An oral history of The Emperor’s New Groove, a raucous Disney animated film that almost never happened.
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This is the story of one strange moment in animation history, two reluctantly warring teams of animators, và three movies, only one of which you can see today. Photo: Buena Vista Pictures/Everett Collection
This is the story of one strange moment in animation history, two reluctantly warring teams of animators, & three movies, only one of which you can see today. Photo: Buena Vista Pictures/Everett Collection
This is the story of one strange moment in animation history, two reluctantly warring teams of animators, và three movies, only one of which you can see today. Photo: Buena Vista Pictures/Everett Collection
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The story of the making of the 2000 movie The Emperor’s New Groove is actually the story of the making of three movies, only one of which can be legally seen today. First, there is The Kingdom of the Sun, an epic tale incorporating Inca myths, which was to lớn be directed by The Lion King’s Roger Allers và would have starred Owen Wilson as a lowly llama herder bound lớn switch lives with a selfish, vain prince voiced by David Spade. The soundtrack was set to lớn feature a whole series of songs written by Sting. The legendary Eartha Kitt would be the voice of a villainous sorceress determined to lớn blot out the sun.
But after years of production snafus — of doubt-filled meetings và catastrophic screenings & arguments — Kingdom of the Sun was, in a stunning move, shelved. In its place came The Emperor’s New Groove, a raucous comedy directed by Mark Dindal, starring Spade as a selfish, vain emperor who involuntarily transforms into a llama và winds up befriending a kindly peasant, this one played by John Goodman. Eartha Kitt remained as the villain, now joined by a delightfully conflicted henchman voiced by Seinfeld’s Patrick Warburton. New Groove would ultimately feature only two songs written by Sting — one, a Vegas-style number performed by Tom Jones, and the other, a closing credits song performed by Sting himself (for which he was nominated for an Oscar). Racing against an impossible deadline rumored lớn be imposed by an impending Happy Meal deal, the final film was, in the words of one its co-creators, the result of the “funniest writers’ room you could possibly have. A table of people who had nothing lớn lose.”
While all this was going on, however, there was a third movie — a behind-the-scenes documentary called The Sweatbox, directed by Sting’s wife, Trudie Styler, and John Paul Davidson, which over the course of production went from being an informative making-of lớn a riveting, no-holds-barred, occasionally funny, often heartbreaking look at how the Disney sausage is made, and sometimes unmade. Premiering at festivals in 2002, The Sweatbox ultimately proved so awkwardly truthful that Disney has refused khổng lồ release it, though the film does occasionally pop up on YouTube and torrent sites.
So, uh, how — & why — did all of this happen? Here is the oral history of The Emperor’s New Groove, an irreverent, pratfall-heavy, non sequitur of an animated movie that so defied Disney’s painstakingly deliberate traditions, it’s hard lớn believe it actually exists today.
I. Once upon a time, there was a movie called The Kingdom of the Sun …
By the mid-1990s, the Disney Renaissance was in full bloom after the success of films lượt thích Beauty & the Beast, Aladdin, & The Lion King. The studio was looking to lớn expand its footprint with films phối in various cultures, beginning khổng lồ work on titles such as Pocahontas and Mulan. It was in this atmosphere, in ’94, that The Lion King director Roger Allers began developing The Kingdom of the Sun, an epic, romantic, musical adventure based on Incan myths.
Roger Allers (director, The Kingdom of the Sun): I had finished Lion King and was looking around to lớn see what to vì chưng next. Disney was starting to push to vày things mix in other cultures. Tom Schumacher
In their creation myth of the world there was a god named Viracocha who brought light to lớn the world by throwing a rope around a distant star and pulling it lớn the earth. That image khổng lồ me was really exciting. The most stunning visual in the film would have been the conclusion, where the sun is roped and pulled into this writhing mass of dark images. I was hoping it would be a mix of mythology, humor, romance. I had looked at Prisoner of Zenda as a story, about a prince and his distant cousin who are dead ringers. The prince has enemies that want khổng lồ kidnap him và the look-alike cousin has to stand in for him. It was also reflective of The Prince and the Pauper. & I thought up the character of Yzma, the high priestess who wants khổng lồ take over and regain her lost youth và beauty. The comic villains had always been my favorite characters in all the films. She was funny, và long, and skinny, và angular, and you could do lots of physical humor with her.
Michael Eisner wanted me to lớn interview Barbara Streisand to play Yzma. I went & met with her in London. But I was so happy lớn cast Eartha Kitt in the role. With these older divas, you can be a little afraid of getting in the room. With Eartha, at our first meeting, I’d just come back from a research trip lớn Peru, and I brought her back a bunch of Peruvian textiles — these wonderful geometric patterns — as a gift, and she immediately opened up.Owen Wilson was the lead, the llama herder, Pacha. I think he had just done Bottle Rocket, so no one really knew him, but he had this kind of slow, drawly way of speaking, which felt lượt thích an equivalent of someone from out in the sticks. & of course, we were familiar with David Spade from Saturday Night Live. They were a fun contrast.
