There isn't a single movie made today that didn't go through tons of changes from script to the screen. When so many people are involved in the process, from producers to directors to actors, edits and tweaks are unavoidable. But rarely do films go through such a massive shift as the Emperor's New Groove. These days the lighthearted comedy is a fan favorite in part for being one of the funniest cartoons Disney ever made -- but it wasn't always that way.
In its initial stages, The Emperor's New Groove was known as Kingdom of the Sun. This was back in the mid-90s, just after the Lion King and Beauty and the Beast had helped usher in a new era for Disney. Like TENG, Kingdom of the Sun still focused on the Incan civilization, but the story was grander, the tone more in line with "traditional" Disney animated features. This version of the movie did indeed star a cocky young emperor who later turns into a llama, but that's where the similarities end.
For a while there, the emperor's name wasn't Kuzco, but Manco. This was, of course, before everyone figured out that "manco" is pretty close to "omanco," which means "vagina" in Japanese. In the original draft, Manco did befriend a local villager named Pacha, but he wasn't a big lovable John Goodman type as we see in the finished product; instead, Pacha bore a striking resemblance to the emperor himself, with the exception of being voiced by a young Owen Wilson. You can probably tell where this is going. In a classic but predictable move, the two decide to switch places and live in the shoes of their doppelgangers. Yzma is still around in this story (though unfortunately Kronk wouldn't come til later), and once she catches onto their scheme she turns Manco into a llama, leaving the weak-willed Pacha to rule the land underneath her thumb.
If Kingdom of the Sun sounds a little more generic than The Emperor's New Groove, that's because it is. The whole "Prince and the Pauper" switcharoo story has been done to death, with multiple direct adaptations coming from Disney themselves -- and we're not even counting The Parent Trap. Even so, John Watkiss' concept art was is pretty dang nice.
Not only was Kingdom of the Sun more serious (and seriously Kronkless), it was also envisioned as a full-fledged musical. Singer/songwriter/eternal John Constantine cosplayer Sting signed on for soundtrack duties. Yet, the only place his voice can be heard is in the end credits for the film, in a somber but hopeful song that doesn't quite gel with Kronk's Squirrel Scout meeting that caps everything off. For once, something isn't Sting's fault -- he wrote that song for a completely different movie.
As the story goes, Disney wasn't happy about the box office takes of Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and it looked as though the struggling Kingdom of the Sun was headed down the same road. And so, word came from on high that the project was to be shut down and entirely retooled. This is pretty much unheard of for Disney, who had already sunk years of production and $30 million into Kingdom of the Sun. 25% of a finished film was basically thrown out or completely repurposed. This includes almost all of the songs from Sting, who had specifically taken months off of touring to compose for a movie that no longer existed.
Among the cuts were major characters that had been fully designed.
The most prominent female protagonist in The Emperor's New Groove is probably Pacha's wife Chica. That was before the movie was turned into a buddy-bro comedy, of course. In the Kingdom of the Sun era, Kuzco (still Manco back then) actually had a pre-arranged engagement to a girl named Nina. Like everyone else, Nina thought Kuzco was a grade-A prick. But when Pacha secretly swaps in for the emperor, Nina starts to warm to the idea of marrying the "emperor." Sting even wrote a whole song about their romance.
That's not to say Kuzco didn't have his own love interest.
Voiced by Laura Prepon (aka Donna from That 70s Show), Mata seems like she was supposed to be a sharp but sarcastic peasant type that would have brought Kuzco down to earth. It's a nice idea, until you consider the fact that she'd basically have to fall in love with a llama.
Though it's kind of a bummer to know that there are "lost" Disney princess that we'll never get to see, some of the other deleted characters were probably better off uncanonized.
Hucua was a small but intelligent talisman that initially hung out with Kuzco. However, when Hucua grew tired of Kuzco's groove, he sided with Yzma and helped unseat the emperor. Strangely enough, the character that most represents Incan culture was supposed to be voiced by... Harvey Fierstein. You know, that dude from Independence Day who freaks out about calling his mom and gets torched while sitting in traffic. I think we can all agree that Kronk was a welcome replacement when it came to bumbling henchmen. Though his role was removed entirely from the film, Hucua does make a cameo in the finished product as a candleholder, and can be seen during Kuzco's "funeral."
