Film review – The Emperor’s New Groove (Mark Dindal, 2000)

The Emperor’s New Groove is widely regarded as the first post-Renaissance-period Disney animated film, the studio having seen huge successes with the ten Renaissance-period films bookended by The Little Mermaid in 1989 and Tarzan in 1999. That The Emperor’s New Groove was not part of this is down to an element of production hell, which caused a more serious and epic romantic comedy titled Kingdom of the Sun – in the same vein as The Lion King – to be thrown away before it evolved into the film we know today. [1]

Central to the original film were six new songs written and performed by Sting. Having seen close friends Phil Collins and Elton John experience huge successes with their films Tarzan and The Lion King respectively, Sting was able to approach the project confident that he would have a success on his hands. The songs themselves reveal a lot about the romantic-comedy themes of the film-that-never-was and help us construct what we missed out on.

Kingdom of the Sun concept art

Kingdom of the Sun concept art

One song we did get to hear was “One Day She’ll Love Me”, a duet with Grammy Award-winning folk-rock singer Shawn Colvin. This appeared on the soundtrack and would have fitted with the original storyline of the pauper (voiced by Owen Wilson) switching places with the emperor and slowly falling in love with his wife-to-be Nina. It was apparently due to appear in a palace party scene and is similar in many ways to “Can You Feel The Love” from The Lion King.

Another couple that appeared on the soundtrack but not in the film were “Snuff Out The Light”, a song to be sung by the villain Yzma (Eartha Kitt); and “Walk The Llama Llama”, a fun song to show the importance of llamas to Incan societies.

Three additional songs that were written by Sting remain unreleased and unidentified. I often wonder whether or not “After The Rain Has Fallen” was one of these songs. The song appeared a year after this film on the album “Brand New Day”, and has a few references that fit (a palace, princess betrothed to a man she doesn’t love) and a few that don’t, but could have been changed to distance it from the film. 

Two further songs were written for the new version of the film: “My Funny Friend and Me” and “Perfect World”. The latter was sung by Tom Jones.

So, whilst we were robbed of a film that could have been up there with some of the best Disney films of the 90s, we instead got a delayed film in a completely different mood but is actually a huge success story considering its journey. The plot makes no sense whatsoever – an emperor is turned into a llama by an evil power-hungry adviser, though he is rescued by a local farmer and the two form a buddy relationship to find the potion to turn him back to a human despite the fact he wanted to build a holiday home over the top of farmer’s house. Somehow, though, it works and we end up with a fast-paced, hilarious and beautifully animated feature film that was one of the last successes for Disney 2D animation before they gave up completely on it with the release of the lackluster 3D animated picture Chicken Little in 2005.

There is a generation of children who grew up loving animated films but for the first time in over a decade these were not Disney films. Instead, there were the excellent Pixar films such as Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo and The Incredibles and the successful Dreamworks films like the Shrek series, Shark Tale and Madagascar. Of the Walt Disney Studios films released in this period, which also includes Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Lilo and Stitch, Treasure Planet, Brother Bear and Home on the Range, The Emperor’s New Groove certainly stands out as the best of an admittedly mediocre bunch.

The Emperor’s New Groove is available to buy on DVD and Blu-Ray now. [2]

[1] The documentary film title The Sweatbox, which remains largely unreleased but for a few appearances online every now and then (it is owned by Disney), follows the problematic production closely and is worth seeking out. It isn’t the fantastic tell-all story people believe it to be but it is extremely interesting and has a few glimpses of how the original film was shaping up.

[2] I found the alternative poster for The Emperor’s New Groove on a site called Deviant Art, and it was done by an artist called Alejandro Cisneros. I don’t know much about the artist but his other artwork is really incredible. Check out his site!


  1. […] Originally set for release in 1999 and with a score of songs written by Sting, it was sadly axed after four years of production. It eventually was reworked and released in 2000 as The Emperor’s New Groove, which was well received on release and stood out as a highlight of a fairly mediocre period of the studio’s history. (My review can be found here). […]


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