David Spade (Kuzco): It was me và Owen Wilson. We were going khổng lồ switch jobs. I was an emperor & he was a peasant, and Carla Gugino was a princess. The first time I did my voice, I was naïvely saying, “What vị you want? This kind of guy? A deep voice? Or an emperor like, ‘Ooh,’ a highfalutin guy?” & they said, “No, just your nasally, normal, annoying, sarcastic voice.”
Mark Dindal (director, The Emperor’s New Groove): I came on in the beginning stages of storyboard. I don’t think a story reel had been put together yet. I was brought on lớn help that process. At that time, they were having co-directors: Roger was the director and I was the co-director, kind of lượt thích a co-pilot — someone to tỷ lệ thoát ideas off of, because it’s a very collaborative medium.
II. Sting comes onboard, with a twist.
After the breakup of the Police, Sting had become a massive international solo star. Meanwhile, Elton John’s songs for The Lion King had proven to lớn be unforgettable. It only made sense that the company would now approach another star to vày something similar: to lớn compose a broad variety of songs khổng lồ enhance a film’s musical-theater-style appeal — which was, after all, part of the Disney formula.
Allers: I had put a year or more in before I had the idea of asking Sting if he would like to do the music. On one of his albums, he had something that was Latin American–sounding. We met with Sting at his trang chủ in England which is sort of near Stonehenge. I met his wife Trudie. They were very gracious people. Pretty shortly after that, Trudie came up with the idea of doing a documentary about Sting’s experience on a Disney film. She and her filmmaker J.P. Davidson would come periodically và canvass us, film things, interview people. They got to lớn watch the whole up và down of the movie.
Randy Fullmer (producer): I think Tom Schumacher wanted to keep Sting in the boat. He was afraid Sting had an unrealistic idea of how bumpy the ride would be, that Sting would get exasperated with the process và walk away. So, he thought, If Trudie’s doing a documentary, it’s another way to lớn lock them into the process.
I think Sting taught math in school at one point; he kept a notebook that looked like a mathematician’s notebook, maybe 100 pages of really tight detailed beats. He would ask, “Is there a template tuy vậy you have in mind? Is there a popular tuy nhiên that you think, Oh, it would be great if it was lượt thích that?” It wouldn’t be that he would copy that song, but he would look at the phraseology và the construction of that particular song.
You could tell he got kind of uptight và a little annoyed with us, because it didn’t go the way he thought it would go. He was so anxious khổng lồ get going that he kept jumping ahead of us. Sometimes you would drop a character that was going khổng lồ be the person singing that song.
Allers: Sting wrote five or six songs, none of which made it into The Emperor’s New Groove because the tone of it was so different. I love the one he wrote for Yzma, “Snuff Out the Light,” where she goes down khổng lồ the catacombs & has a song and dance with all the mummies.
III. The Bake-Off.
All Disney films famously went through years of development và production, with different ideas & approaches constantly being reviewed & discarded, often after contentious screenings of work-in-progress versions of a movie. At first, The Kingdom of the Sun was no different. But after a couple of years, it seemed that less progress than usual was being made on the film, at least according khổng lồ Disney executives. This resulted in a decision that was unprecedented at the time — caused partly by the surprisingly precarious position in which the company was finding itself in the late 1990s.
David Reynolds (screenwriter): I had been one of the original writers on Late Night With Conan O’Brien. I started that show up in 1993, & was there till 1995, then came back lớn L.A. I hadn’t slept in two years. I started rewriting on Tarzan. Then I worked on A Bug’s Life. I started stacking up jobs. A couple of weeks on Dinosaur. Changes to Atlantis or Toy Story II. Like an old studio writer. In the middle of that, they said, “Come on over to lớn Kingdom of the Sun.” I saw the whole story — the Prince and the Pauper, then everything goes to lớn darkness, và you’ve got to lớn rope the sun. It wasn’t very funny. They asked me to lớn rework dialogue và that kind of stuff.
Fullmer: With Kingdom of the Sun, it seemed so promising at first. There were so many elements, all of which were fun and good. Yzma was terrific. Sting was doing fantastic music. But I think Roger tried to lớn hang onto too many elements. I met a very nice woman on a plane once coming back from New York, where we’d recorded Sting. She was like, “Oh, you work at Disney. What are you doing?” Blah, blah, blah. “Oh, my. So, what the movie’s about.” I feel like I talked until we got khổng lồ Los Angeles, trying lớn explain it all. Và I realized, Okay, this is not good. There’s too much here.
Chris Williams (storyboard artist): I was there for a good long run while it was still Kingdom of the Sun. Getting a story together is really challenging. I mean, every movie is hard. But it was a difficult period where we just weren’t getting the traction.
Allers: It started off as just a chipping away. I’d have to take this out, that out, change this. It was becoming reduced, and then it wasn’t quite as interesting as it started off. There was an article where some writer did a comparison of all the Disney films — maybe it was all the modern canon, I don’t remember — and made it look like they were all the same. They all had a hero. They all had a villain. They all had a love song. I think it freaked Peter
Fullmer: Roger had been thinking about this for a long time before we started the movie. He was charmed by Peru & the culture. Some people are completely in love with originality and being super-authentic with parts of the culture. & other people, it’s like, “Eh, that doesn’t really matter. We’re here khổng lồ entertain people.” That’s a debate that goes on often at Disney.
