It’s the 20th anniversary of The Emperor’s New Groove! Can you believe it? And would you also believe it’s my favorite Disney movie? Now, don’t get me wrong. As both a big Disney officianado and art history grad student, there are many of the Disney animated movies that I love and appreciate. Sleeping Beauty has some of the most beautiful art direction. Tangled has a wonderful story and song list. Beauty and the Beast is a classic and amazing Disney tale that did deserve that Oscar Best Picture nomination. But, there are some things about Emperor’s New Groove that just makes me watch it over and over and over again. Here are some reasons why:
The Little Production That Could
I first was able to get a glimpse of the production by visiting Disney’s MGM Studios, now Disney’s Hollywood Studios, back in the 90s. There were a few concept drawings for Kingdom of the Sun on some walls at the Magic of Disney’s Animation attraction. “Aren’t you discussing Emperor’s New Groove? What is this Kingdom of the Sun?” Yes. I am talking about Emperor’s New Groove. It was first called Kingdom of the Sun and had a fairly different story than what it ended up being. In fact, there were a couple of different incarnations before they landed on the final one, different one. It wasn’t even announced as “Emperor’s New Groove” until early 2000, which was not even a year before release! It had such fast-paced major overhauls I’m sure the animators were not certain it would even be made. To have the movie that came out from so much change is remarkable. Very rarely does anything like this happen. Very rarely is a movie so tight to plot, characterization, and entertainment as this in such a small amount of time.
The soundtrack is eclectic, yet it works so well! It was to have a much more expansive music lineup as Kingdom of the Sun, but it still has some catchy tunes for Emperor’s New Groove. Sting created some memorable melodies in “Perfect World” and “My Funny Friend and Me”. Perfect World is sometimes played in various places in parks and resorts, usually having a connection to animation. That, to me, is a mark of a Disney classic. Besides Sting lending some songwriting panache, John Debney contributed to the score. It is full of broad arrangements that complement the emotions of scenes and even provide extra comedy as is the case for one of my favorite Disney songs, “Run Llama Run”. That particular instrumental is a big band jazz arrangement in a buddy pic that takes place in South America. How more eclectic can you get? Yet, it worked so incredibly well! Lastly, the most iconic song in the whole movie is…Kronk’s theme song. Yes. Kronk’s theme song. You don’t remember it? It’s because he sings it and it’s so atonal it’s very hard to sing on your own.
I brought up being an art history student to point out the art direction. It takes place in the Incan civilization around the 15th century. Studying a bit of the art that came from that time I can say that the animators did a wonderful job at displaying the grand architecture and icons of the empire. It is a beautiful film with wonderful animated lighting and fitting designs to the culture and characters.
Comedy and Characters
The Emperor’s New Groove is a funny film. Enough said.
Ok, so maybe there’s more to be said. It has some very quotable lines that can be used everyday in common conversation. How often is “No touch” used? Or “you threw off my groove!” And they were delivered by an amazing cast. David Spade was a perfect Kuzco. John Goodman is always gold for that buddy foil. The late Eartha Kitt is a treasure in any form, but really made Yzma that villain you love to hate. And this film might have put Patrick Warburton over the top for some comedy gold as Kronk. I’d dare say if it weren’t for this movie we wouldn’t have seen him in the Soarin’ safety spiel (and how many times have you been waiting and someone says “Oh it’s Kronk!”).
The movie has some of the most perfect comedic timing I have ever seen anywhere. There is some self-referential, fourth-wall-breaking humor that couldn’t be in any other Disney animated movie. The performances that each of the cast gave was worthy of classic comedy pairings of legend. It still makes me laugh every time I watch it. It’s kooky at times, yet can be sophisticated.
Get in the Groove
So, whether you’ve watched it a bunch…like me…or never seen it, I highly suggest having it on today for the anniversary. It is a great movie worthy of being on any list that considers Disney movies to be great. This is a unique film in the library with a genre rarely touched by the company for cartoons and with a comedic style that might not be taken up for a long time. It’s created a timeless comedic classic that is still making many smile after twenty years!