The Emperor’s New Groove is not the first Disney film to feature animated llamas: in an extended sequence in Saludos Amigos Donald Duck attempts to ride a llama, with predictably chaotic results. But the differences between the two llamas, and the two films, are salutory, and demonstrate perhaps the changing nature of Disney’s relationship with its audience in recent years.
The Emperor’s New Groove works to express, as only cartoons can, the purity of given characters’ grooves, and to chart the inertia that prevents any easy deviations. (This is a constant theme in cartoons, where a change of state is always somehow delayed, always lags behind, archetypically when a character runs off a cliff and then hangs in mid-air before gravity suddenly, and belatedly, takes hold.) And it’s in this displaced, cartoon version of pre-Columbian Latin America, with its vibrant colours and exaggerated imagery (green palm fronds, parrots, endless staircases, complex architectural patterns) that it can both express a groove and also imagine ways in which a groove can be changed.