Professor O’Toole’s past few lectures about the Inca empire have reminded me of two infamous, animated films from my childhood: The Road to El Dorado and The Emperor’s New Groove. Both of the films were released in the year 2000 and both of the films take place in an early Colonial South America. However, each film depicts the South American culture in a different way.
The Road to El Dorado follows Tulio and Miguel, two Spaniards who brave the New World in search for the mythical city of El Dorado. After a series of accidents, they stumble upon the entrance of El Dorado and are greeted by the locals with open arms. The indigenous people mistake the two men for gods then proceed to worship and offer gifts to the men. In one scene, Tulio and Miguel burst out into song, singing “It’s Tough to be a God.” This scene exemplifies the apotheosis myth, the deification of Spanish conquerors. The film gains most of its inspiration from the Mayan culture. The architecture and other iconography reference that of the Mayans, but Don Paul, one of the chief animators of the film claims, that the film is not “meant to be an exact reflection of any one culture.”
In The Emperor’s New Groove, Kuzco, a narcissistic emperor is turned into a llama by one of his closest advisers, Yzma. In order to revert back to his human form, Kuzco must learn to become selfless and earn the respect of his citizens. The film is heavily inspired by Inca culture and makes various attempts to reference the Incan lifestyle. For example, Emperor Kuzco is named after Cuzco, the capital of the Incan empire (O’toole). The film features herds of llamas which are one of the most important animals in the Incan economy (Gabriel). Lastly, parts of the film are set in the hills, another nod to the Inca’s systematic farming system in a mountainous region.
It seems obvious that the film takes place in an ancient Peru, however just like The Road to El Dorado, the The Emperor’s New Groove does not specify the exact culture of the characters of the film. Instead, the characters in the film are a blend of the different cultures present in South America. Although the original intention of the production companies, DreamWorks and Disney, was to introduce South American culture to a younger audience, it fails to do so. Instead, the both of these films end up exoticizing South American culture.
What’s the big deal?
Reading about “The Myth of Native Desolation” in Matthew Restall’s Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest and hearing Professor O’Toole’s lectures on Incan colonization has brought my (embarrassingly close-minded) preconceived notions of the native people to light. For the longest time, I have involuntarily viewed indigenous people as naive yet cannibalistic groups of individuals. I don’t know whether this belief was shaped from my early-elementary history classes or from the media’s bias depiction of indigenous people’s cultures. Either way, these have provided a devastating set of ideologies. Re-watching The Emperor’s New Groove and The Road to El Dorado, I was not surprised by the portrayal of the South Americans, but by the fact that these films were aimed for children. Yes, the motive behind the films was to make an unfamiliar culture accessible to younger people. But by presenting a generalized version of South Americans as exotic or outlandish to kids is injurious to their way of thinking. These films underline the “us vs. them” binary that is responsible for our prejudiced views of cultures other than our own. It is important to accurately portray people’s cultures in films, especially children films, because these are how opinions about “others” are spread and formed.
O’Toole, Rachel S. HIB100. 10 Jan. 2017. Lecture.
Ramón, Gabriel. “BBC – A History of the World – Object : Inca gold llama.” BBC News. BBC, n.d. Web. 20 Jan. 2017.