An oral history of The Emperor’s New Groove, an irreverent, pratfall-heavy, non sequitur of an animated movie that so defied Disney’s traditions, it’s hard to believe it actually exists today. @BilgeEbiri reports https://t.co/aug0xJ93cl— Vulture (@vulture) January 28, 2021
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[I will try to summarize a bit but I really recommend reading the whole thing]
- The Emperor's New Groove started its life as The Kingdom of the Sun, based upon Incan creation myth, but also based upon Prisoner of Zenda (prince kidnapped by enemies and look-alike cousin standing in for him), The Prince and the Pauper, and then the then-director thought up Yzma as a villain, a high priestess who wanted to gain control and also regain her youth and beauty. So basically there were a lot of plot points - this becomes important.
- Original cast was David Spade (Kuzco), Eartha Kitt (Yzma, but Eisner wanted Barbra Streisand for the part), and Owen Wilson (Pacha)
- With the success of The Lion King and Elton John's soundtrack, Sting was brought onboard for The Kingdom of the Sun, though none of his songs were used in the final film and he only had a song over the end credits. His wife Trudie and filmmaker J.P. Davidson decided to make a documentary, The Sweatbox, about the making of The Kingdom of the Sun. This documentary has never been released by Disney but can apparently sometimes be found online before Disney realizes it and takes it down.
- After a screening of the still-in-progress The Kingdom of the Sun, Disney realized they had a problem with the film having too much going on and too many elements. At this point, they split the team - the original director and a small crew to try to salvage the film so far and to refine the existing film, and the co-director, who had originally been brought on to support the director, to lead a small crew to see about reworking the film into something different. When it came time to pitch, the latter team pitched a tone rather than a story, and a more comedic tone at that, which ended up being the direction Disney chose to go in.
- Sting was not very happy about this change. According to the director of his documentary at the same time, Sting found the original The Kingdom of the Sun to be "moving and complex" and the documentary side was shocked when that film became no more. Sting tried to quit approximately five times once the direction of the film changed, but to no avail. He had wanted an Elton John Disney experience, with the characters singing his songs.
- After four years of work, the team now had one year to put the film together in its new direction. Why such a short period of time? McDonald's Happy Meal marketing deals were already set in place!
- Kept David Spade's Kuzco and Eartha Kitt's Yzma, but redesigned the character of Pacha to be more of a father-figure to Kuzco, and so Owen Wilson was replaced with John Goodman. Also added the character of Kronk (Patrick Warburton) - sold the character to Disney by coming up with the dinner scene! ("So, is everything ready for tonight?" "Oh yeah, I thought we’d start off with soup and a light salad, and then see how we feel after that.")
- The writing process was quite different than other Disney movies - there was no "script," per se, until after filming was completed and then only for the Disney Archives. Hour-long story meetings would turn into 45 minutes of people goofing around, telling stories, and racing chairs. Improvisation was encouraged for both the voice actors and writers, and pretty much nothing was too out there to be considered. (Tom Jones! Yzma as a kitten falling off a tower!: “How are we going to get her back up? She’s not going to splat.” “What if there’s a trampoline salesman at the bottom and she hits that and bounces back up?” “Oh yeah. That’s what it should be.” Kronk jumping rope!: “Okay, Disney-ESPN is doing a promotion, and they’re going to start showing the World Double Dutch Jump Roping Championship. So, if you could work jump-roping into the movie that would be fantastic.” “Yeah, no problem, no problem.”)
- The marketing department was not sure how to market The Emperor's New Groove, as it was such an oddity for Disney, and the film opened to only about $9 million in its first weekend, before going on to end up at about $90 million. It is now a Disney cult classic, as much as Disney can have a cult classic, and gets a huge reaction amongst its small (for Disney classic films) but dedicated fanbase.
source | gif source
everyone who worked on this movie: