Fun (but maybe sad) fact: This is the first Disney Animated movie since The Little Mermaid I didn’t see in theaters. I remember going “wow ok that looks stupid. Disney’s lost it.” To be fair, I was 15, had just moved to New Jersey and was trying to fit in. I didn’t know many people and didn’t know if it was “ok” to like Disney or not. But yeah, I never saw this movie, and none of my high school friends (to my knowledge) ever saw it in theaters either.
We should be extremely sad we didn’t. When I finally did see this movie my freshman year of college, it was followed by a adventure in the night to remove a brick from a path (long story but a tradition at my college – although we were bad and did it freshman year instead of senior year… Then did it again senior year…) in which we operated with our own theme music, complete with dramatic freeze sound effect.
If you’ve seen this movie, you understand that completely. If you haven’t, you’re probably thinking I’m a complete idiot. This movie continued to make everyone in my dorm laugh for the entire four years of college, and it became a go-to for me during finals week. Why? because it’s hilarious.
Watching it now, 7 years after leaving that place, I will admit the humor is extremely immature. But it’s still ridiculously funny. This movie, like Dinosaur, is just so out of place in the Disney canon. The only movie I would even think of comparing it to is Hercules, simply because it knows what it is and it’s a little “off” from typical Disney fanfare. But even Hercules is tame compared to this.
So what’s this one about? We have another original story here. Let’s see:
In the Andes mountains of South America we have Kuzco, the 18 year old Emperor. He’s selfish and spoiled and has his own theme music. He invites a man from a nearby village, Pacha over strictly to tell him he’s going to build his summer house where his village used to be. Distraught, Pacha gets ready to head home.
We also meet Yzma, Kuzco’s advisor who wants nothing more than to get rid of him. She’s a witch-like character, with potions, one of which will kill him. During dinner that night, she has her sidekick Kronk poison him. But the vials get confused and they end up turning Kuzco into a Llama. Yzma tells Kronk to get rid of him, but Kronk can’t bring himself to do it. He drops him down the stairs, and Kuzco the Llama ends up on the back of Pacha’s cart.
Pacha gets back to his village where we meet his family. He finds Kuzco the Llama in his cart, and he orders the man to take him back to the palace so that Yzma can change him back. Pacha agrees, but only if he promises to build his home somewhere else. They head out, taking on all sorts of dangers while in the meantime Pacha trying to explain to Kuzco how what he’s doing isn’t fair and wondering how he can be that heartless.
In the meantime, Yzma finds out Kronk didn’t destroy Kuzco and those two set out to find and kill him. At a restaurant, Pacha overhears Yzma and her diabolical plan. He tries to tell Kuzco, but the Emperor doesn’t listen and instead is so excited that Yzma is there that he dismisses Pacha and goes after Yzma. But then he overhears Yzma’s plan, grows sad, and can’t find Pacha.
Distraught, Kuzco wanders in the jungle, deciding there’s nothing he can do and he better jut get used to being a llama. He runs into Pacha again, who agrees to help him change back into a human. They run home to get supplies only to find Yzma and Kronk there. After Pacha’s family helps distract them, Pacha, Kuzco, Yzma and Kronk all race back to the castle. There’s a bit of a fight over the vials but in the end Kuzco ends up a human, deciding not to build a palace in the village where Pacha lives, but his own little house so he can be with his friends.
This movie’s largest strength is its humor. My God this movie is hilarious. We get slapstick. We get humorous characters. We get great interactions between these characters. We get amazing one-liners and ridiculous speeches and ridiculous… everything. There’s fourth wall, there’s smart jokes, there’s immature jokes, there’s ridiculousness beyond compare. At times it plays more like an old Looney Toons short than a Disney movie…
I could literally just post a ton of quotes or gifs from this movie and laugh my ass off and have all of you think I am the weirdest person alive because quotes never come across as funny. But instead of doing that, I’m just going to tell you to watch it. Some of these jokes are great, smart, hilarious, immature, etc. There’s a mix of everything. It’s great. But I will leave you with a favorite:
Let’s talk about these characters for a second. First we have Kuzco, the main character and emperor of the Incas. Kuzco is, quite easily put – a jerk. He doesn’t care about anyone but himself, and is willing to do anything to get what he wants. Only through becoming a llama and having to put his trust in someone else does he learn how good it can feel to care about others. He’s rude and immature. He’s typically a character that I wouldn’t be able to stand, and sometimes I honestly can’t (part of that is David Spade, who I’m not a fan of). I have to be in the right mood to watch him. But at the same time, I’m a bit more forgiving with this character because he just doesn’t know any better. He’s never had anyone tell him no, he’s never had anyone tell him how to act, and it’s gotten to his head. He’s the spoiled little rich boy we love to hate, and for a while we honestly don’t think he can change. Then he just surprises everyone and actually learns what a jerk he’s been and how good it is to care about people.