Don Hahn (executive producer): First of all, every Disney movie feels flat when you start out. If you read Ed Catmull’s book about Pixar, every movie is awful the first six times. Then on the seventh time it’s kind of good. So that was the case. Jeffrey Katzenberg had left in ’94. He was a huge part of our lives. There was some găng tay going on between Roy Disney và Michael Eisner, and I think we were looking for some change in a new direction. That era was just us reaching out in a number of directions, trying khổng lồ find out, is there a genre, an approach we can take that doesn’t involve the Broadway musicals that we love and tried on for so many years?
Peter Schneider (president of Walt Disney Feature Animation): In the ’90s, before Jeffrey Katzenberg left town và started DreamWorks, Disney had a hundred or so of the best artists in the world. Và other studios had one. Và when you have all the đứng đầu artists in the world, you can probably bởi no wrong. But as Pixar grew, as blue Sky grew, as DreamWorks grew, as the business became competitive financially, other people recruited 15, 10, trăng tròn of our top people. We were fighting a war of survival. If you really want lớn put a finger on it, Jeffrey was as maniacal as Trump was. “I’m going to destroy Michael Eisner!” That’s the residue of what was happening in this period.
Steve Anderson (story supervisor): I was asked lớn come on khổng lồ Kingdom of the Sun, just to help out for a screening, which they vì oftentimes if they need a couple extra wrists, for maybe a month or something. It may have been their third or fourth screening. But it turned out that it was the screening — the one that imploded. We all left the theater that we have on the first floor in feature animation. We marched up khổng lồ the story room on the third floor. They had tables phối up in a big square. Everybody took their place. Tom Schumacher & Peter Schneider, the heads of the studio, came in, sat down, closed the door. Tom said, “We just want khổng lồ thank everyone for their work on the screening, and we’d like to ask you to lớn leave now. We want to talk with Mark and Roger.” Next thing we know, Roger’s whole vision was in question, & the movie’s future as well.
Hahn: Roger was and is a really revered artist. The Little Mermaid và then Beauty and the Beast — just an amazing artist, storyteller.
Williams: I do remember after one of the screenings, either Tom or Peter said, “Roger, if it wasn’t you, I think I’d be pressing a button right now.”
Anderson: I remember people saying there’s too many elements in the movie. It was Prince and the Pauper. It was also the transformation of somebody into a llama. It was Yzma, who wants to lớn raise the dead, snuff out the light, và have a world of darkness, but she also wants eternal youth và beauty. So it’s like, okay, but which one does she want?
Allers: I just felt lượt thích we were losing any sense of the culture. I know that’s not on everyone’s mind at the studio, “Let’s vì chưng films lớn honor cultures.” The bottom line is, “Let’s vì entertaining films that everybody’s going to lớn want to go see with their kids.” I get that, but hopefully one does both.
Williams: I think Tom & Peter were looking at this story & the room & hearing the input. They felt that there was probably one faction that was more connected lớn the story as it existed, và wanting lớn refine it. And then they heard other people giving opinions that suggested there might be a completely different movie out there. So, that was the impetus for Tom and Peter deciding to vày something which was, I think, pretty unheard of, và not something I necessarily would recommend: They split the team into two halves!
Allers: They gave Mark Dindal a small crew, và me a small crew, to come up with two different versions of the story. Which is just kind of awful to lớn compete against each other.
Hahn: It was a bake-off, plain and simple. Katzenberg, rightly or wrongly, would say, “Okay, we’re doing Pocahontas. It’s Dances With Wolves meets Romeo & Juliet. We’re doing that.” The bake-off was more about indecision in the ranks. There was a lack of executive leadership that could just say, “We’re doing this và then we’re doing that.”
Williams: Up until that moment, it was clear what we’re all trying to do, which is to tư vấn Roger & help him make his movie. Suddenly, my job changed. My job was now khổng lồ work with Mark to try to lớn help develop another movie, & we were competing with Roger. It was probably one of the most stressful periods of my life.
Anderson: I got pulled onto both teams, so I was pinging back and forth. Và it was really uncomfortable, because even though everyone could sort of acknowledge that the <Kingdom of the Sun> movie wasn’t working, everybody just loved Roger & believed so much in him. It was so sad lớn watch things crumble for him. Và then I had to lớn go over lớn Mark and do his thing, which was super-fun. But I felt like a weird traitor or something, hopping back và forth between both teams.
Tracey Miller-Zarneke (assistant production manager: story/publicity): I spent a lot of unique time with
Williams: I really was not thrilled with the fact that they were doing the documentary. We had precious little time, và our story meetings were critical. But we would have these film crews running around behind us. A story meeting is a difficult thing, because people have lớn present their ideas. You’re making yourself vulnerable. It can be scary. I can see these moments where a story artist would start khổng lồ say something, & then literally, a boom mic would swing across the room và hover over them.
Allers: I remember after having the worst screening, J.P. Interviewed me right before going in và right after coming out with all the bad news. It was like, “Wow, I’m going to lớn have to pull myself up by my collar to do this interview.”
