Title: The Emperor's New Groove (2000; suggested by Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale The Emperor's New Clothes)
The Plot: The teen-aged emperor of the Inca Empire must learn humility when he's magically turned into a llama and banished from his kingdom.
The Songs: "Perfect World," "My Funny Friend And Me" (End Title)
A Little History: Disney's 40th Animated Classic originally began production as an epic musical titled Kingdom Of The Sun, with songs by Sting and a plot based on The Prince And The Pauper by Mark Twain. Roger Allers (The Lion King) started developing the project as early as 1995, with a target summer 2000 release date. By 1998, however, after lukewarm preview screenings and a string of expensive flops (Pocahontas, The Hunchback Of Notre Dame), the executives at Disney decided to put Kingdom in turnaround. They hired Mark Dindal (from Warner Bros' Cats Don't Dance) for some much-needed spunk, but the tones didn't mesh; Allers dropped out when he was denied a six-month extension to finish the film. Dindal and producer Randy Fullmer were then given two weeks to whip their screenplay into workable shape. They came back with a story in its current form - a lightweight buddy comedy about two polar opposites paired together on an adventure. Bolstered by this new direction, Disney chairman Michael Eisner green-lighted the project a second time. By now, the studio had already spent $25 million; virtually three years of work had to be scrapped in favor of this lighter, brighter material. Andreas Deja, who'd already poured his heart and soul into the character of Yzma, the sorceress, left to work on Lilo & Stitch; Fullmer informed Sting by telephone that all six of the singer/songwriter's musical numbers had been excised from the film, now called The Emperor's New Groove. (A documentary shot during production by Sting's wife, Trudie Styler, was given a limited run in 2001. The film has yet to be released on video but can be found in its entirety here.) While Dindal and Fullmer finalized the details on Groove, several of their animators were re-assigned to work on the Rhapsody In Blue segment from Fantasia/2000. The animation staff also took a ten-day trip to Peru for inspiration, and modeled their designs after the angular shapes and caricatured animal motifs of Pre-Colombian art. Emperor Kuzco (David Spade) shares his namesake with Cuzco, ancient capital of the Incas; his "sidekick," Pacha (John Goodman), is named after Pachacuti, ninth emperor of the Incan empire. Marc Shaiman (The American President) was originally hired to write the music score, but was eventually replaced by John Debney; Sting finally contributed two songs to the movie's soundtrack ("Perfect World," "My Funny Friend And Me"). With a final budget close to $100 million, The Emperor's New Groove opened in U.S. theaters on December 15, 2000. It grossed $89.3 million in the States and another $80 million abroad - Disney's lowest-grossing title in over a decade. Though widely considered a flop, the film gained a fervent following over the years, with a direct-to-video sequel (Kronk's New Groove) in 2005 and an animated TV series (The Emperor's New School) in 2006.
How It Broke New Ground: According to the filmmaker commentary on the DVD, this is the first Animated Classic to feature a pregnant woman as a supporting character.
How It Holds Up Today: Disney reinvents itself yet again, with a joke-filled family entertainment almost totally devoid of musical numbers or visual splendor. Its long and tortured history is utterly beside the point; though Kingdom Of The Sun might well have continued the Mouse House's time-worn tradition of grandiose animated epics, Emperor's New Groove is sassier and sprightlier than you might expect, like a Bugs Bunny cartoon padded out to feature length. You can't take any of it too seriously: the plot seems merely content to trot out every last buddy comedy cliché in the book, the villain (a scheming, withered old hag voiced to self-deprecating perfection by former Catwoman Eartha Kitt) isn't much of a threat, and the filmmakers apparently missed a step when they failed to notice that the Incas hadn't yet invented the wheel (though, to be fair, they probably hadn't invented Riverdancing either). And has there ever been a role better suited for David Spade's signature sarcasm and snark? The movie was unfairly maligned at the box office (trounced by "family friendly" rivals 102 Dalmatians and Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas) but at least critics had the sense to embrace its irreverence.
Hang on, Disney fans – there's more to come. Need to play catch up? Click on the following for: Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, Bambi, Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros, Make Mine Music, Fun And Fancy Free, Melody Time, The Adventures Of Ichabod And Mr. Toad, Cinderella, Alice In Wonderland, Peter Pan, Lady And The Tramp, Sleeping Beauty, One Hundred And One Dalmatians, The Sword In The Stone, The Jungle Book, The AristoCats, Robin Hood, The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh, The Rescuers, The Fox And The Hound, The Black Cauldron, The Great Mouse Detective, Oliver & Company, The Little Mermaid, The Rescuers Down Under, Beauty And The Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, Pocahontas, The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, Hercules, Mulan, Tarzan, Fantasia/ 2000, and Dinosaur. Please comment!