Oh look, now Kuzco is gazing at himself in a mirror. What the … is he making kissy faces? Gross. Anyway, that ought to keep him occupied for a while as we take a look back at Walt Disney Animation's 40th full-length animated classic, THE EMPEROR'S NEW GROOVE! Directed by Mark Dindal (CHICKEN LITTLE, THE ROCKETEER) and produced by Randy Fullmer (HAPPILY EVER AFTER, OLIVER & COMPANY), this hilarious re-imagining of Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper warns its viewers about the pitfalls of narcissism, elitism, and the value of good friendships in time of need.

For those who are unfamiliar with 1881 classic, The Prince and the Pauper is a work of historical fiction that takes place on a street called Pudding Lane in London, England circa the year 1547. As the story goes, a poor beggar by the name of Tom Canty is found hanging about the local palace gates one day, to which he is promptly beaten by a band of Royal Guards for what they consider loitering. Then, as the overzealous authority figures are raining blows upon him, Tom is approached by the Prince of Wales, Edward VI. Appalled by the brutish display, Edward orders the guards to cease their aggressive actions and then invites Tom into his chambers. Moments later, the two men discover that they're nearly identical in appearance, and decide to form a pact in which they will temporarily switch places with one another.

Throughout the exchange, Tom learns of the overwhelming pressures and heavy-handed responsibilities that come with overseeing a kingdom, while Edward discovers the hardships of being one of the city's faceless poor. In the end, and after both men have experienced several mis-adventures, Tom and Edward return to their former positions as ruler and subject. Although, with valuable lessons learned by both parties, Tom is then granted the position of “King's Ward”, and advises Edward in his royal duties for the remainder of both their lives.

So yeah, Disney's THE EMPEROR'S NEW GROOVE is a loose interpretation of that story, but what it does have in common with Twain's tale is lessons learned through humility and the importance of standing on mutual ground as human beings who respect one another. Unfortunately for Emperor Kuzco (David Spade), his selfish ways were humbled only after being the victim of a nefarious plot to kill him. You see, in Disney's THE EMPEROR'S NEW GROOVE, an old (and I mean really old, like the way you think about the dinosaurs as being old) sorceress named Yzma (Eartha Kitt), has had enough of the emperor's behavior and is convinced that she can do a better job of running the kingdom. Thus, the uber old villainess requests that her hunk of man-candy, Kronk (Patrick Warburton), prepare a delicious but deadly meal in faux-honor of Kuzco's rule over the land.

Now, because Kronk isn't exactly the sharpest crayon in the box - and also, Yzma's magic potions all look exactly the same - he mistakenly serves Kuzco a drink that contains the extract of llama! Aghast by the mix up, Yzma orders Kronk to kill Kuzco while she readies herself for the throne. Thankfully, because Kronk is a doofus with a heart of gold, he botches the job and Kuzco escapes. Later, the llama emperor finds himself in the company of Pacha (John Goodman), a humble farmer who lives in the hills on the outskirts of Kuzco's domain. After some bartering - and a good old fashioned jaguar attack - Kuzco and Pacha reach an accord, and begin their adventure to undo Yzma's magic and restore the emperor to his vain and beautiful self. Along the way, Pacha teaches Kuzco a series of valuable lessons about honestly, friendship, and loyalty. It's a journey that's filled with danger, deception, and more dry wit than Disney has ever been brave enough to bring to the silver screen.

Originally, the idea for THE EMPEROR'S NEW GROOVE was poised to be a straight-up musical presentation called Kingdom of the Sun. The intention of this project was to create a Disney film that resembled the studio's more song-and-dance-related features of old - such as SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARVES, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, and CINDERELLA. And because Disney loves sending their production staff to (often times) exotic locations to amass research material for their films, several core members traveled to Machu Picchu, Peru to study the intricacies of Inca culture. Following their excursion to the breathtaking valleys and mountainsides of the Cusco Region, the team began work on a very different idea for the film.