Of course, he wouldn’t be able to do without Pacha. Voiced by the ever prevalent John Goodman, Pacha is the complete opposite of Kuzco. He has a family he cares about, a modest but well appreciated living, and a big heart. He’s the first person who’s actually stood up to Kuzco and told him “no,” but he’s the only one who’s been in the situation to do that. He believes the guy can change and that he does care. Honestly, Pacha is a nice guy, but he’s a bit “blah” for a character. It’s like he’s the only semi-serious guy in this movie (I guess it needed one, right?) But without Pacha we wouldn’t have a story. He’s important, sweet, and a good friend.
Pacha’s family are the more hilarious ones in this movie. His wife Chicha is pregnant (a first for Disney!) and always reminds me of “small but mighty.” She’s got an attitude on her and isn’t afraid to speak her mind. She’s smart and a good mother. She loves Pacha and all she’s looking to do is protect her family and their way of life. Then we have Pacha’s kids, Chaca and Tipo. Disney somehow managed to capture the insanity of childhood. It’s like they thought of the most annoying/funny things that kids could do that put it with these characters. They’re hilarious and sweet at the same time.
At the very last we have our villains (this is an insanely small cast!). Remember how I said back in Hercules that Hades really made that movie for me? Well, same here.
First we have Yzma, Kuzco’s advisor who wants nothing more than to get rid of him and become empress. She’s a secret magician/witch with an underground lair (Pull the lever Kronk! Wrong Lever!…. Why do we even have that lever!). What I love so much about Yzma is how smart she seems, but really isn’t. If she was, she wouldn’t keep Kronk around. She would also be smarter about how to get rid of Kuzco.
But in the end she’s an enjoyable villain simply because she’s ridiculous and she has this insane drive and hatred for this child she’s had to serve. She can’t stand him and believes she could do a better job. What’s interesting is that she really has no insane takeover plan. In any other movie, you could swap these two characters and Yzma would be the hero. Kuzco IS a jerk. She’s trying to rescue the empire. Sure she’s selfish too, but it’s not like she has any diabolical plan to turn people into slaves. She just wants to rule. There’s something to be said for her. She’s not crazy evil. You can relate to her.
Then there’s Kronk. Kronk is by far a lot of people’s favorite characters in this movie, and he’s mine too (although I enjoy the play that he and Yzma do more than him as a character).
Kronk is Yzma’s sidekick, and he’s so insanely dumb it makes you wonder why she keeps him around. He’s got the mindset of a child, and he’s so innocent that again, he’s not really evil. He just does things because Yzma tells him to, it’s not like he’s actually aware of what he’s doing (except when his shoulder angel/devil pops up). Kronk actually has a good heart, and I think that’s why a lot of people love him. He’s evil but not. It makes for some very funny scenarios.
I do want to talk about this story, because although it got good reviews, critics weren’t that enthralled because it didn’t “feel” like a Disney movie. Personally, this one feels more Disney than Dinosaur, but who am I to say that? It wasn’t ambitious. The animation wasn’t over the top and unbelievable. This was just a cute little hilarious buddy movie.
There’s a reason: This movie went through production HELL. First it was a huge picture started after The Lion King in 1994 with Sting doing all these songs (Shoutout to “funny friend and me.” LOVE that song). It was called Kingdom of the Sun, and was more akin to The Prince and the Pauper than the movie we got. Honestly? it sounded interesting. Apparently it didn’t do well with test audiences, and there was a general lack of direction with the movie. In 1998 there wasn’t much progress done on the movie, so there were threats made and the director quit. The movie got a huge overhaul and due to the lack of time before the 2000 release, quality of the animation suffered.
Here’s what I have to say: Is there something wrong about having a smaller picture? This was certainly different for Disney. While it may not have garnered as much attention, this movie is one of a kind – in a good way. Why does every movie have to be big and ambitious? You know, this movie, in that aspect, reminds me of the Fox and the Hound. That was a “smaller” movie, but look what it did. It focused on a good lesson, and did it well.
This movie is similar. For such a ridiculous movie, it could have easily been forgettable. But here’s why I keep coming back to it. This movie has heart. Serious heart. Not as much as other Disney movies, and not nearly as much as The Fox and the Hound, but it’s there, and in more doses than Dinosaur or Pocahontas. We connect with these characters because we are these characters. Every. Single. One. Of. Them. We’ve all been selfish. We’ve all wished to get rid of someone we don’t like. We’ve all been naive. We’ve all been a pushover with a big heart. We’ve all said what’s on our minds. We root for Kuzco because we believe, like Pacha, that “no one can be that heartless.”
Would it have been cool to get a huge movie about the Incas and sun-gods? Yes. I hope Disney rethinks South America as a setting (Maybe if Moana does well…). But for what it is, I’ll take it. It’s a great little movie with laughs and heart. I’m sorry I never saw it in theaters, but I’m glad I saw it later.
I give The Emperor’s New Groove (2000) a 3.2 out of 5.
Up Next: Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)