Some, though, just make you smile. The Emperor's New Groove is that kind of release. It's silly and irreverent--really one of the most un-Disney of Disney's animated films--but, it's still one their most fun and purely entertaining pictures. It will be out on Blu-ray in the U.S. this summer.
Emperor's very existence is the stuff of legend. Originally titled Kingdom of the Sun, it was intended to be an ambitious retelling of Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper set in ancient Incan times. Roger Allers began directing Kingdom fresh off his incredible success with The Lion King, but the production bogged down because of creative differences between Allers and Disney management, not to mention poor audience test screenings. Allers was eventually removed from the production and replaced by Mark Dindal, who finished the film that evolved into The Emperor's New Groove. This long process of creative conflict and studio politics was captured by film maker Trudie Styler, who had access to much of the behind-the-scenes wranglings. Styler is the wife of singer-songwriter Sting, who wrote the original songs for Kingdom only to see a scant few of them make the final cut in Emperor. Styler's documentary The Sweatbox has been mostly kept under wraps by Disney, since it depicts the media giant as driven mostly by high-concept commercialism and disdainful of genuine creativity (now there's something we haven't heard before). A rough-cut version of The Sweatbox leaks out online periodically--I saw it as recently as last year--but Disney does a good job of quickly quashing it.
Supporters of Allers will still contend over a dozen years later that had he been given the time and resources to complete his original vision, Kingdom of the Sun had the makings of a classic. Sadly, we'll never know. What we're left with is a film of less lofty aspirations that is nevertheless hugely entertaining. The Emperor's New Groove is about a hip, but egotistical and self-centered young emperor, Kuzco (David Spade), who runs afoul of a sorceress (Eartha Kitt) who means to kill him, but accidentally turns him into a llama instead. It's then up to Kuzco to find redemption with the help of an easy-going farmer (John Goodman) whose land Kuzco had taken to build a summer palace. It's lighthearted fare with plenty of laughs that's right out of the Chuck Jones and Warner Bros. school of animation. The clips below give good examples:
The Emperor's New Groove will be out in a two-movie Blu-ray package along with the direct-to-video sequel Kronk's New Groove on June 11, 2013.