Snuff Out the Light (Yzma’s Song): Part One: Kingdom of the Sun

It’s a simple fact. Villains get the best songs. Dr. Facilier sang “Friends on the Other Side.” Ursula had “Poor Unfortunate Souls.” Mother Gothel gave us “Mother Knows Best,” and Scar provided one of the most haunting performances in Disney history with “Be Prepared.” Each steals the show.

Unfortunately, some of Disney’s most captivating villains don’t have their own songs. Maleficent. The Evil Queen. The Horned King. But what about the evil sorceress Yzma? Equal parts comic and nefarious, she is the primary antagonist of Disney’s 40th animated feature, “The Emperor’s New Groove.” Voiced by the legendary Eartha Kitt, it would seem like a no-brainer to give her a musical number in the film. And yet…none appears.

The Emperor’s New Groove (released in 2000) is less of a musical than many of the Disney films that went before it. The song “Perfect World,” performed by Tom Jones, is featured at the beginning and end of the movie, but that’s about it. Even the Oscar-nominated “My Funny Friend and Me” does not appear until the film’s credits. 

But that wasn’t always the plan. For much of its life, the movie was envisioned as a musical, which would have included a stunning song, “Snuff Out the Light” performed by Yzma. So, what happened?

The Kingdom of the Sun

In 1994, director Roger Allers saw the debut of the smash hit The Lion King. At this point, he and writer Matthew Jacobs came up with the idea for a new film: Kingdom of the Sun. The movie was to be set in the kingdom of the Inca.

Despite its South American setting, the movie was to draw its plot from a quintessentially North American source: the writings of Mark Twain. The story would adapt Twain’s novel The Prince and the Pauper. The part of the prince, named Manca at the time, would be voiced by David Spade, while the pauper, Pacha, was to be performed by Owen Wilson. 

In the story, the film’s villain, Yzma, sought to revive the shadow god Supai in the hopes that he would restore her youth. To do so, she must sacrifice Prince Manca, who bears the symbol of the sun. The song “Snuff Out the Light” details her motivations:

When a woman acquires a certain age

And the men who adored you no longer swoon

It pays to avoid the sunlit days

And live by the light of the kindly moon

But the moon grows old just like us all

And her beautiful years are done

So now she prays through endless days

To take her revenge on the sun

When I was a girl at my daddy’s side

Papa, the royal mortician

Revealed to me in secret signs

The mark of the magician

And daddy was no dummy

Did outrageous things with a mummy

And often the stiffs that he would drive

Would look better dead than they did alive

I studied well I learnt the trade

I thought my looks would never fade

If I could find that recipe

To give eternal youth to me

It was always my ambition

To use papa’s tuition

And gain some small remission

From the vagaries of time

Every little ray of sunshine robs me of my youth

Who to blame? Who the one? Who to curse?

You know the only one to blame

Would be my enemy the sun

Snuff out the light, claim your right

To a world of darkness

Snuff out the light, neophytes

Of a world of darkness

Supai baby, turn me on

Every wrinkle soon be gone

I could squeeze myself with glee

The promises you made to me

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

Snuff out the light, claim your right

To a world of darkness

Snuff out the light, neophytes

Of a world of darkness

Snuff out the light, claim your right

To a world of darkness

Snuff out the light here tonight

Apparitions of eternal darkness

Spiraling in circles through the night

Creatures of beguiling blackness

No more squinting in the light

Bats and owls and coiled sea dragons

Crocodile and carrion beasts

Swirling in the growing darkness

Join us in the coming feast

Spectre wraith and apparition

Spirit demon phantom shade

Salamander serpents, dog-faced devils

Dance and watch the dying sunlight fade

The music for the movie, including “Snuff Out the Light” were composed by the team of David Hartley and rock icon Sting (aka Gordon Sumner). 

Unfortunately, the movie suffered numerous setbacks during production. Disagreements about the plot led to significant revisions, with Disney feeling that the original concept was too similar to other Prince and the Pauper adaptations. Complicating matters further, the film received a poor response from test audiences and CEO Michael Eisner expressed displeasure with it. 

Director Mark Dindal, the man responsible for the Warner Brothers’ film Cats Don’t Dance, was brought in to assist with the movie. His vision differed drastically from Allers, who wanted to emphasize drama over comedy. The disagreements eventually led Allers to quit the film, causing Eisner to threaten to shut down production completely. 

A complete re-tooling of the movie began. The plot was drastically changed, and John Goodman replaced actor Owen Wilson as Pacha. The songs composed by Hartley and Sting were scrapped from the film, as they reflected the original plot. Sadly, this included “Snuff Out The Light.” It was a development not well received by the musical superstar, who commented, “At first, I was angry and perturbed. Then I wanted some vengeance.” 

Fortunately, many of the discarded songs were included in The Emperor’s New Groove original soundtrack album, including Yzma’s grand number. 

Inside the Sweatbox

The chaos of the production was captured in a documentary titled The Sweatbox, directed by Trudie Styler (who also happens to be Sting’s wife), and John Paul Davidson. A review from states, “the first thirty-to-forty minutes of The Sweatbox unfolds as one might expect any in-depth look at the making of an animated film to go”…about forty minutes in, we witness the fateful day in which an early story-boarded cut of the film is screened for the heads of Disney Feature Animation, Thomas Schumacher and Peter Schneider. They hate the film, declare that it is not working, and begin a process of totally scrapping and reinventing huge chunks of the story. Characters are totally changed…voice actors are replaced, and the entire story is shifted around.” 

Unfortunately, most of the world would not be able to see the finished product. An altered and Disney-approved version was released as a featurette with the DVD release of The Emperor’s New Groove. Viewers would not get the chance to watch the original until it was leaked by an 18-year-old cartoonist from the United Kingdom. 

A review from Cartoon Brew states, “The Sweatbox is at turns infuriating, hilarious and enlightening. You’ll cringe in sympathy with the Disney artists as you see the gross bureaucratic incompetence they had to endure while working at the studio in the 1990s. The film not only captures the tortured morphing of the Kingdom of the Sun into The Emperor’s New Groove, it also serves as an invaluable historical document about Disney’s animation operations in the late-1990s. If any questions remain about why Disney fizzled out creatively and surrendered its feature animation crown to Pixar and DreamWorks, this film will answer them.”

The story of Kingdom of the Sun and, by extension, “Snuff Out the Light” casts a fascinating light on the production process of an animated film, revealing the conflict, politicking, and struggles that go into creating a work of art. But it is still only part of the story when it comes to the music. 

Next week, we’ll dig deeper into the men who wrote the music for Yzma’s song: David Hartley and Sting. 


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