It's probably for the best that Huaca was downgraded to window dressing, especially considering one disturbing scene. Some of the original storyboards imply the existence of a scene where Pacha (disguised as the emperor) is asked to perform a ritual sacrifice on a llama (a transformed Kuzco). When Pacha refuses, Huaca is beside himself with rage, unable to fathom why someone wouldn't want to murder another human being.
Even when Kingdom of the Sun was no more and Emperor's New Groove emerged, there were still a few kinks to work out. There are a few scenes that were partially completed, but didn't make the final cut of what's otherwise an 80 minute movie. One sequence was seemingly ready to go before a last-minute decision left it on the cutting room floor. The bit in question comes right after this scene.
When Kuzco is in full-on Dickbag Mode during the beginning of the movie, he calls Pacha into his royal chambers to ask him which side of his hill gets the best light. It's here that Kuzco reveals his plan to build a summer house right on top of Pacha's village (complete with water slide). An entire settlement that's been living peacefully for generations was set to be destroyed merely for the pleasure of the shittiest of shitty teens.
That's the part that's already in the movie. What you didn't see in theaters was a pretty frightening display that came right after. When Pacha is on the way out of the palace after getting the bad news, he runs into a suspiciously familiar sight.
It's a full-scale model of Pacha's village. Though the houses are all cardboard-like cutouts, everything else seems about right. Disney didn't cut this because it was kind of weird that the emperor had this village built in a scale model and a life-size recreation. No, this was cut because of what happens next.
Namely, a bunch of armed soldiers run upand start demolishing the "town."
The whole thing was a practice drill. These soldiers burn, chop and otherwise destroy the entire model village in a matter of seconds. Not only is the concept pretty dark, but the execution is kind of terrifying -- we get the feeling that these meatheads would just as soon hack a toddler to pieces as they would a training dummy. It doesn't help that once the trial is completed, the guy in charge barks "When Kuzco gives the word, we attack!" Now, presumably Kuzco told himself that he gave fair warning to the villagers, but it seems likely that anyone left behind to stand their ground would have been chopped and burned like so many fake huts.
You can see why they left this moment out. It's brutal and mean and not really fitting with the tone of the film. We don't need to be reminded of the severity of the stakes -- we were just told what would happen to Pacha's village. Hell, Kuzco already slammed a big castle right on top of it. Hammering that home with fire and brimstone was unnecessary, and probably the biggest reason this moment was excised. The most fascinating part of the whole thing is just how far the scene got into production before someone stepped in and said "I don't think this serious threat of barbaric violence belongs in this llama movie you guys."
In the case of the alternate ending, however, production didn't get further than animatic storyboards. As you might remember, the final cut shows Kuzco has learned the error of his ways and spends his summer chilling in his own humble cottage nestled in Pacha's village. Everyone's having a blast jumping in ponds and sliding down waterfalls; we're meant to acknowledge that nature is the greatest theme park of all, and it comes with its own water slides.
But in the original draft, Kuzco did build Kuzcotopia in all its glory.
For this version, Kuzco still decided not to build his summer getaway on top of Pacha's village -- instead, he mowed down a bunch of rainforest right next to Pacha's village and built Kuzcotopia there instead, inviting the locals to party down. When it came time for the internal test screening, there was one particularly angry voice of dissent: Sting. As chronicled in a documentary Disney doesn't really want you to see, the Police frontman was frustrated beyond belief throughout the filmmaking process, having languished in production for a constantly-changing movie for months on end.
Seeing this pushed Sting over the edge. He (rightly) pointed out that destroying an invaluable ecosystem for his own gain showed that Kuzco was just as selfish at the end of the movie as he was at the start. For the first time in history, everyone in the room looked around and had no choice but to agree: Sting was right. The official ending we did get is leagues better than the moral-free hellscape of Kuzcotopia.
When it comes down to it, the real lesson here is: The Emperor's New Groove is on Netflix, and you should totally rewatch it soon.