The Emperor's New Groove - Story of the Disney movie that didn't want to be Disney

The Emperor's New Groove - Story of the Disney movie that didn't want to be Disney
We remember Disney in the late Eighties and Nineties as "the great giant who knew how to recover". It is in fact in those years that what we remember today as the Disney Renaissance happened, which under the pressure of Jeffrey Katzemberg brought Mickey Mouse's house back into the firmament of international animation.

What is less known, however, is that this era, although considered by many to be over in 1999, actually had aftermath until the early 2000s, ending definitively with Il Pianeta del Tesoro. And that equally, in addition to the large animated blockbusters, there was space for absolutely unrepeatable experiments, inside and outside the screening room. Today we want to talk about perhaps the most famous, like Traveling with Goofy: The Emperor's New Groove, the Disney film "that wasn't Disney".

It's an enigma it's a mystery, for the whole world

The events that led to the birth of The Emperor's Follies are bizarre and almost comical, just like the ones in the film tells. However, the basic genesis is quite well known, and to tell it we have to go back to 1994. That year The Lion King was a huge success, which surprised everyone at Disney a little as the authentic hopes of the studio were pinned on Pocahontas, then released the following year. It was then that (aided by Matthew Jacobs) Roger Allers, director of The Lion King along with Rob Minkoff, began to think about a film with a pre-Columbian setting.

The project was provisionally titled Kingdom of the Sun, and it was thanks to the success of The Lion King that Allers obtained carte blanche from Michael Eisner, then CEO of the Mickey Mouse house. Given the names and the era, it is quite obvious that the film should have been a very "traditional" Disney classic, complete with musical numbers and both romantic and redemptive subplots. Everything revolved around a story that mixed an exchange of person à la Principe and il Povero (between the emperor Manco and his double Pacha) with apocalyptic elements. In fact, the wicked witch Yzma wanted to invoke an evil god so that he would no longer allow the sun to rise.

From what emerges from this information, it is obvious how originally The Emperor's Follies still appeared very tied to customs and to the pre-Columbian culture, albeit sweetened in the most truculent habits and rituals. The same element of the sun (present from the title) is in fact one of the cornerstones of Inca, Mayan and Aztec culture and religion. In this sense, the studies by the production were scrupulous: there was also the classic documentation trip, in which the staff went to Peru in 1996 to study the ruins of Machu Picchu. Always spared no expense, in those years he called himself Sting to compose the songs.

The Emperor's New Groove and the comic turning point

The future The Emperor's New Groove was therefore born as a lot different from what it would have been. But the turning point came precisely in 1996: perhaps immediately after returning from Peru, the filmmakers found themselves dealing with the fact that both Pocahontas (1995) and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) had not done very well at the level of takings. Even the test projections of Kingdom of the Sun were not encouraging, and the management found themselves ordering changes.

Although today Pocahontas and the Hunchback have been extensively re-evaluated, there was also contingency to stand against them. historical. It was not only the fact that audiences were already largely "fed up" with serious stories, but also the fact that at the time "competing" realities inside and outside of Disney were taking hold. Pixar had blown everyone away in 1995 with Toy Story and was preparing to do an encore with A Bug's Life; DreamWorks instead would debut in 1998 with its blockbuster The Prince of Egypt. With all these heavyweights on the way, Kingdom of the Sun was in danger of being just "one of many": the directive was therefore to make it "more comical".

It was for this reason that director Mark Dindal was contacted , who had previously worked on The Little Mermaid and Bianca and Bernie in the Land of Kangaroos. Dindal agreed to direct the film with Roger Allers, but even so the project was struggling to take shape. Between characters introduced, tested and subsequently discarded, the chairs of Allers and Dindal began to burn badly.

By now everyone was aware that Kingdom of the Sun was not going to make it to be released in 2000. It was so so that in September 1998 the development of the film stalled, after four years of development and almost 30 million dollars spent. Allers decided to leave, but at the same time Eisner gave producer Randy Fullmer one last chance before the total cancellation. The idea that the latter and his collaborators came up with was that of the buddy movie, born by developing the thing of making Pacha a middle-aged character. Something simple, but it worked.

The Emperor's New Rhythm

There were many second thoughts and haste, but in the early months of 2000 the film was finally re-announced as Le Follie dell 'Emperor. Abandoned the previous songs written by Sting as too tied to Kingdom of the Sun, the British musician was asked for two more. Of these, only one (My Funny Friend and Me, in Italy A dear friend like you) saw the cinema, among other things put in the credits.

Le Follie dell'Imperatore then came to the distribution in December 2000 (April 2001 in Italy), managing to earn a place among the Disney Classics that it still maintains today (number 40). Again the results at the international box office were rather lukewarm, with box office figures of around $ 169 million compared to a total cost of $ 100. The film received in any case the traditional canonical "multimedia treatment" for all Disney films since the years. Ninety onwards: commercial agreements with McDonald's and Coca-Cola, toys, plush toys, action figures and derivative media, up to the videogame tie-ins between PC, PlayStation and Game Boy Color.

Yet, a vision is enough too only peripheral of The Emperor's New Groove to realize how "anomalous" it was compared to Disney itself, but how incredibly ahead of its time. The Emperor's Follies is in fact a concentrate of both verbal and physical comedy. An incredible style, which ironically mixes anachronistic elements with a slapstick comedy hitherto never attempted. With the apotheosis that is reached by repeated breakthroughs of the fourth wall, sometimes even exposing the artifices of the script. In this sense, the dialogue between the crazy Yzma and her obtuse (but brilliant) assistant Kronk is very famous, in which they admit that they cannot understand how they got to the palace before the protagonists Kuzco and Pacha.

