The Laws of Physics in an Animation Universe

Physics in “Emperor’s new groove”

    Walt Disney’s animated comedy adventure, The Emperor’s New Groove, takes place in an ancient world of the Inca Empire where the nature is nourished and the land presents a dynamic terrain features everywhere. In this animation film Kuzco, the selfish teenaged emperor, experiences a life away from his throne after Yzma, his advisor and a sorcerer, turns him into a llama and takes over his kingdom.  In the end, Kuzco regains his original human form and the kingdom with a help from a kind llama herder, Pacha.  This film is one of the top favorite animations on my list because of its non-stop comedy and excitement in the story.  Since the story is being presented as an old tale, there are a few unordinary circumstances that are impossible in real world.  And Mark Dindal, the director, twists and bends the laws of physics time after time to orchestrate the drama and comedy that live within the story and characters.

    In this film, there are few magical elements that are helping out the story to be more like old tale. These elements are presented in series of supernatural events through out the film.  First of all, there are magic potions.  Yzma who is also a sorcerer keeps various animal extract in her secret lab.  She intended to poison Kuzco but Kronk, her clumsy assistant, mistakenly pour him a drink mixed with an extract of llama. This is how Kuzco becomes a llama.  Secondly, there are certain animals that are a lot like humans in the film.  Kuzco is one of the animals who act any less than a human being through out the story.  He still manages to talk and uses his limbs like hands.  Another animal is a squirrel who interacts with human beings.  At one point, this squirrel makes a balloon dog.  Thirdly, this is not really a magical element but, Mark puts Kuzco in a narrator’s position until the third of the story and allow him to pause, rewind and replay the story like a video recording system.  In addition, Mark traces Yzma and Kronk’s chasing scene with visual dashed lines with bright colors to mark the traveling routs.  Lastly, there was a piece of rain cloud during the same chasing scene which was casted only over Kronk and Yzma and poured downed rain after burning them with a thunder. These elements are added to make the story a lot more fun.  Now let’s look at more specific laws of physic being manipulated in this film. 

    A very fundamental aspect of physics pertains to action and reaction.  The principle of action and reaction states that for every action force there is an equal reaction force in the opposite direction.  It always occurs in pair and acts simultaneously. Having said that, there are few incidents I can point out as an example where the principle of action and reaction is not being considered as real.  In the opening of the movie toward the end of the first theme song Kuzco opens giant stone doors all the way no problem in less than a second as he walks out from his palace and his body did not take a step back. Unless he has supernatural power this is not possible in real world.  Even if the stone gates are fake, he still would take some reaction force back from them.  Second example is in the scene where Yzma and Kronk ride some roller coaster slide into their secret lab. The slide cart starts out on the edge of very steep slop that it seems almost falling straight down.  When it reaches to the end, the cart actually crash lands but it takes no impact and the two characters bounces off from it and lands safely. They would be dead by crashing into stone structures at the end of the slide or they would be thrown out of the cart in extreme speed which would splash them to the ground and to their eventual death.

    Another example of action and reaction being portrayed incorrectly is when Kuzco and Pacha safely climb back to the top of the hill after falling off from the bridge.  They actually flew and landed.  This happens because Pacha tries to shake off scorpions by hitting his back on a wall of cliff when Kuzco had his mouth stuck in bat cave. In short sentence, bats flew in Kuzco’s mouth and with the force of them being spit out of his mouth as well as riding on bats while they fly away Kuzco and Pacha both swing back to the top of hill safely.  Considering the weight of the tow characters and the force of bats reaction, it is very very unlikely to happen in real life.  I actually laughed so hard because this scene happened in very unpredictably and ridiculously fun way.

    One of the Disney’s principles of animation squash and stretch is present in multiple times through out the film. In the earlier part, Kronk tries to get rid of Kuzco’s body so he takes long stair way down from the Palace and accidently steps on a random cat who was just taking a nap.  In this scene, cat’s body stretches as twice longer when in shock of pain.  At the same moment, Kronk also gets scared and drops the bag which Kuzco’s body is contained.  When Kuzco’s body in bag stumbles down the stair way the bag acts like an elastic ball by bouncing.   I think the director took advantage of the situation that Kuzco’s body is concealed in a bag so the motion of bouncing is exaggerated by squashing and stretching like a water-balloon.

    Another example of the squash and stretch effect being exaggerated is when Kuzco escapes from the jaguars den by Pacha’s rescue but they both end up getting stuck on a tree trunk.  When Pacha swings by hanging on ivy rope and snatches Kuzco from jaguars there was a horizontal tree trunk sticking out from the cliff and the rope gets caught.  By the moment the rope came in contact with a tree, there was only a short length of it from the point where the rope was touching the tree to the end where Pacha’s hand was holding. However, the rope magically stretches on and on to wraps both of them on a tree trunk in very thick roll.  Tree then, breaks and they end up falling thousands of miles down to the bottom of the cliff.  Here. the path of falling is very believable but again, they crashes several times on edges of rocks but the tree bounces off and rolls down instead of getting shattered.  There is another scene where the rope stretches amazingly long when they falls off and get hang on an old rope-bridge.  This event leads to violation of a law of falling and absence of gravity. 

    During this scene Pacha finds out that Kuzco has been using him and was lying to him about not building Kuzcotopia.  So they began fighting while hanged on ropes but the entire bridge falls apart as a result of their lousy fighting actions.  The moment they realizing the bridge is beginning to disappear, they are floating in the air for about three seconds.  In reality, they would be falling as the bridge falls apart.  Further more, when they fall down into the valley, they both keep the same speed unrealistically because Pacha must weight at least three times more than Kuzco.  As a result, they end up getting stuck back to back as they reach to the lower bottom where the space is narrow.  Again, this scene has been put this way to create humor and ease off the seriousness of life-threatening situation so the adventure is purely fun to be watched.

    Another example of the random absence of gravity occurs when Kuzco rescues Pacha from falling back into valley with land slide.  At the moment Pacha is falling, Kuzco bites Pacha’s cloth and pulls him up.  Pacha seems to weight about three hundred pounds and Kuzco is also on the edge of the cliff.  In real life, they both should be sliding off from the cliff due to the center of gravity shift.  But in this animation world, the gravity takes a short break again so that Kuzco may have a chance to be a super hero by snatching Pacha right out of the air.  As a result they starting to trust each other and become a good friends.

    Not to mention the amazing scramble for the human potion in the end, between Kuzco and Yzma, this animation twists and bends the laws of physic just enough to present the story in comical sense all over the places.