Hey folks, Harry here. This is exactly the reason I created AICN. You see... For years being a film geek I've tried to understand simple stupid decisions like.... the current name change from KINGDOM OF THE SUN, a title that sounds like a good movie, but from what Sir Etch A Sketch showed me looked like a lame ripoff of THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER (which Disney had already done successfully with Mickey Mouse).... To THE EMPEROR'S NEW GROOVE... a title that seems to indicate all of the worst things that we believe Disney is capable of.... However, we haven't seen the current state of this project... So... Maybe it would now be a cool movie with a crappy title.... BUT... We don't know. How did this come to pass? What happened behind those closed doors there in the palace of mice? Did Eisner have one cup of coffee too many and just blurted out the title, which was instantly followed by rows and rows of YES-MEN say, "YES YES YES YES!!!"? Well... Usually we would never be able to get down to the truth. Some hardened press type would simply say, "YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH." But as I read this fascinating and insightful look into the decision making process, the story development process and the testing process involved with this film... I'm reminded of the old days of Disney. The long development processes... before the prying eyes of folks like me and you and before the hunger for peeks at presents early came about... The following story is fantastic. Read it only if you are fascinated by the world of animation and Disney. IT contains MASSIVE SPOILERS for Multiple Renditions of this film along the process of final delivery. And right now... Well, after reading it all... It doesn't sound like a farting Llama movie anymore. Good. It isn't a cheap ripoff of THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER. And... god bless it.. the title actually makes sense. So... read and learn...
I've just finished reading through all the talk-backs your AICN readers recently sent you concerning Disney's decision to change the name of " Kingdom in the Sun. " And I have to admit that I'm kind of troubled by the negative tone they took toward the title change. It strikes me as kind of bizarre that people can be so downbeat about a film that they haven't even seen the trailer yet for, let alone the finished product.
Yes, I will admit that " The Emperor's New Groove " does seem like a pretty lame title for a Disney animated feature. It certainly lacks the grandeur of the project's first two titles : " Kingdom of the Sun " and " Kingdom in The Sun. " But the new title actually does a much better job of describing the style and tone of this version of the film than " KOTS " or " KITS " ever did.
Just ask Sir Etch-a-Sketch or any of your other moles at the Mouse. Anybody who's worked at Disney Feature Animation over the past few years will tell you that " Kingdom / Groove " has been a very troubled project. In its four years of production, thousands of hours of work and millions of dollars of finished animation ( $30 million's worth is the figure I've heard bandied about ) has been tossed out as the Mouse flailed about, trying to find the right tone and story for this film.
As originally planned, " Kingdom " was supposed to be this Aztec adventure based loosely on Mark Twain's " The Prince and the Pauper. " The story went as follows : A handsome but haughty prince ( voiced by David Spade ) discovers that he has an exact look-alike in a kindly llama herder ( voiced by Owen Wilson ). To get a taste of freedom, the prince switches places with the pauper for a day -- little realizing that the switch has been observed by the evil court sorceress, Yzma ( voiced by Eartha Kitt ).
Yzma sees this switch as an opportunity to gain control of the throne. She uses her magic to turn the pompous prince ( when he's disguised as the pauper ) into a llama. The court sorceress then tells the pauper ( who's then masquerading as the prince ) that she knows that he's not who he says he is. Ymza threatens to expose the pretend prince ( which would result in instant beheading ) unless he does her bidding.
What does Yzma want? Well, the sorceress once was a great looker ... Now, she's a painfully thin, faded beauty -- sort of an Aztec version of Cruella De Vil. Yzma wants desperately to regain her lost looks. To do this, she'll need the pretend prince to marshall the full resources of the Kingdom. What must Yzma do to achieve eternal youth and beauty? Lasso the sun and bring it down to Earth.
I know, I know. That's a pretty odd story for a Disney animated feature ... The real trouble with the original story for " Kingdom of the Sun " was so he would turn back into a human. Having finally learned humility through his experiences as a llama, the prince is finally ready to lead his people. The pauper would win the hand of a head-strong-but-lovely handmaiden in the prince's court ( who knew that something wasn't quite right when the pauper was pretending to be the prince ). The three of them live happily ever after ... Yadda Yadda Yadda ... Nothing new here. Just like in dozens of other Disney animated features ...
Not to say that everything in the original version of " Kingdom " was going to be lame or predictable. Sting wrote several fun pop songs for the film's score spent over a year animated this very funny little character before Disney dropped it from the movie.
As Disney edited together work-in-progress versions of " Kingdom, " It became obvious that a talented team were doing lots of good work on the project. But it became obvious that Allers was clueless as to how to fix the film. Disney Feature Animation head Peter Schneider and Thomas Schumacher then stepped in and quietly shut down work on the project.
For six months ( starting in the summer of '98 ), production was shut down on " Kingdom. " During that time, Disney radically reworked the story while the film's idle animation team was put to work on Eric Goldberg's " Rhapsody in Blue " project. ( Which that they realized that " Rhapsody " would be a perfect last minute addition to " Fantasia 2000. " To make room, they had to drop yet another sequence from the original film, " The Nutcracker Suite. " But the fairies from " Nutcracker " are still featured for a second or so in the " Fantasia 2000 " trailer. So much for pointless trivia ! Anyway ... )
Finally tired of waiting for the film's story to be fixed, several of " Kingdom " 's original animators opted to bail out of the troubled project. Chief among these was Andreas Deja, the original animator of Yzma. Though it's said that he did some of his best work ever with the evil sorceress, Deja had had enough with " Kingdom " 's never-ending story problems. Frustrated by Aller's inability to fix the film, Andreas opted to get out of town. He left Burbank and headed to Orlando, where he joined up with Disney Feature Animation - Florida. Here, Andreas is currently working as the lead animator on Lilo, the little girl heroine of Disney's forthcoming animated feature, " Lilo and Stitch. " Based on what the staff down there says, Andreas is genuinely happier working on " Lilo & Stitch. "
Anyway ... After six months of work, Disney's story department finally decided that the only things that actually worked in the original version of " Kingdom " were :
1) The Aztec setting
2) David Spade & Eartha Kitt's performances as the prince and the sorceress.
