For a little while now, a small cadre of my good friends were trying to get me to watch The Emperor’s New Groove (2000). Okay, they really want me to see all the Disney movies. But since I have taken to letting the supporters of The Legionnaire determine the movies we review, they took this opportunity to add it to the list. I am sure there will be more in the future. Still, having now seen this Disney tale about what I guess is supposed to be the pre-conquest Incan Empire, I cannot tell you why they were so insistent on exposing me to this one.
For whatever reason, the heads at Disney decided to take the classic Hans Christian Andersen story, The Emperor’s New Clothes, and apply it to the Inca of South America. But with The Emperor’s New Groove, the monarch is turned into a llama instead of merely having to don a new set of duds. Whether swapping jumpers or becoming anthropomorphic characters, the idea is to make the prideful humble. And there are few more full of themselves than Emperor Kuzco (voiced by David Spade). On top of being insufferable, he takes his commands as granted. His rule is not without rivals, however, mainly in the form of Yzma (voiced by Eartha Kitt). She is an advisor to Kuzco, but has designs on usurping the throne. For Kuzco, the only thing he really cares about is building a new palace, which he wants to locate right on top of where Pacha’s (voiced by John Goodman) family lives. Thus Kuzco summons Pacha to the capital to inform the peasant that his home is about to be commandeered. Later that evening, Yzma attempts to poison Kuzco, but ends up turning the emperor into a llama instead thanks to the bumbling of her assistant, Kronk (voiced by Patrick Warburton). Yzma then orders Kronk to dispose of the now behooved Kuzco, though the assistant stops short of murder. Instead, Kuzco ends up knocked out on the back of Pacha’s cart as he slinks dejectedly back to his village. Kuzco comes to at Pacha’s home, and it is only then that he realizes he has been turned into a llama. Either way, he has no idea where he is, but eventually makes an “agreement” to have Pacha guide him back to the capital. I use the quotation marks there because Kuzco is reluctant to actually give up his designs on Pacha’s land, and says at several points during their journey that he is going to construct his new residence anyway. At the same time, after realizing their mistake, Yzma and Kronk set out to track down Kuzco and put an end to a potential threat. After a series of “hilarious” near-misses, they all meet back at the capital where Kuzco and Pacha make it into Yzma’s secret lair. There they believe they can find the potion to make Kuzco human again. In the scramble for the various concoctions, Kuzco succeeds and Yzma is turned into a kitten. And because Pacha had been such a big help, Kuzco decides to build his new palace on a neighboring hill.
I have said this before, but I will say it again: I cannot watch a movie, particularly ones set in the past, without shutting off my brain. And I got annoyed early and often with The Emperor’s New Groove. I understand this is a film aimed at children, but do they have to insert Incan versions of modern conveniences? I mean, why else would you expose the young to a distant time and culture than to educate them somewhat? In my view, you might as well get it right. Thus if you are a parent reading this review, let me tell you about the things in this movie that are historically inaccurate so that your kids do not grow up thinking that Incans had roadside diners (that is one): as advanced of a civilization were the Inca, they had not invented the wheel; they did not have modern water slides and pools; they did not have roller coasters; they did not create the song “The Girl for Ipanema,” though that one would probably go over their head anyway; they did not have kitchen sinks; they did not have dry erase markers; they had not come up with a form of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), though some ancient South American civilizations were performing brain surgeries; they were not crocheting; they did not play bingo; they did not wear sombreros; they were not eating burgers; they did not play checkers; they did not jump rope; they did not have door handles; they did not use floor mops; they did not have piñatas; they did not have gliders, no matter what Ancient Aliens on the History Channel might suggest; they did not have trampolines; and, finally, they did not have scout troops. My apologies, but I notice these things.
The Emperor’s New Groove is also a little confusing from a Faith perspective. One of the issues consistently brought up when historians study the Incan Empire is the Spanish conquest and the introduction of Christianity to this part of the world. Most historians erroneously label the evangelization of the Incan as problematic, to say the least, even though the Church was never really about forcing the native population to do anything. As is the case throughout history, only governments can enforce such policies. At any rate, and I may be the only one thinking about this while watching such a movie, but with how awful the conversion of the Inca supposedly was, it is surprising to see the angel and demon on the shoulders routine with Kronk. The gag is a useful one in showing how God created us with two different natures. Yet before the arrival of Europeans, the Inca would not have understood such matters in these terms.
If there is any reason to watch The Emperor’s New Groove, it is to see the patience and care with which Pacha deals with Kuzco. It is truly Christ-like. In fact, if you could somehow cut up the film into a string of scenes of just Pacha being kind to Kuzco, in spite of the former’s horrid behavior, you might have a serviceable movie. As currently constructed, I just sat there noting historical inaccuracy after historical inaccuracy, not laughing, and praying for the end. At least it is blessedly short.