The Emperor's New Groove

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The Emperor's New Groove DVD

The Emperor's New Groove is an animated movie released by The Walt Disney Company in 2000. It is about a fictional South American emperor named Kuzco (voiced by David Spade) who gets turned into a llama, and a peasant named Pacha (voiced by John Goodman) with whom he teams up to defeat the evil witch Yzma (voiced by Eartha Kitt) and her clumsy sidekick Kronk (voiced by Patrick Warburton).

Early in development the movie was titled Kingdom of the Sun, then Kingdom in the Sun. It was to be a tale of a greedy, selfish emperor who found a peasant (voiced by Owen Wilson) who looked just like him, and swapped places with the peasant for fun, much like in the tale The Prince and the Pauper. But the evil witch Yzma had plans to lasso the sun and capture it so that she may retain her youth forever (the sun gave her wrinkles, so she would rather live in a world of darkness); she finds out about the switch, turns the real emperor into a llama, and threatens to reveal the pauper's identity unless he obeys her. The emperor-llama would learn humility in his new form, and would even come to love a girl llama herder, and together they would set out to undo the evil witch's plans. Yzma was designed and animated by the artist Andreas Deja, and Sting had composed several songs for the film.

But development suffered from several ongoing changes to the script and a general lack of direction. Upper management felt that the plot was too similar to any number of other Prince and Pauper stories, and test screenings of the work-in-progress generated poor feedback, so work on the film was halted for a while and the animators were reassigned to work on the 'Rhapsody in Blue' segment of Fantasia 2000.

When work on this film resumed, it had a new title and the story was very different. Gone were the sun-capturing plot, the look-alike peasant, and the llamaherder love interest. Now it was to be more of a buddy movie, with Yzma out to rule the empire and accidentally turning Kuzco into a llama instead of killing him, and Kuzco having to team up with portly Pacha in order to find a way to change back into a human and oust Yzma. (The pairing of a David Spade character with an overweight sidekick is a formula that has worked in his live-action films.)

But Andreas Deja decided not to return to the film. Also, many of Sting's songs related to specific scenes which were now gone, and therefore the songs had to be dropped. (Sting was reportedly bitter about this. The songs are available on The Emperor's New Groove soundtrack album.)

The resulting film has a much different feel than most other Disney films; it is irreverent and self-referential, much more like a Warner Bros. cartoon or Dreamworks SKG's Shrek. As a result, Disney fans seem to either really enjoy it or regard it as a sleeper hit or thoroughly revile it.

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