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Jim Hill: From the Archives
Page 1 of 5

by Jim Hill (archives)
May 8, 2001
Originally published in September 2000, this articles looks at the behind-the-scenes story of how Kingdom of the Sun became the Emperor's New Groove. Part 1 of 2.

LaughingPlace.com continues its publishing of "Jim Hill: From the Archives" with this article, originally published in September 2000.

Main.jpg (11069 bytes)
(c) Disney

The Long Story Behind the Emperor's New Groove
In spite of years of production problems, Disney may have a hit on its hands with "The Emperor's New Groove." But animation insiders ask: Did the Mouse sacrifice a better movie to make way for a gag- filled cartoon?

Part One: A Three Year Trip Down the Wrong Road

You've undoubtedly heard the stories.

One director let go. Six songs by an Grammy winning artist cut from the score. Three years worth of work tossed aside, millions upon millions of dollars of finished footage left on the cutting room floor -- all in an attempt to save a troubled animated feature from the scrap heap.

But -- as "The Emperor's New Groove" enters the final phase of its production -- the mood inside Disney Feature Animation is actually pretty upbeat. Mind you, no one's saying that the creation of this animated film was anything less than an ordeal. (There were veteran Disney artists who actually left town, bailing out of Burbank, rather than spend another minute working on this movie.) But -- buoyed by the better- than- expected response of test audiences who've actually seen the work-in-progress version of "Groove" -- it looks like all the protracted agony that's been associated with this production may have finally been worth it. The end result appears to be Disney's funniest animated film since 1992's "Aladdin."

Mind you, not everyone's laughing. There are still folks at Feature Animation who believe that Disney made a serious mistake by opting to go with "Groove" director Mark Dindal's comic take on the tale. They feel that if the studio had just stuck with director Roger Aller's original vision for this film, it could have been an animated masterpiece.

Still others at the Mouse House wonder why Feature Animation had to go through all this agony in the first place. They worry that Disney's toon development process has become severely compromised, thanks to mindless micro-management of studio executives who are so afraid of losing their jobs that they constantly second guess themselves.

Believe you me. As exciting as "The Emperor's New Groove" may turn out to be, the real heart- pounding drama took place behind-the-scenes on this film.

Right from the start, there were people at Disney who were concerned about about "Kingdom of the Sun" (One of several different titles this film had during its four years in production). These folks worried that "Kingdom" 's story (which was basically a loose remake of Mark Twain's classic, "The Prince and the Pauper." Only this time, the story was set among the ancient Incas) was somewhat shopworn. Overly familiar to modern audiences.

Why were Disney executives so certain that Allers could fix whatever was wrong with "Kingdom of the Sun"? Well, you have to understand that -- as production was initially getting underway on this project -- Roger Allers had achieved almost mythic status on the Disney lot. After all, wasn't he (along with his co-director, Rob Minkoff ) the guy who had ridden herd on Disney's most troubled animated film to date, "The Lion King"?

Even so, Disney executives had complete confidence in Roger Allers. They were certain that he could take this tired old idea and turn it into box office gold.

No one at Disney Studios could ever recall an animated motion picture that had as many story problems as "Lion King" had. During that film's first phase of development, the project (which was then called "King of the Jungle") showed such little promise that Disney had trouble convincing its top animators to work on the production. Most of Disney's top toon talent opted instead to work on "Pocahontas," which -- at the time -- appeared to be the stronger of the two films.

Allers spent months straightening out "Lion King"'s problematic script. Characters were tossed out. Whole scenes and storylines fell by the wayside, as Roger did whatever he had to to pull a compelling plot out of the movie's muddled storyline.

The end result I'm sure you know about. Released in the summer of 1994, Disney's "The Lion King" became a phenomenon. Crowds flocked to see this movie again and again, which produced record box office numbers. "The Lion King" currently holds the record for the highest grossing animation film in motion picture history. The movie made $312 million for Disney during its domestic release. Nearly double that when "Lion King" was released overseas.

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