John Paul Davidson (director, The Sweatbox): I thought Kingdom of the Sun was great. It seemed more like a classic Disney thing. I thought that Sting had written a couple of songs which were some of his very best. They were incredibly moving và complex. It had this mythic element, with all the Incas, plus a love story. It was going to lớn be a terrific film, in the same realm of Lion King. It was a shock when it all bit the dust.
Williams: So we all got back together. It was a strange meeting, where both teams are sitting together in the big story room. Tom & Peter were the judges. Roger went first and he pitched some of his new ideas and what he wanted to adjust. Then, we got up and pitched. Even more than probably pitching a story or new characters, we were pitching a tone. We were suggesting a radically different tone than what Kingdom of the Sun had been. A lot of what was funny about it was just how preposterous it was. & I’d never heard Tom & Peter laugh before. They were almost literally on the floor laughing. You felt which way the wind was blowing. & Roger was incredibly gracious. He stepped in & said, “I can feel which way this is going, và I totally understand. I appreciate what’s good about what they’re doing.” So, he made it easier on Tom và Peter. He made it easier on all of us. After working for a very, very long time on this other movie … rather than thinking about himself, he thought about everybody else in the room.
Dindal: Roger and I spoke on the phone. I had come on to lớn be his co-director, not take the movie & run with it in another direction.
Allers: I could have stayed on as a directing partner, but I just didn’t think I could vì chưng it. I had put so much into it. I mean, it was four years developing, and the movie was lượt thích one-third animated. It was just going khổng lồ be too disheartening for me. I had no resentment towards anybody who took over the film. I myself had worked with another director on the early versions of Lion King before he was taken off & I was teamed up with somebody else. It happens so often.
Hahn: Brenda Chapman got taken off of Brave, which is her story about her & her daughter! It’s almost a tradition at a certain point.
Schneider: We fired Richard Purdum off of Beauty and the Beast. This is the way the business worked.
IV. “A table of people who had nothing to lớn lose.”
So, by 1999, the epic Incan mythological adventure-romance-musical about a llama herder and a prince changing places while a megalomaniacal priestess attempts lớn plunge the world into darkness, had become a goofy, irreverent buddy comedy being written by “probably the funniest writers’ room you could possibly have.” That room had approximately a year to get it done.
Allers: When they went with Mark’s version, the one thing they didn’t do was change the release date. So the Kingdom of the Sun release date became The Emperor’s New Groove release date.
Fullmer: We had a year, literally, to put that whole thing together. There’s a deadline because we got a McDonald’s Happy Meal that has lớn come on a certain date, and there are big fines to lớn pay if you don’t bởi vì that.
Reynolds: I remember early on when I was working on Tarzan. It was around a quarter to six or seven, and somebody says, “Well, okay, that’s it. I’m just going khổng lồ leave it here và then we’ll pick it up tomorrow.” và I said, “Oh, so are we ordering dinner now?” và they said, “What? We don’t bởi vì that. No, we’re going home. These characters aren’t going anywhere. We’ve got four years khổng lồ make this thing.” I just couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that you could leave things mid-sentence basically.
Hahn: You put Mark with Randy, with Dave Reynolds, with all those guys, it was probably the funniest writers’ room you could possibly have. A table of people who had nothing khổng lồ lose.
Williams: We recognized that two things were really working well from Kingdom of the Sun: David Spade as Kuzco và Eartha Kitt as Yzma. “Well, what if we just started with those two things? Just hold on lớn those two things & build from them.” I suggested that we come up with a different character than the Pacha that was in Kingdom of the Sun.
What’s the opposite of David Spade’s Kuzco? I imagined an older character. A bigger, heavier character. A family man, someone who took the responsibility seriously. A selfless character. Và I remember drawing this big sort of mountain of a dude, sitting on a little hill with a llama, & saying, “This is a Pacha that I think could work.”
Miller-Zarneke: That brainstorm of having Pacha be the father figure that Kuzco never had — once they came up with that, they were like, “Well, who would be an amazing father that you’d want to have?” John Goodman. I don’t remember them talking seriously about anybody else.
John Goodman (Pacha): I can’t remember whether I’d worked for Disney yet or not. They had all the storyboards up & the character sketches, the models, & told me what the guy was about. I thought I’d be working with David Spade. That was one of the draws. We did a couple of sketches on SNL & I think he’s brilliant. But I don’t remember going in with him at all. It was just isolated. I would have liked to lớn meet Eartha Kitt. I dug her.
Dindal: Yzma always kind of grew out of Eartha’s wonderful personality. I vị remember thinking when we were first going to lớn pitch her the new idea, I wonder if she’ll think this is too silly, just nonsense and ridiculous.
Allers: I could never believe the energy in that woman. How old was she when we were working together? She would come into the recording booth and do these stretches, stretching her leg up over her head lượt thích a dancer does. And she had this unpredictable way of reading lines. If you already had an idea of how you thought this line was supposed lớn read, you forgot about it. It was better to lớn just see what kind of crazy interpretations she’d come up with.
V. Let there be Kronk …
Yzma: So, is everything ready for tonight?
