The Emperor’s New Groove
A play on the title Emperor’s New Clothes, it incorporates Incan elements and teaches a pretty straight-forward lesson about being a kind person. The opening scene (“long ago, somewhere deep in the jungle”) actually starts in the middle of the movie and the commentary states that this is a story about the lonely llama, who is the main character. Rewinding a little, the llama is actually Emperor Kuzco (who we later learn was almost eighteen and was referred to as a “prince”). Kuzco’s life is “all about me,” his servants are there to do his bidding (there’s odd step dancing for some reason); he has his own theme song guy. He throws an old man out the window for throwing off his groove. He’s supposed to choose a bride but nonchalantly dismisses all the assembled ladies.
We’re briefly introduced to Pancha, but swiftly swing to Yzma, his royal advisor and “proof that dinosaurs once existed.” Yzma has the bad habit of trying to run the kingdom behind Kuzco’s back (not entirely explained; is this necessarily a bad thing? Though she couldn’t be bothered with a peasant not having food and feels that he chose to be a peasant). Kuzco fires her and invites Pancha in, sweet talking him about his village, getting the inside scoop so he…can build his summer vacation home where the village currently sits. Pancha attempts to argue, but he’s kicked out.
Furious at her dismissal, claiming that she practically raised Kuzco (so, what happened to his parents?) and as Yzma’s assistant, Kronk sarcastically points out, you think the young emperor would have turned out better, she decides to poison Kuzco so she can rule the kingdom. (Her first idea was to turn him into a flea, put him in a box, put that box in a bigger box, mail it to herself, and then smash it with a hammer! Let’s just say, overkill). They take the lever to her lab (well, the wrong one first) and concoct a poison. Then invite Kuzco to dinner. The poison doesn’t kill Kuzco; it turns him into a llama. Yzma orders Kronk to take Kuzco and finish the job. Kronk proves to be a nicer person and can’t let the young man drown. He loses the bag however; it lands on Pancha’s cart as he departs the city and makes his way home.
The peasant greeted by his loving family and can’t bring himself to tell them their home will soon be destroyed. At that time, he discovers “demon llama!” stowaway. Kuzco wakes up and discovers he’s a llama and feels Pancha is responsible and kidnapped him so he can’t build “Kuzcotopia!” Pancha refuses to take Kuzco back to the palace until he makes a deal to not demolish the village. He warns the young man about traversing the jungle alone, but the selfish prince sets off, feeling he knows best. The emperor runs into a squirrel, angers it, falls into a den of jaguars, the squirrel returns, the jaguars wake up and Kuzco runs for his life. Being the good guy that he is, Pancha rescues Kuzco, in a roundabout manner. They manage to get wrapped around a tree trunk, fall into a river, and go over a waterfall (Kuzco is so deadpanned about that aspect, it is a bit funny). (Pancha’s kids have dreams about their father’s escapades).
Back in the city, Yzma holds Kuzco’s funeral and life immediately carries on. No one seems to miss Kuzco; their loyalty easily switches to Yzma. But when Yzma gloats to Kronk, he reveals that Kuzco is not fully dead. Now they have to find him and end him.
After a cold night, warmed by Pancha draping his poncho over Kuzco, Kuzco “shakes hands,” agreeing to find somewhere else to build his summer vacation home so Pancha will lead him back to the palace. When Pancha falls through a bridge, Kuzco attempts to leave him, revealing he lied. Kuzco ends up stuck, they scuffle for a bit, then the bridge collapses, they get stuck right above crocodile infested water and have to work together to get out of the situation. The alternative way to get to the palace will take four days. When a cliff face gives way under Pancha, Kuzco saves him and we start seeing a friendship develop.
Kronk meets the squirrel that Kuzco angered, who gleefully tells Kronk (but not Yzma) where Kuzco went. All four characters end up at the same diner. Pancha overhears Yzma and Kronk talking about getting rid of Kuzco; Kuzco doesn’t believe him and tries to go after Yzma. But he overhears the same thing, but Pancha has disappeared. He comes within sight of the palace, but turns back, realizing that Pancha was right, he’s alone and it’s all his own fault. We’ve now come back to the first scene and the movie Kuzco tells commentary-Kuzco to shut it, his situation is his own fault. Long after the diner incident, Kronk realizes he recognized Pancha, which leads him to the village and Pancha’s home. Yzma claims to be a very distant relative, and Pancha’s family must keep them occupied while Pancha escapes with Kuzco (they reunited in a llama field). That bit is honestly the funniest part of the movie, and demonstrates that the big strong man is not the only one to get things done. The bit with the trails being marked on a map is a bit funny as well.
Pancha and Kuzco manage to sneak into Yzma’s lair (discovering the wrong lever along the way). Yet somehow (movie logic) Yzma and Kronk have beat them and already have the potion that will change Kuzco back to a human. She once again orders Kronk to finish the job, and he discusses it with his shoulder devil and angel again. She grows tired of his ineptitude, insults him, which pushes him to drop a chandelier on her. It doesn’t work, but the lever to another trap door does and Kronk disappears. There’s a scuffle, the guards are turned to animals, and Pancha and Kuzco start trying different potions. It finally comes down to two vials while they hang on to a giant carving. Pancha is the first to fall down the carving, grabbing a handhold for a minute. Yzma grabs one of the vials, which turns her into a fluffy cat, meaning the vial left is the correct one. She can’t get the cork out, sending the vial plunging over the side. She falls too, catches it, but is shot back up, losing hold of it and it’s now within Kuzco’s grasp. But Pancha’s precarious hold is slipping and Kuzco has to make a choice. He rescues Pancha, proving his character growth and they work together again to retrieve the vial (and perfectly timed interruption from Kronk assists).
The next day reveals that Kuzco is once again human, but far kinder. He apologizes to the old man he threw out a window and glibly declares he will build his vacation home on another hill. The ending shows that he now has a house next to Pancha and seems to be part of the family.
I just feel that the movie is…flat. It beats us over the head with the “don’t be selfish” lesson. I found it a lot funnier as a kid; now, I’m just really annoyed by Kuzco. He’s the only character to really have growth; Kronk was always a softie, it was just never tested until now. He features in a sequel movie that I may have caught once, and there was a brief cartoon that I caught a few episodes of. In the grand scheme of Disney movies, for me, this falls at the bottom.
As always, I welcome questions or comments. I am not entirely sure when the next post will go up, due to the holidays and retail schedule. But I wish everyone a happy holiday (whatever you celebrate) and a merry new year.
We’ll pick up next time with: Atlantis: The Lost Empire