How so? Well, for starters, Owen Wilson was set to provide the voice for Pacha, the humble llama wrangler and farmer. Heh. Hearing this, I can't help but imagine Pacha saying "Wow!", repeatedly, at the realization that the talking llama he encounters is actually Kuzco after he's been transformed. Anyway, Yzma is still the villain in this version, though instead of aiming to kill the emperor her goal is to conjure Supai – the Inca God of Death. Why on earth would she want to do that? Well, she figures that if she can convince Supai to devour the sun, it will somehow keep her from aging. You know, because overexposure to the fiery star wreaks havoc on your completion and so on? Yeah, I know what you're thinking, it's a good thing the writers eventually went back to the drawing board with this one.

To put it plainly, the film was a real mess during its early stages of development. The tone was wrong, the comedic beats weren't hitting, and the idea of releasing yet another musically-focused animated feature after the underwhelming performance of both POCAHONTAS and THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME was a risk that Disney was no longer willing to take. They needed a new plan of attack, and fast! After a plethora of setbacks, rewrites, re-castings, and a bout of disagreements with the musician, Sting (who had provided several key songs for the film since its inception), the film was finally ready to boogie its way into cinemas.

In regard to the film's animation, a combined total of 700 artists and technical staff members were working around the clock to finish the film before its deadline. If that sounds like a lot of people, it's because it totally was. In fact, Disney ordered staff members from both their Florida and France animation studio locations to assure the film's completion. And although much of what you see when viewing the film is comprised of hand-drawn cel animation, CGI was also used to create some of the movie's more complicated sequences. The end result is a seamless presentation of both methods of animation, each one working in concert with the other to create a memorable and visually entertaining viewing experience.

With Kuzco returned to his human form, and having gained a new appreciation for what makes a person truly wealthy in spirit, THE EMPEROR'S NEW GROOVE danced its way out of theaters having earned a worldwide total of $169,327,687. Truthfully, this would be considered by many to be a modest return, especially since the production budget allotted for the making of the film was a reported $100 million. That said, it's not like the success and popularity of Disney Animated Classics end at the box office.

In addition to enjoying a good bit of sales thanks in-part to the DVD market, the characters of the film went on to be featured in a Disney Channel cartoon series entitled The Emperor's New School, as well as a direct-to-DVD sequel called KRONK'S NEW GROOVE. Furthermore, Disney Interactive released a (pretty awful) platforming video game in conjunction with the original theatrical release. Not content to stop there, another game was developed by Sandbox and Ubisoft for the Game Boy Color that featured the film's friendly cast of characters.

This isn't something you hear very often when talking with people about this movie, but Disney's THE EMPEROR'S NEW GROOVE is without a doubt one of my favorite in the classic library – it's in my personal Top 5 at least. Not only do I find this film to be one of the most quotable in Disney's long list of cherished animated features (seriously, do not watch this movie with me, I'll just recite the whole thing word-for-word), but I also think it stands as one of the best executions of adult-related humor for the House of Mouse. For me, the dialogue is whip smart, as is the comedic timing of the many jokes peppered throughout the film. There's also the cast to consider. David Spade has always struck me as a bit of a weasel, so who better than the SNL alum to voice the self-involved Emperor Kuzco? Then of course there's John Goodman as the warm-hearted Pacha, Seinfeld's Patrick Warburton as the dim-witted Kronk, and the legendary Eartha Kitt as Yzma! Seriously, Disney, nice job!

Oh, it looks like Kuzco is just about done posing for yet another statue set to be erected in his honor at the center of town. We better wrap this up before he has the opportunity to muscle his way into my column, again. I'll see you next time, folks. And remember, if you catch the emperor in the middle of one of his dance routines, don't mess up his groove!

Extra Tidbit: Squeak squeakity sqeak sqeaken. Squeak squeaker squeaking squeak squeakidy.

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