Yzma: "A llama!? He's supposed to be dead!" Kronk: "Yeah. Weird..."
A very atypical animated movie from Disney. Hugely self-aware and a lot more dirty than most of the studio's canon, The Emperor's New Groove is a film that trolled the deepest levels of Development Hell and finally emerged as more or less a spoof of its original concept.Kuzco (David Spade) is the spoiled teenaged Emperor of a mountainous jungle nation (based loosely on the ancient Incan empire of South America). On the eve of his eighteenth birthday, he becomes the target of an assassination attempt by his incredibly ancient adviser Yzma (Eartha Kitt) and her borderline idiot-savant lackey Kronk (Patrick Warburton), after he unceremoniously fires them from their high-profile jobs. Their plan fails, and Kuzco is accidentally turned into a llama. He's forced to team up with burly and good-hearted peasant Pacha (John Goodman) on a dangerous trek through the jungle to reclaim his throne — while Pacha tries to teach Kuzco just a little bit of humility in the process.The film has no love story apart from Pacha and his very pregnant wife, only two significant songs (one performed by Tom Jones and one by Sting), and the spurned would-be cute animal sidekick vengefully attempts to get Kuzco eaten by a pack of jaguars. As you can see, this all plays out more like a classic Warner Bros. cartoon than a typical Disney flick. Roger Ebert's review specifically said that this wasn't an animated feature, but a 100-minute cartoon, and that he meant that as a good thing.It was extremely well-received by critics, but a lackluster Disney marketing effort on its behalf lead to middling box-office returns. It eventually did do well enough to spawn a (significantly less well-received) made-for-video sequel and then a TV series.
Actor Allusion: Yzma is voiced by Eartha Kitt, who is well known for portraying one version of Catwoman. She displays an example of To the Batpole! and later gets transformed into a cat. A cute, but still demonic cat.
Aesop Amnesia: Completely averted in the sequel, where Kuzco is shown to have become a much better person, but done hard in the television show.
The humor is heavily influenced by Borscht Belt sensibilities.
Fun fact: Ancient Meso-Americans being (partially?) descended from Israelites is a big part of what The Book of Mormon is about!
Anachronism Stew: Oh, so much (what's an American-style Greasy Spoon—complete with incomprehensible orders and an Expy of the Big Boy—doing in the pre-Columbian Andes?). Most of it can be chalked up to Rule of Funny, except for the wheels. The writers actually spent quite a while debating whether to include wheels before realizing this just wasn't the kind of movie that needed to worry about historical accuracy.
A floor waxer gets a few seconds of screen time as part of a joke.
Angel Face, Demon Face: Kuzco starts out very hard-lined and softens to more Disney-appropriate features after he learns his Aesop. Yzma looks like she's going to have the demon face but ends up turning into something much cuter than her original "scary beyond all reason" appearance.
Argument Of Contradictions: Pacha's kids argue about whether their father would ever kiss a llama. They interrupt their rapid fire litany of "Nuh-uh!" "Yeah-huh!" only to say good night to their mother, then continue through the night.
Kronk's cooking is apparently that good to warrant the lack of focus, since he even convinced Yzma that they should wait until after coffee and dessert before dumping Kuzco.
Award Bait Song: Perhaps the most traditional aspect of the film is "My Funny Friend and Me," sung by Sting over the end credits.
Baleful Polymorph: The Emperor's transformation into a llama is the result of Kronk bumbling Yzma's attempt to assassinate him, mistaking a transformation potion with the intended poison. Later, chaos ensues during the finale when they acquire the rest of Yzma's transformation potions, and Yzma herself never fully recovers from being turned into a cat.
Breaking the Fourth Wall: This film basically demolishes the fourth wall with a truckload of dynamite, then reconstructs it behind the audience.
In the second act, Kuzco-as-narrator appears on-screen to complain about the plot focusing on Pacha, then proceeds to DRAW on the fourth wall. From the audience's side of it.
During his Heel Realization, in-movie Kuzco actually argues with Narrator Kuzco. The madness must be seen to be believed.
Towards the film's climax, Kuzco & Pacha race against Yzma & Kronk to reach the palace first. The movie shows the audience a map of Team Kuzco's and Team Yzma's paths, represented by red dashes and purple arrows respectively. Then the film cuts back to Yzma... and she realizes that they are following a line of red dashes, left on the ground by Team Kuzco. Then she looks back and sees that Kronk is inexplicably leaving behind a trail of purple arrows. They shrug at each other and keep running.
