The Secret Story Behind 'The Emperor's New Groove'

The Secret Story Behind 'The Emperor's New Groove'

The complicated, emotional history behind the making of this Disney animated classic is more shocking than you would believe.
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Everybody knows “The Emperor’s New Groove,” the 2000 film from Walt Disney Animation. But beneath this buddy comedy is the skeleton of a movie that Disney had previously scrapped: “Kingdom of the Sun.”

“Kingdom of the Sun” (later “Kingdom in the Sun”) was a story that took place in the Incan Empire. It was about a poncho-clad commoner named Pacha, a power-hungry sorceress named Yzma and an emperor that transformed into a llama halfway through the film.

Sound familiar?

"Kingdom of the Sun" was a "Prince and the Pauper" type narrative, in which Emperor Manco (later changed to Kuzco, both voiced by David Spade) and Pacha (Owen Wilson) switch places. Pacha tries to come off as a convincing emperor and even starts to fall in love with Manco's betrothed. Manco tries to become a shepherd like Pacha, but he is eventually discovered by Yzma (Eartha Kitt) and gets turned into a llama instead. Yzma schemes with a rock creature named Hucua (Harvey Fierstein) to steal the sun and plunge the world into an everlasting night.

The film riffed on Inca creation myths and would have been directed by Roger Allers ("The Lion King") and Mark Dindal ("Cats Don't Dance"). It was intended to be a classic Disney animated musical, with songs written by Sting.

All animated films go through a trial-and-error process, but "The Emperor's New Groove" had a particularly rocky history. Many of the development and production difficulties were filmed by Sting's wife, filmmaker Trudie Styler, in a documentary called "The Sweatbox." Disney never released the documentary on VHS or DVD, though some footage from it is used in the special features of the "Emperor's Groove" DVD.

However, there are a few copies of "The Sweatbox" floating around on the Internet. I managed to get my hands on one, and I can say from experience, that it is one of the most enthralling and uncomfortable documentaries I have ever seen.

Styler captures the excitement of the creative team as they begin to put the pieces of "Kingdom of the Sun" together. Roger Allers is clearly devoted to the story. His eyes light up when he talks about the characters or a new idea that they've come up with. Lead character designer, Andreas Deja, swings his hips in front of a full-length mirror to inhabit the character of Yzma.

But Styler also captures the confusion that seems to have plagued the project from its inception. Only a few minutes into the documentary, Sting reveals that he's writing songs based mostly on hearsay and that he's not sure what's going on with the actual film. However, the creatives soon assemble a work print out of storyboards and pencil tests to screen for the executives in the eponymous sweatbox.

The sweatbox is a screening room at the Walt Disney animation studio in Burbank, named for the original screening room, which was a wooden shack with no air conditioning, but also for the anxiety such screenings provoked. The reaction of the execs could make or break a film.

After the screening, the executives assemble the "Kingdom of the Sun" team to inform them that "the movie isn't working."

According to them, the film is all over the place, with too many characters, plotlines and Inca mythology. One of the execs, Peter Schneider, offers an olive branch, saying that he liked Sting's music. When Sting tries to defend the original, epic scope of the film, he is politely ignored.

In the resulting chaos of the rewrites, both Roger Allers and Andreas Deja quit the film. Pacha is aged up, recast as John Goodman and Kuzco becomes the focus of the film. The art style is overhauled completely, focusing more on exaggeration and caricature. All six of the songs Sting wrote are cut completely. He begrudgingly agrees to write a new song, called "Perfect World," and to rehaul a love song from the old film into a song about Kuzco and Pacha's friendship: "My Funny Friend and Me."

The rest of the documentary details the launch of the newly-titled film, "The Emperor's New Groove," including these Happy Meal nightmares:

In a truly perfect world, both films could exist alongside each other. I would have liked to see a finished version of "Kingdom of the Sun," but I still love "The Emperor's New Groove." I always have. I love the jokes and the chase scenes. I love that Pacha looks like John Goodman. I love Kronk and Yzma's weird relationship. I love how quotable it is.

By some miracle, "The Emperor's New Groove" is great film. Someone did something right to deliver this comedic joyride from the massive pile-up that happened after the executive intervention of "Kingdom of the Sun." If we couldn't have that movie, then I sure am glad that we have this one.
Cover Image Credit: Dan Brace

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An Open Letter To Every Girl With A Big Heart, Except When It Comes To Herself

Because it's so much easier to love everyone around you before yourself.
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They say the key is that you have to "love yourself before you can love anyone else," or before "anyone can love you."

For those who deal with mass amounts of anxiety, or have many insecurities, that can be an extremely hard task. It seems much easier to tell your friend who is doubting herself that she looks great in that top than to look in the mirror and feel the same about yourself. It is much easier to tell your significant other that everything is going to be OK than to believe it will be when something goes wrong in your life. It becomes easier to create excuses for the ones around you than for yourself, and this is because you have such a big heart. You want those that you love to be happy and worry-free, yet you spend nights thinking about everything you have on your plate, about what you did wrong that day, fearing if someone in your life is mad at you, believing that you will never be good enough yet convincing everyone else that they are.

You are the girl with the biggest heart, yet you can't love yourself the way you care for everyone else in your life. There are many reasons that you should love yourself, though, and that's something that everyone around you is willing to tell you.

You're thoughtful.