Kuzco : No… it's not possible… How did you get there first?

Yzma: Eh… W-how did we do it, Kronk?

Kronk: Good question! Everyone in the room is asking for it!

There are many dictators, politicians, predators ...

We spare you further quotes, because Le Follie dell'Imperatore really deserves to be savored in the greatest possible genuineness (you can easily find it on Disney +). So much so that the hilarity it aroused in the audience in the hall has remained proverbial for anyone who has experienced it. The screenings were not lacking in moments in which the laughter of the audience overwhelmed the sound of the film.

The Emperor's Follies thus takes on the traits of a "comic film disguised as a Classic". And it seems that the authors themselves are perfectly aware of this. The story features only one song sung, Kuzco a true genius, at the beginning: a song that among other things ends abruptly because the film brutally changes its tone. There is a very brief recovery in the finale, to accompany the canonical happy ending but actually deeper than it might seem from the humorous atmosphere.

However, if you compare Le Follie dell'Imperatore with the context in which came out, there is a parallelism that needs to be made. In the same year, in fact, DreamWorks launched The Road to El Dorado, another film with a pre-Columbian setting that, unlike Disney, sought the challenge of grandiloquence. The latter resulted in a financial flop (76 million dollars in takings against a budget of 96), but there was no shortage of comparisons. With even some rumors that DreamWorks accelerated the production of their film on purpose because they knew Disney were working on Kingdom of the Sun.

In fact, the only thing the two films have in common is the pre-Columbian context. Outside of the decidedly different breath, in The Emperor's Follies the context is much more in the background, shining through the sets and colors but never taking on protagonist traits. The only two most obvious are the name of the emperor protagonist (Kuzco, like Cusco, a city that really existed in Peru and which at the time was the capital of the Inca empire) and the shape of his palace, clearly inspired by pre-Columbian statuettes. br>

The issue of the title and the all-Italian cabaret

Even when it came to distributing it outside the United States, Le Follie dell'Imperatore generated many problems. But for once, the doubts that emerged during the export and adaptation phase only ended up enriching the explosive humor even more. The first was the title: the original is The Emperor's New Groove, which can be translated as The Emperor's New Rhythm. In itself it is a clear reference to the fairy tale The Emperor's New Clothes, originally it was chosen on purpose because both stories speak of an emperor who ends up victim of a deception.

In Italian it became Le Follie dell'Imperatore, to underline its nature in some ways different from the usual Disney movie. But the most ingenious choice came during the dubbing phase, which saw different involvements than usual. The famous Luca Bizzarri and Paolo Kessisoglu were placed respectively on Kuzco and Kronk, while for Yzma she was called Anna Marchesini, at the time a prominent theater actress and comedian. Disappeared in 2016, Marchesini had been part of the Trio together with Massimo Lopez (now the voice of Homer Simpson following the death of Tonino Accolla) and Tullio Solenghi. This particular cast, obviously flanked by professional voices such as Aldalberto Maria Merli on Pacha, contributed even more to giving Le Follie dell'Imperatore a cabaret atmosphere.

Recent years, between future and series tv

Despite the mixed results, the narrative universe of The Emperor's New Groove continued to live on for a while longer throughout the 2000s. The film had a sequel in 2005, entitled Kronk's New Groove (Kronk's New Groove, also available on Disney +). As has happened to many other classics of his contemporaries (such as Atlantis) it was a direct-to-video sequel. Although the filmmakers were now much more aware of the light-hearted and comical tone of the films, Kronk's New Groove was judged as a sequel geared a little too much towards classic Disney canons (including musical numbers, romantic story and seeking parental approval). .

Nonetheless, unlike Atlantis, the world of The Emperor's New Groove managed to reach the small screen with The Emperor's New School, which we arrived on Disney Channel. Released in 2006, this series made the cabaret atmosphere even more its own, with 11-minute mini-episodes and short sketches all different in the credits of each episode. In addition to a context that blatantly parody the teen-dramas of the previous decade, A Scuola con l'Imperatore also introduced the love interest of Kuzco, the beautiful and intelligent Malina. The curiosity about her is that it is a direct take of a Kingdom of the Sun character called Mata. The latter would have been a llama shepherdess who would have taught the arrogant Manco / Kuzco to be humble.

Conclusions: the comic Inca

In light of everything, Le Follie dell 'Emperor still has a lot to say to the public. Not so much for his messages (however present) or for a grandiloquence that he was forced to pursue even if he didn't want to, but for his ability to "anomaly".

In a world of animation in which he sought the seriousness at all costs and the epic story even when it was not needed, focused on something different: making people laugh in an intelligent and more adult way than anyone had tried to do before in contemporary Disney. A comedy that was modern, not excessively satirical but that had a more theatrical setting and connected with the public. And precisely because of this nature of "rupture", unfortunately it does not compromise: either you love it or you hate it. But in both cases, it is a film that cannot be told: it can only be seen.

If the story of Kuzco is no longer enough just to see it, you can recover both the Blu-Ray of the film at a very convenient price, and the very nice Funko Pop of the protagonist!

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