Kronk: Oh yeah, I thought we’d start off with soup và a light salad, and then see how we feel after that.
Yzma: Not the dinner! You know … ?
Kronk : Oh, right. The poison, the poison for Kuzco, the poison chosen especially to lớn kill Kuzco, Kuzco’s poison. That poison?
Reynolds: When we were first starting out, Chris Williams had this really funny storyboard where
Williams: I’d seen the Steve Martin movie, Roxanne. That guy — the fireman. I think the actor’s name is Rick Rossovich. He also gets beat up by the Terminator. Poor Rick Rossovich probably doesn’t know what a huge influence he was on Kronk. I had storyboarded this sample scene: The Emperor’s guards were coming to kick people out of the town. Và Pacha — at that point it was still a younger Pacha — went to lớn confront the guards, & there was one guard who was sort of the precursor khổng lồ Kronk. Pacha tried khổng lồ distract him by getting him to lớn talk about his physique và how fit he looked. And the guard went down this rabbit hole of talking about his exercise regimen and got lost in it. He said the key was “DEPD: Discipline, Exercise, and Proper Diet.” It was so weird that it killed. It was bonkers. But I felt like, A window is opening here at Disney Feature Animation that is not going to stay open very long.
Reynolds: I laughed so hard at that guy. I said, “You know who that is?” I said, “That’s Patrick Warburton.” và everybody said, “Who’s that?” I go, “You know, the guy from Seinfeld. He plays Puddy.”
Patrick Warburton (Kronk): I remember thinking lớn myself, when I was looking at some of this dialogue, Kronk, is he an ogre, a giant, a robot, a monster? I’m not really sure. Oh, Kronk is a person. Okay. What I was able to decipher was that he was a henchman, but something of a reticent henchman, not so aggressive or nasty. He liked khổng lồ cook. And I thought, “Well, okay, he’s not deep and gravelly.” As an actor, you’re always looking for different options. I went with one where I just thought … I brought his voice <speaks in a whispery Kronk voice> right down here, a little more whispery. Và he’d get <voice breaks> excited about stuff. There’s something kind of sweet about that.
Reynolds: I remember someone said, “Well, we don’t really need that character.” và I go, “Wait, the guy next to Yzma? Yeah, no, his name’s Kronk. Chris calls him Kronk. & I think he could be really funny.” They go, “Yeah, we don’t think we need him.” I said through desperation, “Let me write a scene & let’s just see.” I have no clue what he could do, or any attributes other than what we just saw in that one scene where he shows his abs, which is not going in the movie. I just have a voice in my head và the look of the guy. Somehow, we just came up with the idea: “Let’s just write a dinner tiệc nhỏ scene. The dinner buổi tiệc nhỏ scene where he poisons Kuzco.”
Williams: Dave Reynolds came in & he was like, “I think Kronk should be a great cook! & he should make spinach puffs!” and I was like, “Yeah, that’s what he should do.” It was that kind of vibe. Where people could just come in & say, “I think Kronk should make spinach puffs.” and we’re like, “Yep, go with it, dude.”
Reynolds: I go trang chủ and I’m sitting there. I start with Yzma. You find a line khổng lồ get you in, & hopefully the rest will come. I go, “Is everything ready for tonight?” and then I go, “I think we’ll start with soup và a light salad, see how we feel after that.” & I just thought, Holy shit! It’s all about the dinner
And Warburton was like hitting a home run every single time he opened his mouth because he understood Kronk. Mark had this idea, “I was thinking that when Kronk was running with the bag, he’d have his own theme music in his head, but he would sing it out loud. Lượt thích when you were a kid, you’re running around…” Warburton just goes, “I got you. Here we go…”
Warburton: My own theme song, Kronk’s theme song, I improvised that.
Reynolds: He made me such a good writer because he could flip everything for me the way I liked it and make it make sense. He was just so good to lớn write for.
Warburton: Eartha and I had actually worked together before that. We did some horrible movies in South Africa back in 1985 <Dragonard & Master of Dragonard Hill>. Oliver Reed was the villain. Eartha Kitt ran the bordello. I’m the one white slave. Now, I was 22 years old. I rowed crew in college, so I was still in pretty damn good shape. Và it’s one of these exploitation-type films. So once they got me up on the blocks, of course, the women have their husbands there, và they’re twirling their parasols, like, “Darling, I want that one.” to reiterate, these are the worst movies ever made. My wish is that nobody would ever see them ever again — because as bad as these movies are, I truly was the worst thing in them. Oliver Reed, who sometimes would start with a little bit of whiskey at 10 in the morning, is really the only watchable thing in them. He was relegated khổng lồ doing crappy movies like ours because they couldn’t insure a major production with him at the time. Finally, he garnered some trust and they hired him on Gladiator… and he died, making Gladiator, drunk in a bar on the island of Malta. I think he was arm wrestling a rugby team. I might have one of these details wrong. It cost them millions of dollars in post.
