A Historical Look into ‘The Emperor’s New Groove’

Our main focus in the past few lectures has been the Incan Empire, a symbol of strength and resistance despite the influence of Spanish colonialism. Throughout our study, we were exposed to the rich history and culture of the Incan people before their empire was taken over. The stories of the Incan Empire have been preserved for many years and told in a variety of ways, shapes, and forms, which made it the perfect subject to capture in the country’s most influential outlet of the film industry: Disney. Set in Pre-Columbian South America, The Emperor’s New Groove tells a story in the heart of the Incan Empire before it was colonized. Having watching the film multiple times over ten years ago, I never paid attention to the details of Incan Empire throughout the movie. The film was intended for a very young audience that probably didn’t know much about the true background of the Incan Empire, so, after learning a bit more about the Incas, I decided to evaluate how historically accurate this film really was.

The Emperor’s New Groove centers around an egotistical king named Kuzco, who is accidentally turned into a llama in a plot of murder gone wrong. The smallest of details in this film point are defining elements of the Incan Empire; the llama was a staple animal of the Incan agricultural civilization, while the name of Kuzco refers to the modern city of Cusco in Peru. The setting of this movie switches between Kuzco’s castle and the villages, which are on outskirts of the kingdom. The royalty would live in palaces in real life, which is similar to how Kuzco lived, however the architecture of his castle in the film was exaggerated. On the other hand, the villages shown in the film were almost identical to the Incan villages in real life, with many small homes clumped together on the mountain ranges. The differences between these settings is shown in the images below, with pictures from the real Incan Empire shown on the left hand side and the film interpretations shown on the right.

Kuzco’s position as the sole head of his kingdom resembles the “Sapa Inca,” or, as we learned in class, ‘supreme ruler’ of the empire. In Incan times, the Sapa Inca was seen as an all-powerful entity who basically ran the entire empire however he wished to. The Sapa Inca made laws and had full ownership over much of the land and people. Kuzco, in this way, greatly parallels the role of the Sapa Inca. Kuzco made every executive decision in his kingdom, from matters such as structuring his entire staff and firing people on his whim, to writing laws and designing his summer home “Kuzcotopia” on top of an entire village. Kuzco’s power as the “Sapa Inca” is shown several times throughout the movie through the ability to do whatever he wants, such as the scene in which he throws an old man off a cliff when he “ruins Kuzco’s groove.”

Below the Sapa Inca were the kurakas, which, in this case, is shown through the character of Yzma. Yzma, the main antagonist, vies for Kuzco’s throne by plotting to kill him, driving the plot line of the film. In reality, the kurakas were often royal blood Incans who enjoyed the privileges and statuses of royalty. Serving as Kuzco’s subordinate throughout the movie, Yzma does typical tasks that the kurakas did as an advisor.

The class hierarchy depicted in this film is quite close to reality, as the characters are divided into the Sapa Inca (Kuzco), the nobles (Yzma), and the rest of the commoners, shown through the character of Pacha. These were the main three groups of classification in the Incan Empire and there is a clear divide between each in the movie as well. The Sapa Inca and his advisors are seen mainly based in the castle of the kingdom, while the commoners are divided into villages and took lower wage jobs such as farming and herding. Pacha is shown as a farmer who hauls hay back and forth from his village to the kingdom on his llama, which is a task that the commoners in the Incan days would do as well. His clothes are much simpler (a plain green tunic resembling an uncu) while Kuzco’s attire is similar to that of a Sapa Inca: a heavy crown and patterned tunic. Both a realistic  version of how a Sapa Inca would dress and Kuzco’s clothing are shown side by side below. The contrast between the two classes, royalty and the commoners, is made distinctly apparent through their appearances.

We also learned that the Incan power structure was very patriarchal, which is reflected quite aptly in this film as well. Aside from the female character of Yzma as the king’s advisor, which would probably not have been the case in reality, the women portrayed in this film have smaller roles. From the very beginning of the movie in the sequence where Kuzco is presented with a line of princesses to choose to marry, women are shown to be the unimportant supporting roles rather than the spotlight of the empire. Females are more plentiful in the scenes that feature the peasants rather than royalty, such as in the part of the movie in Pacha’s village. The most accurate female character featured in this movie is Pacha’s wife, Chicha, who is shown as a loving housewife and mother of three, reflecting on the role of women as child-bearers in Incan society.

pacha wife
Pacha’s wife shown taking care of her children, an accurate portrayal of women in the time of the Empire. 

For the most part, the animations shown throughout The Emperor’s New Groove mirrored the Incan Empire quite closely. From the appearances of the characters to the structure of people in hierarchies, Disney was able to correctly portray these details correctly for a young audience without any major inaccuracies. The animators were able to inset small components into this film that lined up closely with the realities of the Incan Empire.

Works Cited

Disney Wiki. “Chicha.” Disney Wiki, disney.wikia.com/wiki/Chicha/.

Pinterest. “Art Amérindien.” Pinterest, http://www.pinterest.com/patoufette/art-am%C3%A9rindien/. 

IDAAF Magazine. “The Emperors New Groove.” IDAAF, 31 May 2015, idaaf.com/architecture-for-the-kids/the-emperors-new-groove12/.

WorldStrides. “Incan Empire – WorldStrides Educational Travel.” WorldStrides, worldstrides.com/itineraries/incan-empire/.

“The Emperor’s New Groove.” Pinterest, 28 Aug. 2012, http://www.pinterest.com/pin/502925483357262053/.

“The Incredible Incas.” Emaze Presentations, http://www.emaze.com/@AFFLTLFI/

Disney Wiki. “Kuzco.” Disney Wiki, disney.wikia.com/wiki/File:Kuzco_2.jpg.

“Inca Social Hierarchy | Social Structure | Social Pyramid.” Hierarchy Structure, 5 Dec. 2017, http://www.hierarchystructure.com/incas-social-hierarchy/.

Inca Maya Aztec. “Inca Class Structure.” Inca Class Structure, http://www.incamayanaztec.com/inca-class-structure.html/.

Ancient Pages. “Who Was The Sapa Inca?” Ancient Pages, 27 Jan. 2016, http://www.ancientpages.com/2016/01/27/who-was-the-sapa-inca/.

Graff, Michael. “16 Things You Never Knew About The Emperor’s New Groove.” Screen Rant, 26 Nov. 2016, screenrant.com/disney-facts-trivia-the-emperors-new-groove/.


2 thoughts on “A Historical Look into ‘The Emperor’s New Groove’

  1. Bunny Badger February 17, 2018 / 8:04 pm

    I always loved the Emperor’s New Groove, and I really like that someone finally decided to bring it into conversation with the real life Inca that we are currently learning about in HumCore. I never realized or made the connection that Yzma was a member of the kurakakuna class. I find it very interesting that Disney would choose to make Yzma, who was a kuraka, the main antagonist of the movie, considering in real life the kuraka were both borne out of the conquest of the Spanish, meaning Kuzko as Sapa Inca would already be gone, and that the kuraka were devoted to their traditional, cultural bloodlines. Do you think there was any specific reason Disney chose Yzma to be the main antagonist as opposed to Spanish? Perhaps it has to do with the target audience being children, though this idea of conquest has been explored before in “The Road to El Dorado” and “Pocahontas.” Perhaps Disney didn’t want to antagonize the Europeans? I really liked your analysis and appreciate the movie more now that I understand exactly who Yzma actually was and what role she played.
    P.S. Is there anything we need to analyze, as viewers, in regards to Yzma, a woman of nobility, as being portrayed as the problematic antagonist?


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