Mark Dindal's Place in the Sun
(continued from page 6)

JS: What happened after Cats Don't Dance? Did Time Warner close down the Turner animation unit?

MD: They didn't close it down, but it just seemed to all of us there that the future was really uncertain. I had had enough of trying to push a movie through under those circumstances. Then I got a call from a friend at Disney, Randy Fullmer. We had known each other for quite a while, 10 years or so since we worked together on Little Mermaid. He was going to produce Groove and he gave me a call to come back over to Disney.

I felt I had gotten all of the 'roaming' out of my system, and had really learned a lot of valuable things, and I was really ready at that time to come back to a place that had a history and understood the process of animation.

JS: When was this call?

Kuzco and Pacha sizing up the situation. © Walt Disney Pictures. All rights reserved.

MD: That was the beginning of '97, when we were finishing CDD. I finished and then two months later I started at Disney. I didn't take much time off -- Groove was something they were already working on. I just got on -- I felt like it was an opportunity I didn't want to pass up.

JS: They basically said, 'Would you like to direct this for us?'

MD: Well, I started as a co-director with Roger Allers from Lion King. He had been working on this idea for at least a year or a couple of years. I was to come on and be a co-director, which was kind of an apprentice to a director type of role, plus it was an opportunity to get back into the Disney studio.

JS: I understand it started out as a more serious story.

MD: It was originally much more epic. Sting was writing songs for it, but it was still more of a serious movie.

JS: It still had the prince turning into a llama?

Pacha helps Kuzco get a handle on things in The Emperor's New Groove. © Walt Disney Pictures. All rights reserved.

MD: The prince did turn into a llama -- that was one of the few things that remains, but once he turned into the llama he was mute, so he didn't speak through the rest of the movie. The prince was not really the main character; it was Pacha the peasant. In New Groove he's played by John Goodman, but originally it was supposed to be Owen Wilson, who was a kid at the time, so it was just a different movie altogether.

JS: The kid became the llama's protector?

MD: No it was more like The Prisoner of Zenda or The Prince and The Pauper where the kid substitutes for the prince; it was a completely different story altogether.

JS: Turning into a llama doesn't sound like the premise for a serious story.

MD: It wasn't a serious drama like Prince of Egypt. It had comic elements of which the prince's transformation was one. But it had bigger life or death stakes; the serious moments were much more serious than what we did. It did have Eartha Kitt playing the evil character [Yzma]; hers and David [Spade as the vain Prince Kuzco]'s were the two characters that survived our changes.

JS: I understand Allers isn't involved with the film at this point.

MD: No. When we shifted the film's focus it turned into something he didn't feel a connection to anymore. He moved on and he's now developing another film of his own.

JS: The current crop of Disney features seem to alternate between serious films with comic elements like Lion King or Tarzan, and more humor-driven efforts like Aladdin or Hercules. The Emperor's New Groove definitely belongs in the latter category. The studio was satisifed this was the best direction to go with the project?

MD: As we worked on it, there were several notes in the original version that couldn't seem to be addressed. So we just took a very bold move and went to a different direction altogether, and that became the thing that people responded to and liked. Once we did that it really took off; it was less than two years ago that the change was made.


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