Before doing anything, you always consider how it is going to affect those around you. You don't want to do anything that could hurt someone, or something that could make someone mad at you. It does not take much to make you happy, just seeing others happy does the job, and it is that simple. Because of this, you remember the little things. Meaningful dates, small details, and asking someone how their day was is important to you, and it makes those around you feel important too. You simply just want the people that you care about to be happy, and that is an amazing trait.

You're appreciative.

You don't need a big, fancy, and expensive date night to make you happy. Whether it's a picnic on the beach or a night in watching a movie, you're happy to just be with the person that you love. You appreciate every "good morning" text, and it truly does mean something when someone asks how you are. You tend to appreciate the person that you're with more than the things that they provide and for that, your sincerity will never go unnoticed.

You have a lot of love in your heart.

Every "I love you" has meant something, just as you remember the smallest moments that have meant the most to you. You remember the look in your significant other's eyes when they told you that for the first time. You remember the smile on your best friend's face when you told them that everything was going to be OK and that you would always be there. You remember the swell of happiness your parents felt when you decided to surprise them with a trip home one day, and you thrive off of all of that love.

You don't give up on the people you love, even if they have given you a reason to.

It is a foreign idea to just drop someone from your life, even if they betrayed you. You try to look at their mistake from every stance, not wanting to provide an excuse for them, but to give them another chance. Not everyone deserves it, and that is something that you learn along the way, but you feel good in the sense that you gave them a chance even if no one else would.

It's OK to not love yourself all the time. It's normal, and natural to stand in the mirror and think about everything wrong. And it's OK to love other people, even when you can't feel the same about yourself. But your big heart is why you should love yourself. There are so many reasons that you are a beautiful person, and the people that you spend all your time caring about feel that you have so much more to offer the world, and yourself.

So, next time you think about what you don't like about yourself, remember what makes you special –– the size of your heart and all of the love in it, and then share that love with yourself.

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You NEED To See Studio Theatre's Good 'n' Plenty!

Come see Studio Theatre's first show in Boll!

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Studio Theatre will put on the hilarious and poignant show "Good 'n' Plenty" March 29 and 30 in KU's Boll Theatre! If you attend the University of Dayton or live in the area, you need to see this show- especially since tickets are free and can be reserved here!

Studio Theatre is a student-run organization at UD. The students perform, run tech, direct and sometimes even write their own content. These talented students have taken on a full-length show called "Good 'n' Plenty." This show details the misadventures of a high school social sciences teacher in the 70s, who wants to teach his students about the criminal justice system via an interesting simulation involving Good 'n' Plenties. These little candies represent pills. The students are assigned as pushers, attorneys, narks, and more. It seems like a good idea until...

You'll have to come to the show to see the rest! It'll have you laughing, while also providing clever insights about our society. The 70s themed soundtrack and costumes are a major bonus! Still not convinced? Let's let the students change your mind. Here are their perspectives and highlights of the show!

Rachel, the show's director, has put immense time and effort into making this show successful. She says, "One of the great things about Good 'N' Plenty is that it has given Studio Theatre a chance to do something a little bigger than we typically do. The cast has all shown such a commitment to learning and developing their characters. Every rehearsal I'm excited to see what each actor is adding to their role. As a director, I'm seeing just how big of a change we made from the first rehearsal to where we are now, getting ready to perform! I can't wait to have an audience that gets to see how hard we have been working on this show, there is so much humor and heart that comes alive on stage. I am so proud of everyone that has been a part of 'Good 'N' Plenty,' they bring this production to life."

Maciej thinks you should check out the show because "'Good 'n' Plenty' is a tremendous show filled with hilarious characters whose lines will make you laugh out loud!"

Ben thinks that you should spend your Saturday night at the show for the "constant weird and wacky antics!" When Ben, a singular actor, plays a set of twins who constantly bicker and love to "arrest" their classmates in the simulation, things get pretty wacky!

Max, who plays a special ed teacher turned principal, wants you to come to see "Good 'n' Plenty" because: "'Good 'n' Plenty' is a hilarious look into everything we hate about politics and high school all rolled into one."

Sarah, the costume designer, wants you to come for all of the sweet 70's costumes! It's a great throwback.

Cameron says: "The show is full of amazingly interesting and absolutely insane characters that will have the audience laughing the entire time, with a plot to keep them on the edge of their seats the entire time!" He plays a strange character named Albert who has a penchant for playing with paper. His over-the-top, hilarious portrayal of the character has sparked other actors to reference him specifically when asked about the show...

Jason, who plays the class valedictorian with a 3.99 GPA, implores you: "Help Albert Kundrat has spawned some sort of paper snake and has kidnapped me. Pay my ransom by attending the show." While Sam, the quirky English teacher, says: "'Good 'n' Plenty' is hilarious, and Albert Kundrat is a national treasure!"

Maddie, who plays a strange kid that has a serious glow-up, sums the whole thing up pretty well. She thinks you should check out G&P; because: "Free admission, democracy, and "drugs"...what more could anyone ask for?"

Bonus item! While I cannot verify the veracity of this statement, Erick (a member of production team) swears: "Nancy the cashier from Marycrest will be there!"

If you want to figure out why everyone is so entranced with Albert Kundrat, if you want to learn about our society while cracking up, if you attend UD and want to support your insanely talented friends... COME SEE GOOD 'N' PLENTY!

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