But what’s really funny is after we’d done those films, Eartha was performing at the Roosevelt Hotel. I went to lớn see her perform. She invites me up to lớn her room and excuses her butler, và we’re just sitting there. I am on one over of the couch, và Eartha is on the other end. Và she’s petting this furry creature, this animal — I can’t tell if it’s a dog or a cat. I’m a 22-year-old kid on the other over of the couch with Eartha Kitt. We were worlds apart. I look at Kronk and Yzma. Oh, my God, art has just copied reality here. I just thought back khổng lồ me and Eartha, 15 years before.
VI. Meanwhile, remember Sting?
As the years wore on, Sting, who had originally signed up for what he assumed would be a two-year gig, was starting khổng lồ get frustrated. The epic musical he envisioned was no more, replaced by a goofy movie he was a lot less interested in. But the production was determined to lớn keep him onboard.
Hahn: Sting was a real mensch. When he saw the movie changing from the thing he signed up for, he sent a nice letter saying, “I didn’t sign up for this, good luck.” But Randy wasn’t going to lớn let him resign. He was like, “Okay. We’ll talk next week & then we’ll send you the new assignment.” Sting would say, “No, you don’t understand.” Randy và Mark were persistent about keeping him involved. In the kết thúc he had some really great work in the movie. But I think it’s a difficult memory for him, because he wanted to vì what Elton John did on Lion King.
Fullmer: It was a bumpy ride. He quit about five times, & I talked him into staying five times.
Dindal: All the very difficult things ended up Randy’s job. Bless him. He did what a producer is supposed lớn do, which is shield the creative.
Fullmer: Sting liked Kingdom of the Sun. You can see it in the documentary, where Tom and Peter are ripping it apart, and Sting is saying, “Well, I kind of lượt thích it.” He liked the different elements & the complexity. By the time we got to lớn Emperor’s New Groove, I remember talking about it. & he said, “Yeah, yeah. I mean, that’s all good. I’m not against any of that, but it’s just not a big idea.” He wanted a big movie. He wanted to see characters singing his songs. The very end tuy vậy he did, over the end credits, was beautiful, but he was disappointed that there weren’t characters singing that song.
Hahn: I remember going khổng lồ Sting’s house in Malibu with Mark and Randy, the three of us, and we had to stop and get gas at a station beforehand. Sting’s house was one of those houses in the Colony right on the ocean, and there was a camera crew there. They missed our entrance, so we had to vày our entrance twice. We came in và hugged Sting và said, “Oh, so good lớn see you,” và then we had to bởi it again. Sting’s longtime agent was there. Just a very high-pressure meeting. Afterwards, we went back to lớn the same gas station because we had been so nervous, we couldn’t go the bathroom in Sting’s house. We all left and we’re driving away. Someone said, “I’ve got lớn pee really bad.” “Yeah, so vị I.” We all go in this bathroom & release large amounts of urine.
VII. How vị you improvise an animated film?
Since the earliest days of Walt Disney himself, Disney movies had always been elegant, deliberate, detailed affairs — with each animated frame revealing the years of work that often went into a film. So what happens when the studio bets on a more off-the-cuff, go-for-broke humor?
Reynolds: During recording sessions, Mark và I have a system where I pitch into Mark’s ear. Like, Mark’s on the floor with the talent. I’m behind glass.
Dindal: I wore a set of headphones & I was in liên hệ with Dave
Spade: They’d let you goof around and say, “Do this. Vì more of that. Yeah. Have fun with that.” That’s when it’s really fun because I don’t really know the whole movie. I was just not wanting to be embarrassed because I didn’t hear anyone else’s parts. I just knew that I was doing mine out of sequence and rambling so much và throwing in so many throwaway jokes that I was just hoping some would stay in.
Reynolds: The thing with Spade was trying to get him to lớn stop improvising. He’s a comedian, so he’d think of hilarious lines that were lượt thích calls out lớn George Bush or Michael Jackson. We’re like, “No, no. This is timeless, no references, no references.”
Spade: I think they got sick of me by the end, because it was just forever. They kept bringing me. & I kept saying, “I thought it was over.” Then they’d go, “No. You got to do this.” I was getting frustrated going, “Am I bad? This movie is not ending.” By the over of it I was just hoping it would be okay. I really was telling everyone I was going to lớn be in a Disney movie.
Goodman: It wore me out. I don’t want to sound whiny, it’s not lượt thích laying brick or anything. But just sustaining energy
Spade: They film you to lớn see if they can figure out a way to get the face khổng lồ look a little lượt thích yours & the expressions và things you vì chưng with it. So you yêu thích it up a bit.
Hahn: This is a terrible thing khổng lồ tell you và you don’t necessarily need to lớn print this, but David Spade would always vày better if we had lights there & a camera crew — even if it wasn’t a real camera crew. The recording stage is kind of dark và dim. It’s lượt thích a music recording stage. He’s there with the microphone. He just didn’t have any energy. Then we would turn on some shooting lights & have a clip camera, so he had somebody lớn perform to. I think when you’re a stand-up comic and you’re looking for a reaction, you benefit from having those lights và knowing you’re on. Eddie Murphy was the same way.
VIII. “This quickly became a movie where a trampoline salesman makes sense.”
That’s what happens.
Miller-Zarneke: Mark and Randy knew how to lớn bring out the best in people. It was a healing process, I think, really. I can’t name someone who didn’t have a good time working on this show — once we finally figured out what the show was.
