I’m sorry posts are so infrequent lately. Work keeps me very busy, but I’m trying to post as much as I can. Today, I thought I’d write a little bit about a Disney film that went through some of the most drastic changes during its development process. Believe it or not, this dark, dramatic, piece of visual development art was for the film that would eventually become The Emperor’s New Groove. At this early point, the film was known as “Kingdom of the Sun”. It was a far cry from the irreverent comedy that we know today as it had a completely different plot, and several characters that didn’t make the final film. We’ll never know if “Kingdom of the Sun” would have been better than The Emperor’s New Groove, but it is certainly interesting to learn about what could have been.
The original idea for “The Kingdom of the Sun” was conceived by the film’s original director Roger Allies. After his enormous success with directing The Lion King, animation department heads Tom Schumacer and Peter Schneider asked Allers to come up with another film idea to direct for the studio. They suggested possibly look at making a film set in South America, and Allers immediately took this idea and ran with it. He began researching the ancient Incan society and decided that it was the perfect setting for a film. Eventually, Allers came up with the idea for a dramatic musical that was loosely based on Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper. The basic story and characters of Allers’s “Kingdom of the Sun” were quite different from the final film. The conceited young emperor we know as Kuzco was called Manco, but was still voiced by David Spade. Pacha, on the other hand, was a much younger peasant, who looked exactly like Manco and would have been voiced by Owen Wilson. The two men would have switched places temporarily so that Manco could experience freedom away from the palace and Pacha could know what it’s like to be rich. Yzma would have been a villian who in her youth was the beauty of the kingdom, but had since grown old, wrinkly, and bitter. She would have made a deal with a dark spirit who would bring back her youth and beauty if she could get the emperor to perform a ceremony to blot out the sun. In this version of the film, when Yzma finds out that Manco and Pacha have switched places she, with the help of her sidekick , the stone talisman Huaca, turns Manco into a llama and blackmails Pacha into performing the ceremony. Added to this rather complicated main plot, were two romantic side plots. At the beginning of the film Manco was to be betrothed to a woman named Nina who hated the arrogant emperor, but falls in love with his new softer self, whom she doesn’t realize is really Pacha. Manco on the other hand, falls under the care of a llama herding girl named Mata whose sarcastic, down to earth personality and refusal to deal with Manco’s ego would have taken him down a few pegs, while also causing him to fall in love. As you can see, “Kingdom of the Sun” was a much more complex and serious drama than The Emperor’s New Groove.
Unfortunately for “The Kingdom of the Sun”, Disney’s more serious films, Pocahontas and Hunchback of Notre Dame did not do as well in the box office as executives wanted them to, so they were very wary of doing another serious dramatic musical. When animation heads Tom Schumacher and Peter Schneider went to screen the film’s completed story reels, they ended up hating the film. They thought the pacing of the story was way off and the Prince and the Pauper storyline felt like it had been done way too many times before. So they sent the films crew off to try to hurriedly fix the problems in time for the film’s looming 2001 release date. To help Allers along with making these changes, Schneider and Schumacher found him a co-director, Mark Dindal. The two directors began to change things, cutting most of Sting’s songs, deleting Huaca, adding Kronk, and making the film’s plot a bit closer to that of the final film. Another test screening was done, and executives realized that the two director’s styles were not meshing properly. The scenes Allers had taken charge of were still very dramatic and emotional, while Dindal’s scenes were very comedic and silly. The executives told the two directors that they liked Dindal’s scenes better and they wanted the rest of the film to go more in that direction. After this screening, Allers realized the film was no longer going to be anything close to his vision, and so he left the project. That left Dindal and his crew with a very limited amount of time to turn “Kingdom of the Sun” into the film we know as The Emperor’s New Groove.
Obviously this dark, dramatic, and very Incan inspired piece of concept art by John Watkiss comes from the early, Roger Allers lead version of “Kingdom of the Sun.” While I have no way of exactly what scene this art work depicts, if I had to guess I’d say it would’ve been an early scene of Manco, or the scene of Pacha at the ceremonial sacrafice. We will never know if “Kingdom of the Sun” would have been better or worse than The Emperor’s New Groove, but it certainly is something interesting to think about while looking at this visual development painting.