3) The turning-into-a-llama story idea.
So, virtually everything else left over from the previous incarnation of the film was tossed out. Gone was the " The Prince and the Pauper " under-structure, as well as Yzma's lassoing-the-sun scheme. Owen Wilson's look-alike llama herder had never been much of a foil for Spade's comic prince character. So, Wilson's character that now drove the story.
The new script for " Kingdom " goes as follows : When the sun reaches its apex on his 18th birthday, snooty prince Kuzco will ascend the throne of the Aztec empire. On that day, his aged aunt Yzma must step down. Trouble is, Yzma doesn't want to step down. She wants to continue holding power. So Yzma conspires with her well-meaning-if-dim-witted henchman, Kronk ( Voiced by Patrick Warburton, best known for his work as Puddy on " Seinfeld " ), to do the young prince in.
So, as the prince's birthday nears, Yzma invites her nephew to dinner one night. During the meal, Kronk is supposed to serve the prince a potion that will poison him. But he accidentally serves Kuzco a potion that doesn't kill him but turns him into a llama. Trying to make the best of their botched plan, Ymza and Kronk then brain the enchanted prince with a vase. Thinking they've killed Kuzco, they quickly dispose of the body by throwing the limp llama onto the back of the cart of a peasant who's heading out of town.
Trouble is, Kuzco isn't dead, just unconscious. The next morning, the enchanted prince comes to in the back of the cart. He finds himself, miles from home and at the mercy of the cart's owner he's going to put this lazy talking llama to work ...
Meanwhile, with the coronation day approaching, Yzma and Kronk put out the word that Prince Kuzco has disappeared. Their story is that the young prince told them that he wasn't up to the challenge of leading a kingdom, so Kuzco fled in shame. Yzma says that she hopes someday that the prince will change his mind and return. Til then, she will be happy to stay on the throne and rule.
Back out in the countryside, Kuzco learns the value of hard work. He notices that Paucho and his friends are good, kind hearted people who deserve a great leader. Humbled by his experience, Kuzco vows to become a good king. Knowing that the prince has finally learned his lesson, Paucho now offers to take Kuzco back to the city where they hope to find someone to break the spell.
Meanwhile, word comes to the palace that a talking llama has been sighted in the countryside. Yzma and Kronk realize that Kuzco must be still be alive. So they send soldiers from the city to go capture the bewitched creature ....
And then ...
Well, you don't want me to give away the whole film, do you? ( Okay. Fine. Good triumphs over evil. The spell is eventually broken. Kuzco becomes human again, while Yzma is turned into a screeching peacock. Paucho's village is destroyed by the soldiers, but Kuzco vows to build it back, better than ever. )
This is the Reader's Digest version of the story. While this may lay out the bare bones of the story, what it doesn't make clear is that the finished version of " The Emperor's Lost Groove " is going to be a lot of fun. Disney hasn't done a film that's been this flat-out funny since " Aladdin. " The movie's humor may be very contemporary in tone, but it's still accessible to audiences of all ages. there's jokes here for kids and adults.
Another prediction : People are going to be really startled by David Spade's work here. Sure, he's been funny before on " Saturday Night Live " and in those Chris Farley film, but who knew the snarky little weasel could act? Space's vocal performance as Kuzco makes this movie. You'll laugh, you'll cry. Just like John Goodman's Paucho, you'll find yourself coming to love the obnoxious little guy.
So don't sell this film short just because of its supposedly stupid sounding title ... By the way, what is the significance of the title, " The Emperor's New Groove "? Well, other than the obvious riff on Hans Christian Anderson's " The Emperor's New Clothing, " the title ties directly in with Kuzco's first appearance in the film. When we initially meet the prince, he and his entourage are parading through the streets of the kingdom. It's an elaborate procession, with musicians playing and flower girls strewing petals in front of the prince as he manfully strolls along. Suddenly, a small child darts into the street -- bringing the procession to an abrupt halt.
" Out of the way, kid, " Kuzco says. " You're throwing off my groove. " ( I know, I know. Not what you'd expect an Aztec prince to say. But remember the film's humor is contemporary, very '00s. )
At the end of the film, we again see Kuzco in a procession moving through the streets of the kingdom. Humbled but with his head on straight now, he and Paucho leads his people in celebration of the defeat of Yzma. This " Emperor's New Groove " shows that Kuzco will now be the good and wise leader the Aztecs deserve ... As Sting warbles the hit single version of the movie's ballad, the camera pulls back from the happy celebration .. and the credits roll.
This you'll understand why Disney opted to change the name. The new title better reflects the tone and style of the movie now. Maybe it's not a Disney classic, in the " Snow White " or " Beauty & the Beast " sense. But " The Emperor's New Groove " is still a damn funny movie that will be turning up at a multi-plex near you in December 2000.
Who am I? Nobody who works for the Mouse. Just a guy who likes animation.
Call me Moo Cow.