Dindal: If it was an hour story meeting, sometimes for 45 minutes we would laugh, tell stories. If you walked into the room, you’d think, “What are we paying these people for?” & then the last 15 minutes, we’d really lock in. I didn’t feel lượt thích we’re just goofing around. This is part of the process.
Anderson: As documented in The Sweatbox, meetings oftentimes would turn into things like chair races. There was a big table in the middle of the room, but then the periphery was sort of open. So you would take the chairs with wheels on it, và with your feet, you would scoot yourself backwards, around the table, và you’d be racing somebody.
Miller-Zarneke: I was like the den mother. Younger than a lot of them, but still the one calling people back in. “Okay, guys. Guys, guys: that board over there, let’s go back khổng lồ that.”
Dindal: It was just the perfect dynamic of people. Years later, I saw John Cleese talk about Monty Python và creativity, and he spoke about how you have khổng lồ get your brain in a place where it can be spontaneously fun. You can’t just sit down and go, “Right, let’s be funny.”
Reynolds: Our whole story crew became lượt thích one brain. We were talking about the opening song that we were going to do. They’re trying to think of somebody who can sing it. I live in L.A., and I’m driving into Disney, & I hear Tom Jones on something. I think, Tom Jones should sing the song! I have lớn remember that. I drive in, I come in, I go, “Mark, I got lớn tell you something. I know who’s going khổng lồ sing the song.” He goes, “We had an idea.” I go, “Who?” He said, “Tom Jones.” I go, “Tom Jones!” & all of a sudden, a third person comes in and goes, “Hey, have you guys thought of Tom Jones for that song? Kind of like a Vegas thing?”
Dindal: Story rooms, often someone will pitch an idea almost as a joke & then someone else goes, “That’s funny. But what are we really going to do?” This was the only movie I worked on where someone pitched an idea like that and we went, “Let’s use that.” like Yzma,
Reynolds: At one point during the middle of a story meeting, Randy came in and said, “Okay, Disney-ESPN is doing a promotion, và they’re going to start showing the World Double Dutch Jump Roping Championship. So, if you could work jump-roping into the movie that would be fantastic.” & we went, “Yeah, no problem, no problem.” They walk out. Và we’re all like, “Jump-roping?!?” But I go, “Look at the movie we have. Of course we can figure in jump-roping!” and then all of a sudden, in literally three minutes, we had Kronk jump-roping.
We had a whole version where Pacha takes Kuzco khổng lồ the đứng đầu of the mountain. He comes up with this idea: If we can keep him here as this talking llama, he’ll get to lớn know the people & won’t want khổng lồ displace them. So Pacha, John Goodman, says lớn all the villagers, “Listen, this llama thinks he’s the Emperor. Just play along.” So Kuzco is walking around, going, “I’m your emperor.” and everybody goes, “Yes, sire.” We actually had Adam West come in và play a part. He comes up & says, “Your Highness. I know it’s you.” He goes, “The rebels are ready lớn help you escape.” The thing is, Kuzco finds that Adam West is crazy; his army is a bunch of scarecrows. But anyway,
Williams: At some point, I was like, “My gosh, what can’t be in this movie? I need khổng lồ know.” There was another meeting, back when the idea was that Kuzco would be trapped in the village, & he’s meeting all these weird & interesting people. I was suggesting a pitch like, “Hey, what if we did a split screen, where you have him in all these different scenarios & he’s being overwhelmed?” So there’s a split screen into two
Fullmer: I’ve only told this to a few people. Tom Schumacher did not come to lớn my office ever, except one time. Và he was almost crying, ready to thất bại it. He said, “I don’t know if you know what you’re doing or not, but I am not going over across the street and telling Michael Eisner that we’ve spent $40 million, & we have nothing to lớn show.” He said, “I’m banking on you guys lớn get something done, because we’ve invested so much, and we need something.”
IX. “Oh, we made that.”
The Emperor’s New Groove turned out lớn be like no other Disney movie before or since — and, perhaps understandably, the studio didn’t really know what to vì with it. Nevertheless, audiences in 2000 found it, some in theaters, many, many more on trang chủ video. (So much so that the film eventually inspired a straight-to-video sequel in 2005, và then an Emmy-winning animated series from 2006 to lớn 2008.) The Kingdom of the Sun became the movie that never was, an ambitious, magical project that now exists in its creators’ dreams and in work-in-progress cuts buried deep in the Disney vaults. The Sweatbox, meanwhile, has become the finished movie Disney doesn’t want you khổng lồ see, transforming from what was supposed lớn be a promotional documentary to an intimate, hilarious, heartbreaking glimpse into what really happens behind the scenes of an animated project.
Williams: I remember seeing a poster
Miller-Zarneke: I was still in that publicity-slash–ancillary tư vấn role, so I was in those meetings with Consumer Products. Disney Interactive folks were super-excited to lớn put a trò chơi out. But we were like, “Is somebody going to make a Kuzco plush? Tell me there’s a llama, there’s a stuffed llama somewhere? Come on. Yzma kitty? So cute. Somebody? Come on.”
