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Eartha Kitt, Yzma's Skin Care, and "Snuff Out the Light"


"Snuff Out the Light" is a deleted song from Disney's finest movie, The Emperor's New Groove. You'll undoubtedly remember that Groove was oddly... ungroovy. There's a feisty Tom Jones number to introduce Kuzco and a gruelling Sting number over the credits, but, well, that's it. Unless you count this. All in all, kind of a waste of Eartha Kitt. 

It all comes down to Groove's seriously troubled production history. First planned in 1994 as a sort of "Incan version of the Lion King", the movie was intended to be a cross between The Prince and the Pauper and a... Hercules-esque epic fantasy about a death god plunging the world into perpetual darkness. 

For those of you who have basked in Groove's final glory, you'll have noticed, well - none of that happened. Eventually released in late 2000 (and not particularly well-promoted, with Disney giving marketing preference to 102 Dalmatians), Groove was a buddy comedy about a bratty emperor learning to grow up. The apocalyptic plot was dropped in favour of hand-wavey hijinks, as Kitt's Yzma tries to steal the throne from David Spade's emperor-turned-llama. Kitt aside, the film's two scene stealers were John Goodman and Patrick Warburdon, both of whom were added late in the game as the movie was rewritten over and over and over again.

The result is a Disney oddity. There's no Princess (although Yzma should, technically, count - discuss!). There's no romance. There's no music. There's not even much of a plot.

But, well. It works. It is nice to have all the charm and warmth of Disney animation, but without the sound and fury of the epic plot. Kuzco is (dictatorial) royalty, but the stakes here are actually incredibly small. As far the nameless, offscreen peasantry are concerned, the shift between Kuzco's Trumpian absorption and Yzma's Pencian evil is, in the cinematic sense, negligible. The movie takes pains to establish, in fact, how little anyone gives a shit that Kuzco is 'dead'. It makes Kuzco's quest to regain the throne (and biped status) amusing, but, ultimately, insignificant. 

Goodman's Pacha is a nice person, possessed of a strong moral compass in a completely bewildering world. He's created a calm, sensible oasis of goodness, and his quest is - not to save the world, but simply keep his own little corner of it 'ok'. Warburdon's Kronk is the other everyman: Yzma's sidekick, he has no ambitions for himself, but is simply drawn in to her schemes because, again, he's fighting to preserve his sense of the 'ok'. A nice person, if misguided, and, like Pacha, his quest is self-interested: he's also scrambling to preserve his tiny corner of the status quo.

In fact, the only character with a quest of substance is Yzma. Unlike Kuzco, she's earned his place through merit and ambition, not birth and malaise. And, although she's gained the throne through (attempted) assassination, she's - arguably - the only factor in the film that's not trying simply working to preserve the status quo. Yzma's not exactly the movie's protagonist, but at least her motives are interesting.

Which is why "Snuff Out the Light" is better for being lost. As a song, it is a blast. Eartha Kitt possesses one of the most unique and glorious voices, and, as a sultry, narrative ballad, it plays to her strengths. The chorus is catchy, and the whole package is straight in Kitt's wheelhouse.

However, "Snuff Out the Light" utterly ruins Yzma. The original Groove plot was cookie-cutter: an villain with a Bond-esque apocalyptic scheme and a ticking clock. That's... fine. Dull, but fine. But to ascribe a world-ending motivation to Yzma's desire to 'stay pretty', is, well... insidious Disney crap:

I've really stopped at nothing
Murder, treachery and lying
Whatever it takes to keep my looks
You really can't blame a girl for trying

From the Evil Queen to Ursula, Disney's female villains are too often fuelled by straight-up jealousy, often directed at other women, or worse, motivated solely by on their desire to be beautiful. It makes for a banal underpinning to some of the studio's most compelling characters. Yzma destroying the world to maintain her complexion? Even Gaston would be appalled.

Which is to say: I'm delighted to find this song. More Eartha Kitt is always a good thing. But I'm even more delighted that it was lost in the first place.