Minorities in comics and animation: “The Emperor’s New Groove”

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This week’s entry, and the first one to feature indigenous peoples, is the 2000 Disney movieThe Emperor’s New Groove.”

Background

The film focuses on a selfish young emperor (Kuzco, voiced by David Spade) of an Incan Empire-like kingdom. Kuzco’s turned into a llama by his not-so-loyal advisor, Yzma (voiced by Eartha Kitt, in one of her last roles). Yzma’s assisted by her bumbling assistant, Kronk (Patrick Warburton), and wants to take over the kingdom for herself, hitting on the idea of turning Kuzco into an easily-disposable llama to do so.

Before she can do away with the now-quadruped ruler, however, Kuzco goes missing, ending up in the countryside. There, Kuzco meets Pacha (voiced by John Goodman), a village peasant. Over the course of the film, Kuzco learns to change his self-centered ways (of course), while Yzma’s evil plans are also stymied (also of course).

Making this film different from other Disney fare of its time is that this one is A) primarily comedic and B) has a much-troubled production history. The film was originally going to be titled “Kingdom of the Sun,” and present a more dramatic take on things. However, the film ran into production problems, with the original director eventually quitting. The film’s remaining staff soon retooled it into a comedy, with the resulting film released in 2000 to theaters.

The film wasn’t a huge money-maker (Wikipedia says it lost money theatrically). However, it did get an Oscar nomination for Best Song, which it lost to a Bob Dylan song from the film “Wonder Boys.”

“The Emperor’s New School”

“Groove” spawned two spinoffs, a direct-to-video sequel called “Kronk’s New Groove” and a Saturday morning TV series called “The Emperor’s New School.” The former focused on Kronk, and served as a semi-followup to the original movie.

The latter ran for several seasons on Saturday mornings. It saw Kuzco forced to go to high school in order to officially become emperor. Yzma served as the school’s principal, thinly disguised as “Principal Amzy”—“Yzma” spelled backwards. “Amzy” tried to thwart Kuzco’s education as much as possible, since he was required to pass every class in order to graduate. Fortunately, Kuzco had assistance from Pacha, Kronk (occasionally), and new character Malina. Malina was Kuzco’s opposite, being intelligent, kind, and hard-working.

Obviously, “School” took some liberties with the film. The cast seems slightly younger (Kuzco and Malina seem to be teenagers), several new characters were added, and the voice artist for Kuzco (and Pacha in some episodes) were different from the original film’s. Still, “School” was a fairly funny effort.

On TV/home video

“The Emperor’s New Groove” airs occasionally on the Disney Channel, as does (less frequently) “Kronk’s New Groove.” “The Emperor’s New School” aired regularly on ABC and the Disney Channel, though its reruns are currently off the air.

“The Emperor’s New Groove” and “Kronk’s New Groove” are both available on DVD. “School” has yet to see any home video release, per the poor home video treatment Disney accords its TV productions.

(Updated 11/14/16)

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