Kronk's and Yzma's line ends with a sudden thunderstorm dropping them to the bottom of a conveniently placed canyon. Yet when Kuzco and Pacha arrive at the laboratory, Yzma and Kronk are waiting for them.
Kuzco: No! It can't be! How did you get back here before us?
Yzma: Ah... uh... how did we, Kronk?
Kronk: (pulls down the map with the dotted lines) Well ya got me. By all accounts it doesn't make sense.
More explicit in the Italian dub. Kronk just says that the writers are still figuring it out.
Broken Aesop / Ignored Aesop: Yzma's potion is fake, but it works as a placebo, making the senior citizens who consumed it think they are young, therefore feel young. However, Yzma scammed them out of extremely large amounts of money, so once Kronk reveals this they chase her down through their town. Once they realize that this is quite a feat for people their age, this ensues:
Rudy: Hey, I just realized something. We chased Yzma all the way down here.
The Cat Came Back: Yzma and Kronk's inexplicable and speedy return to the lab. Heavily lampshaded, in that even they didn't know how they did it. They even show a map of their route, which goes down a canyon and never reappears.
Cut Song: Just about every song was cut from the movie, except for one, with another played over the end credits. They're still on the soundtrack, though. There's a whole documentary, ''The Sweatbox'', about the film's troubled production (see Troubled Production below) which puts a great deal of focus on these songs (which were written by Sting).
The most notable of which was Yzma's Villain Song, "Snuff Out the Light", which, while a fantastic song, was actually a necessary cut, because the plot of the movie changed and made the motivation and ultimate goal described by the song irrelevant.
Palace Guard: For the last time, we did not order a giant trampoline!
Delivery-man: Ya know, pal, you could've told me that before I set it up.
D.I.Y. Disaster: Subverted/played for laughs when Kronk pulls the lever that was supposed to take him and Yzma to the "secret lab," but instead opens a trap door that causes Yzma to fall into a crocodile-filled moat. It's subverted when you consider the fact that that particular lever really is supposed to do that.
Although why they have it is a mystery.
The Dog Bites Back: After putting up with all of her abuse, Kronk finally turns against Yzma when she claims to have never liked his spinach puffs. Or at least, he tries to.
Do I Really Sound Like That?: Yzma, after becoming a kitten and finding her voice is much higher and squeakier: "Is that my voice? Is that... MY voice?!"
Dolled-Up Installment: Some unused elements from the original concept for the film (Kingdom of The Sun), such as the llama-herder Love Interest, Malina and Yzma wanting to regain her youthful looks, were revived for the TV series.
This basic conception of an old woman wanting to gain back her youthful looks was later reused with Mother Gothel, chief villainess of Tangled. The Kingdom of Corona in that film, even has the sun as its symbol, thus making it a Kingdom of the Sun!
Evil Sounds Deep: Subverted when Yzma makes her final transformation. An ominous smoke appears and she starts laughing evilly in a deep, booming bass, but once the smoke clears, she's a tiny kitty with a squeaky voice.
Foreign Queasine: Steamed giant pillbug. Smack it with a straw to uncurl it, use the straw to eat/drink its guts.
Friend or Idol Decision: Kusco is within inches of getting the vial that will turn him back into a human, but Pacha is slowly losing his grip on the edge of the palace wall at the same time. At the very last second, Kusco runs over and grabs Pacha's hand, and the vial falls off the wall.
In one scene, Kronk is talking to himself while, in the background, Yzma is being chased across the screen several times by a swarm of bees.
After Kuzco insults his prospective brides and turns back to the matchmaker, you can see one of them getting angry and moving to hit him, but another bride holds her back.
Genius Ditz: Kronk again. While the ditzy part is unquestionable, he knows how to be liked by anyone he meets (another kind of intelligence), is a great cook, has a lot of practical knowledge about things and can survive in the wild all by himself, plus he's fluent in squirrel and Hash House Lingo.
Mudka's Meat Hut Waitress: Bless you for coming out in public.
Shortly afterwards, Kuzco heads to the kitchen on all fours, his hips swaying a good deal. Another restaurant patron watches "her" go, then leers and gives Pacha a thumbs-up.
And in the Norwegian version of the movie, they didn't bother with subtlety and the dialogue goes (directly translated) like this:
Pacha: We're on our honeymoon!
