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Pet Sins March 2001

The Emperor's New Groove

Disney's Winter 2001 release, The Emperor's New Groove, is likely the first American animated movie with a male Native American protagonist. (For the purposes of this article, Native American refers to any native of the American continent, not just limited to the U.S.) A few things are worth noting about The Emperor's New Groove:

Emperor Kuzco is the first "non-Caucasian" (using the arbitrary U.S. categorization system of race) since Mowgli of The Jungle Book. The child Mowgli, an Asian Indian character, is arguably Caucasian or part Caucasian if taken from the anthropological point of view. The Middle Eastern character Aladdin, Disney's latest male non-European human cartoon protagonist prior to Kuzco, is arguably "non-white" from the perspective of an European supremacist. But U.S. government categorizations count Caucasian natives of Asia and Africa (the "Middle Easterners") as "white" while classifying Asian Indians as "Asian".

Coincidentally, besides being Disney's first animated brown-skinned adult male protagonist, Kuzco is also the first Disney animated human protagonist without a love interest. No major Disney character has been without a love interest. In fact, most Disney animation plotlines unfold around a romance, as in Aladdin, Pocahontas and Mulan. Even Kuzco's brown-skinned Disney predecessor, Mowgli, gets a love interest at the very end of The Jungle Book. But Mowgli is a child. Perhaps Disney tailors its entertainment to the perception that the European American "mainstream" is still unaccepting of adult male non-European romantic relationships with any woman. Viewers of color have oft complained that the male protagonist of color seldom gets the girl, even the girl of color.

18 year old emperor Kuzco is goofy-looking and very scrawny. The other central Native American character is a large, square-jawed farmer named Pacha. Neither Pacha nor Kuzco are drawn with the attention and quality devoted to other male Disney heroes like Pocahontas's John Smith , Mulan's Li Shang and Tarzan's protagonist. The farmer's wife, however, is very prettily drawn. This trend of drawing unattractive brown men alongside attractive brown women has been previously noted inThe Hunchback of Notre Dame.