'The Emperor's New Groove' Could Have Been Disney’s Most Epic Animated Movie
David Spade has made exactly one good film in his life, and since The Emperor’s New Groove isn’t Joe Dirt, the entire movie can go suck a big Rama Llama Ding Dong. You may think it’s strange to be so angry at an innocent story about a buttwipe Incan emperor getting turned into a llama and learning how to unwipe his butt (wait, does that make sense? Wait, I don’t care) by going on a buddy road-trip adventure with John Goodman. And you’re right. The movie isn’t offensive or anything like that. It’s honestly not even that bad. But the issue here is that it could have been amazing.
It’s like this. If you go to Salmonella Joe’s Slop Bucket Burgeria and order the Expired Supreme, it won’t surprise or bother you when the combined forces of your explosive diarrhea and projectile vomit crush you inward like a cartoon accordion. But imagine going to one of those hole-in-the-wall places run by the good kind of hipster, watching them prepare the perfect burger for you, then them changing their mind and giving you one burger bun with some butter and a slice of ham. It’s still edible and serviceable, but it could have been so much more. That’s The Emperor’s New Groove.
Originally, the movie was called Kingdom of the Sun, and it was basically The Prince and the Pauper crossed with a cool-ass Incan epic. The big bad was the shadow god Supai who gets imprisoned underground by the sun god Inti, sent to Earth by Viracocha, the head honcho of Incan mythology. The movie would have been about defeating him and his servant Yzma (Eartha Kitt) while also exploring the importance of llamas in Inca culture cause it would still involve an emperor getting turned into the South American giraffe-sheep. The finale would see an entire city coming together to lasso Inti, aka THE LITERAL SUN, down to Earth so he could crash Supai.
So Incan culture wasn’t just a random backdrop here; it played a pivotal role in the narrative, driving it forward while also educating people about a part of the world they know little about. It was basically Moana 16 years before Moana since one of the best parts of that movie were all the nods to and facts about Polynesian culture and beliefs.
Kingdom of the Sun was also supposed to have a romance that unfolded slowly over the course of in-movie days/weeks, which, yeah, isn’t that rare nowadays in animated movies, but 20 years ago, the idea was downright revolutionary. I also feel it vital to mention that Yzma was meant to be much hornier cause that’s how you show respect to Eartha goddamn Kitt.
So… what happened to that movie? A lot of it actually got made, but Disney executives were worried that the movie felt too serious and complex, so they brought in a second director to funny it up a bit. The new guy, Mark Dindal, known for the seminal piece Cats Don’t Dance, and the original director Roger Allers (The Lion King, among others), essentially started to make two different movies. The production got more troubled until Allers quit, and Dindal and a bunch of other people hastily put everything they had into what ultimately became The Emperor’s New Groove, i.e., the ham sandwich we got while waiting on that wagyu burger.
The somewhat good news is that Allers apparently filmed enough to kind of put together a rough version of his original vision, and angry fans have been campaigning heavily for “The Allers Cut,” either referring to the release of the original movie or giving Allers five minutes in a locked room with a few Disney execs and a selection of sharp implements.
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Top Image: Walt Disney