Kuzco: (girlish giggle)
Waitress: Brave of you to come out of the closet.
The sequel has one moment where Yzma is leaning over Kronk, telling him she's got a proposition. Kronk freaks out... until she reveals it's a business proposition. What kind of proposition wouldn't he be fine with..?
The sequel also has a brief moment where Kronk pulls down a screen to show a clip about what happened in his past... and then loud music plays when a picture of a deer with the words "Stag Pictures" shows up, and he freaks out.
Kuzco: So, I bet you saw that coming, didn't you? Well, I bet you didn't see this coming!
[Extreme closeup of Yzma's armpit hairs]
Kuzco: Aaigh! I'll be seeing that in my nightmares.
Hand Wave: Wonderfully subverted near the end of the movie, where a handwave is directly asked for and the reply is: "Well, ya got me. By all accounts, it doesn't make sense," complete with handy chart showing how it doesn't make sense. Everyone immediately stops worrying about it.
A bigger, if less obvious example, would be Kuzco himself. Bear in mind that at the beginning of the film he plans to bulldoze an entire village for his own profit, and later leaves Pacha to die (after admitting he was planning on locking him up anyway.)
How We Got Here: The film begins with a sad llama sitting all alone in the middle of a rainstorm. The voiceover informs us this llama once was a powerful emperor. The first half of the movie focuses on how he got there.
Kuzco: Um, how else can I say it? "You're being let go." "Your department's being downsized." "You're part of an outplacement." "We're going in a different direction." "We're not picking up your option." Take your pick. I got more.
Then turned back on him when.. well, see Ironic Echo below.
Mayincatec: The visual designers had a lot of fun with a fantasy Pre-Columbian South America look. Aside from Kuzco's name (Cuzco was capital of the Incan Empire), the relationship with history is understandably remote.
Pacha's name comes from Pacha Camac ("Earth-maker"), an Incan creator god.
Whereas "Yzma" seems to be taken from Izmachi, an ancient Mayan city.
Meaningful Echo: "Come on, nobody's that heartless!" First uttered by Pacha when Kuzko says he's still going to demolish Pacha's village after Pacha helps him. Later said by Kuzko when Pacha points out he could have let him fall to his death.
Not So Different: From what we see of them both in the beginning of the film, rule under Yzma would be the same as rule under Kuzco - they're both thoroughly self-centered people who care little for others and their well-being. Yzma is what Kuzco is poised to become - him plus a century or two (or three). Kuzco learns to become a better person, while Yzma doesn't bother. The characters never explicitly call this out, but the film does noticeably lampshade it, just like everything else.
Yzma (after being fired): How could he do this to me? Why, I practically raised him!
Kronk: Yeah, you think he would've turned out better.
Parental Abandonment: No mention whatsoever is ever made to Kuzco's parents, presumably the previous rulers of the empire. Apparently, he was raised by Yzma: it's easy to see where he got his mean streak from.
Pigeonholed Voice Actor: Patrick Warburton as Kronk and Eartha Kitt as Yzma. Incidentally, this was before Patrick Warburton was pigeonholed in voice acting — in fact, this movie probably caused it.
Incidentally, this is used as a subtle joke: Yzma's "One-Winged Angel" form is in particular a kitten possibly because Eartha Kitt had previously played Catwoman on Adam West's version of Batman. She becomes an even more literal Catwoman in the sequel.
Turns out this seemingly unnatural role was perfect for Warburton as this movie launched a long and successful voice acting career.
Related to Troubled Production: Mrs. "Sting", Trudie Styler, filmed a (slightly unfinished) documentary on the film's production, The Sweatbox. It was screened once, but since Disney owns this document of chaos, they make sure it never gets released (very likely due to there being a large amount of swearing in it), though it did end up being leaked on the internet in March 2012.
who originally was designed to look like a twin of Kuzco...who, by the way, was called "Manco" in the original version
. He recorded all his dialogue but when the film was retooled, his voice work was thrown out. There also used to be a short talking Incan statue sidekick to be voiced by Harvey Feinstein. Kronk was nowhere in the story. Yzma's original carnation was creepier, less neurotic, far more threatening, and obsessed with becoming young and beautiful again.
Unfortunate Item Swap: The basis of the entire plot. Kronk mistakes the bottle of extract of llama for the bottle of poison due to faulty labeling.