Production on the movie started around 1994 with the purpose of making another Lion King type epic. The plan was to have a movie based around Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper, where an greedy and selfish Inca Emperor who finds a peasant that looks just like him. He decides to switch places with the man on a lark. The evil witch Yzma decides that she is going to summon a dark spirit to capture the sun so she can stay young forever, and in the process finds out about the switch between the Emperor and the peasant. She turns the real Emperor into a llama and threatens to reveal the truth of the switch unless the peasant does whatever she says. The Emperor-llama learns humility in his new form and even falls in love with a lady llama-herder. Together, the girl and the llama set out to undue the witches plan. The movie was to be called Empire of the Sun, but was later changed to Empire in the Sun. You can see where this is going. With production under way, Roger Allers becomes the director while Randy Fullmer acts as the producer. Unfortunately, production faltered when they tried to make the plot a little more original and not so much like The Prince and the Pauper. Disney had just released a Mickey Mouse short on the subject a few years earlier in fact. Test screenings did not go well and upper management was not happy with the films lack of direction. So, Disney decided to hire Mark Dindal, director of Cats Don't Dance. Here's where things get really interesting.
With Dindal now on as another director, the film was basically split in two; Dindal doing a more comedic version, and Allers creating a more dramatic version. Things were not going well and the Disney execs still saw the film as uneven. They hesitated to intervene at first because of Allers' success with The Lion King, which also suffered some production speed bumps. By 1998 however, it was painfully obvious that the film would not be complete in time for a Summer 2000 release. A Disney exec stormed into producer Fullmer's office and informed him that they were very close to shutting down the whole production. When Fullmer went to Allers about the problem, Allers asked for another six month extension. Fullmer declined and Allers left. Eisner came in and told Fullmer that he had two weeks to salvage the film or else. Stopping production for six months, Fullmer and Dindal completely overhauled the story. What came out of that was the story we have today with the new name of The Emperor's New Gro ove. It turned into a buddy movie, with Yzma becoming a mad scientist sort of villain and the Emperor losing a love interest in the movie. Eisner was a little hesitant about the movie because he saw similarities between it and Hercules, a movie that was well received but didn't do phenomenal at the box office. The crew assured him that this had a much smaller supporting cast so people would be much more invested in the characters. The overhaul had one last drawback however, as it made animator Andreas Deja quit the production and start working on Lilo and Stitch. Why is that so bad? Well, on top of being in charge of the animation of Yzma, Deja also was in charge of the parts of the film that included the songs done by singer Sting. Sting had already recorded the songs and everything, but with Deja gone, his parts in the film were eliminated. Sting had done all that work for nothing. And he was pissed. There's even a documentary about Sting's efforts in the film called The Sweatbox. Good luck finding a copy, as Disney owns the rights and likely won't let it out for quite a while. Sting's songs can still be found on the official soundtrack however if you're curious. One of his songs "My Funny Friend and Me" was even nominated for an Academy Award. If you liked the ending, you can thank Sting for that. The original ending had Kuzco building his resort on a neighboring hill, which Sting thought was dumb since it showed that Kuzco hadn't learned his lesson. Thus, at the end, Kuzco has his own little hut instead.
The setting of the film is based off the Peruvian Inca Empire. Along with the architecture, roads, intricate waterworks, sun worship, and llamas as domesticated beasts, Kuzco's name is similar to Cusco, the Peruvian city considered the capital of the Inca Empire, and Pacha's name is drawn from Pachacuti, considered the most important ruler of the Inca Empire, and a historical figure. That being said, there are plenty of incongruities and anachronisms throughout the film, some for comedic effect and some just because they didn't care about being too historically accurate. And, while the crew did take a trip down to Peru for inspiration, the setting is not specifically based off of any particular area of Peru. What makes this movie even more unusual is the fact that it has almost no musical numbers, save for the beginning and end song and Kronk's impromptu theme music.
Part of what makes this movie so great is the voice actors. I don't think this film would have worked had it not been for David Spade and John Goodman. Spade is absolutely perfect for the selfish and conceited Kuzco, while Goodman shines as the foil to Kuzco's bombastic personality. It's funny too because Spade has been in a bunch of different movies where he plays the shrimpy whiny character next to the portly comic relief (Tommy Boy, Black Sheep, Lost and Found), and this film is no different. I can't picture anyone doing the voice of Yzma other than Eartha Kitt. It just fits her perfectly. And of course Patrick Warburton, who usually plays the dumb oaf is one of the funniest characters as Kronk. Funny story: Disney made Warburton sign the rights away for Kronk's "theme song," something that was ad-libbed by Warburton. Wendie Malick plays Pacha's wife, Chicha, who you may recall from Just Shoot Me!, a show in which she shared the screen with David Spade. And last we have Tom Jones as the Theme Song Guy. The film's team originally wanted Sting to do the opening theme song, but they considered him too old. So they got Tom Jones who is eleven years older than Sting. Good job!
The film opened on December 15th 2000 to mostly glowing reviews. Critics found that the pace and humor overshadowed any minor flaws the movie had. However, Eisner was right that it would turn out like Hercules. The movie only grossed a measly $90 million domestically and another $80 million worldwide. This was well below the standards of the 90's Disney films. In fact, the only films in the rest of the decade would sustain losses for Disney except for Lilo and Stitch and Brother Bear. Yikes.
I really can't say enough about why this movie is so great. It's got a good story, a solid funny cast, plenty of sight gags, adult humor, and references everywhere. I can't even tell you what part is my favorite because there are too many to choose from. Most of them involve Krunk, though. Please watch this movie again if you haven't in awhile. You'll be glad you did. And you may have to watch it more than once, just so you don't miss anything. This is probably the most cartoony film you'll see from Disney, as you have all the typical Looney Tunes type antics happening. From delayed falls, to purposeful incongruities, to lack of death, to tons of slapstick, this movie is the closest thing you'll get to a Saturday morning cartoon.