Anderson: I believe it was the wrap tiệc ngọt that was the first time I saw
Allers: I didn’t go lớn anything until the final screening for the studio before the wrap party. I remember seeing it in Grauman’s Chinese Theater. It was an exercise in letting go và appreciating what someone else has done. I could appreciate their comic timing. Colin Stimpson was the art director, & when they changed it lớn being a more lighthearted film they pushed the design elements of the Incan architecture và made it way more extreme. The character designs were snappy. They had Joe Moshier, a wonderful character designer. I had just started working with him on Kingdom but they kept him for Groove.
Goodman: I was just surprised that they actually put everything together, & the whole was better than the sum of the parts.
Reynolds: We opened horribly, like $9 million. We ended at $90 million. We had a multiplier of ten. Nobody ever has a multiplier of ten. The Disney machine, which is massive, can market anything. But what is this thing? They couldn’t promote it.
Davidson: There were some beautiful songs Eartha Kitt did. I think there’s a sense of a sadness that Roger had, và also Sting — this work that you’ve spent a lot of time perfecting actually doesn’t get out there lớn the world.
Allers: I mean the one tuy nhiên “Snuff Out the Light,” we were almost done with that in animation. Sometimes I just think, Oh, just for curiosity’s sake they should just release it, khổng lồ show people this tuy nhiên with Eartha Kitt as the Yzma character. It’s locked away in the archives somewhere. It kind of drives me crazy.
Spade: I got to know Sting a little bit on SNL, and then Trudie and Sting I knew throughout the years. One day, she said, “Do you know how crazy that whole story was?” I didn’t see the documentary. They told me a little bit about it. It sounds interesting. You’ve got Sting, one of the greatest of all time, and you’ve got the balls to lớn throw his songs away? & then Trudie just happens to be filming? Ay-ay-ay!
Davidson: I think all the people who vì chưng animation are fascinated by The Sweatbox, because it’s not your saccharine making-of documentary. It gets into the sweat & the grit of it all. Disney owns the thing. We don’t have any clout in terms of releasing it ourselves. I would love khổng lồ have released it. It pops up online now và then, and the lawyers take it back immediately.
Schneider: I’m disappointed The Sweatbox didn’t come out. No matter how good or bad we all come off in it. I think it’s an interesting movie. Disney+ is just gobbling things up. So why not just put it out?
Miller-Zarneke: I swear, they probably had 150 hours of footage. The access was unheard of. I think Disney was mortified. So they pretty much buried The Sweatbox. They did let us vì chưng the Academy run
Hahn: A couple years ago I did a ton of appearances. People would introduce me and they would say, “He produced Beauty and the Beast, và Hunchback of Notre Dame, & The Lion King, and executive produced Emperor’s New Groove”… and that was the one that got the reaction.
Williams: I’ve occasionally given talks about story or about movies that I’ve worked on. And the audience usually has little reactions. “I worked on Mulan,” you get a little buzz of a reaction. Moana or Bolt or Big nhân vật 6 or whatever, you get some sort of little reaction from the audience. But the sound is different for The Emperor’s New Groove. It’s a smaller group of people but there’s more passion. It’s my only cult movie. We knew it was not going to kết thúc up being the next Lion King as far as box-office success. But even that was sort of thrilling. It was an energy that I’ve never felt before or since. I just watched the movie again last night, & I was thinking, This shouldn’t exist.
Reynolds: This happened a week ago: My niece is working with somebody và they’re on a Zoom call và they’re small talking and she saw a poster
Spade: I’ve done a lot of movies. That’s the only one I got good đánh giá in, & it wasn’t because of me. I still hear about it all the time. There’s only a handful of things I’ve done that people still talk about, and that’s definitely one of them.
Reynolds: I’ll tell you one other thing about this story that nobody gets. One day, a friend of mine at the studio comes by pushing a two-wheel cart. It had three or four legal boxes on it. He goes, “Okay, Reynolds, thanks for this.”
I go, “What’s that?”
He goes, “This is the Groove, these boxes. This is everything you’ve written.” Anytime you write something & you hand it in, they stamp it and it goes into a box somewhere, because Disney owns it. It’s like that last scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
I go, “What’s that?”
He goes, “The final draft, the whole final script.”
I go, “No script.”
He goes, “There’s no script? What are you talking about?”
I go, “We don’t have a script. We never wrote a script. We just made the movie.”
He goes, “You’ve got khổng lồ have a script. Archives has khổng lồ have a script.”
“I don’t know what to tell you. Tell them lớn go see the movie. It’s in theaters right now.”
He goes, “You guys don’t have bound pages?”
I go, “Nope. We have no bound pages. There’s three or four legal boxes. You can have all you want. I saw them the other day.”
They had a couple interns just take all the pages & put them into a document, và then they wrote interstitials, & they slapped my name on it. This is the honest-to-God truth: The first and only draft of The Emperor’s New Groove was handed in two weeks after the movie was in theaters.
As well as working on The Lion King stage musical, Allers would go on lớn direct the Sony hit Open Season và the acclaimed independent animated film The Prophet.“Today, looking back, what was it that made us come up with this ridiculous schedule of one