The Truth Behind The Emperor’s New Groove

On December 15, 2000, Walt Disney Pictures released its 40th animated feature film, “The Emperor’s New Groove.” A troubled production that was in development for many years, the final version of the movie featured “Saturday Night Live” alumnus David Spade as the main character, Emperor Kuzco. Spade was joined by veteran actors John Goodman, Eartha Kitt, and Patrick Warburton.

And while the movie did a bring in a respectable $89.3 million in the U.S. and $169.6 million worldwide (via Bomb Report), with both critics and audience agreeing on how much they liked the movie (via Rotten Tomatoes), “The Emperor’s New Groove” was considered a complete disaster. When measured against the tremendous success Disney Animation had with films like “The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin” and “The Lion King” throughout the late ’80s and well into the ’90s, “The Emperor’s New Groove” failed to live up to expectations. And while the film would eventually go on to find its legs and become a cult classic, it began life as a very different project than what it became.

'Kingdom of the Sun'?

After the huge success of 1994’s “The Lion King,” director Roger Allers was greenlit by Walt Disney Studios to begin production on his next all-original movie, “Kingdom of the Sun.” Loosely based on Mark Twain’s “The Prince and the Pauper” (via Digital Spy), “Kingdom of the Sun” featured David Spade (above) as the coddled prince, Manco, and actor Owen Wilson as Pacha, the llama herder. Of course, as these “Freaky Friday”-type of movies play out, Pacha and Manco switch places and shenanigans ensue.

An animated film with a bit of a more serious bent, “Kingdom” was laced with ancient Inca imagery and set to include a soundtrack by the musician Sting (via Vulture). However, production issues plagued the film from the start. Disney higher-ups were not impressed with how the movie was shaping up; an early screen test of the film in 1998 showed a very disjointed project being put together (via Bomb Report). With 20% of the film completed, including two songs written by Sting and much of the voice work recorded, “Kingdom of the Sun” was put on hold in the late ’90s.

From a 'Kingdom' to an 'Emperor'

Roger Allers, who was directing the film, pleaded with Disney for more time, but they refused. With the movie’s release date scheduled for 2000 and other companies outside the Disney organization producing tie-in merchandise to “Kingdom,” there was no more time available for major story rewrites (via Bomb Report). “Kingdom of the Sun” (and the $30 million already spent on its production) was shelved. Allers outright quit the organization. Mark Dindal, a former Disney animator recently turned director, was tasked to helm the project. His goal? To salvage what he could from “Kingdom.”

John Goodman replaced Owen Wilson. Most of the script was re-written, and much of Twain’s “The Prince and the Pauper” theme was eliminated. In December of 2000, “The Emperor’s New Groove” was released. Considered a flop, the budget for “The Emperor’s New Groove/Kingdom of the Sun” was allegedly well over $100 million (via Bomb Report), making it one of the most expensive animated movies ever made.

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