A Color-tural Experience: The Role of Color in The Emperor’s New ​​Groove

By Isha PattanaikHumanities, Cycle 12, Fall 2023


Color may have the ability to affect audience engagement in movies, similarly to how it is manipulated in branding endeavors. Around 62-90 percent of product assessments are based on the product’s color (Khattak, 2020). If color is used for businesses and marketing, then the movie industry is no exception. Colors used in movies are a factor in audience engagement that contributes to a film’s performance. This paper will use color psychology to analyze three distinct scenes from Disney’s The Emperor’s New Groove to see how it contributes to engagement throughout the movie. I hypothesize that the bright and bold colors used in the movie The Emperor’s New Groove enhances the humor, emotional impact, and engagement for audiences of all ages.

People make their minds up about a product and whether they want to continue engaging with it within the first 90 seconds of looking at it (Khattak, 2020). Color is one the most prominent factors being examined in this brief window (Khattak, 2020). Thus, the role of color psychology—the emotional pull of colors in certain contexts—is especially important. Colors influence about 85 percent of a consumer’s decision, with the power to boost or dissuade a customer from buying it (Bondarchuk, 2023). Color is also a great tool for different works, products, and brands to distinguish themselves from competitors and increase their name awareness by 80 percent (Bondarchuk, 2023). Color Psychology discusses how colors elicit different emotional and behavioral responses via biological signals. (Elliott, 2015). For example, red is often linked to dominance or anger, especially in film, because of its association with blood (Singh & Srivastava, 2011). Color Psychology is also used in marketing strategies for consumer habits when creating company logos, brandings, and advertisements. For example, in McDonald’s logo, the red in the food industry is associated with stimulation, appetite, and hunger, and the yellow is happiness. Together it emits a sense of quickness and speed for fast food (Banim, 2023). Utilizing this link between color and emotion can capture consumers’ attention and draw them in, making them want to spend money at the business.

However, color is used in much more than just marketing strategies. This paper explores how color psychology in the movie industry, looking particularly at how color affects audience engagement, enhancing the humor, drama, and suspense of the movie. Like branding, when filmmakers use color psychology to their advantage, it can enhance reviews, box office performances, and strengthens the movie’s narrative (Fusco & Hellerman, 2023). There is prior research on color theory in films, but not specifically on The Emperor’s New Groove, which focuses on comedy and engaging audiences of all ages


Disney’s The Emperor’s New Groove (2000) follows the self-centered Incan emperor Kuzco’s journey as he is turned into a llama and must find his way back to being a human with help from the villager Pacha (The Emperor’s New Groove, CITATION). His journey of self-discovery and transformation into a kinder person drives the narrative and adds depth to this children’s movie (The Emperor’s New Groove). It earned an 86 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes and most of the reviews discussed the film’s humor (“The Emperor’s New Groove”). The humor in this movie could be characterized as sarcastic, dry, physical, and surreal humor. In The Emperor’s New Groove, surreal humor is portrayed through visuals so bizarre they elicit a comedic response. The visuals are created from bright hues that emphasize the punchline. The Emperor’s New Groove is an excellent film to analyze through the lens of color psychology due to its innovative storytelling that uses bright colors, distinct animation style, and memorable, beloved characters.

All the color pallets in this movie are bright and bold, which are not commonly used in other animated movies. Bright purple, red, gold, green, and yellow play a crucial role in this film. In most other movies, the backgrounds of the scenes consist of multi-colored muted tones that blend in. For example, looking at other notable animated movies such as​ ​The Incredibles 2 (2018) and Finding Nemo (2003), the background does not stand out. As you can see the background in The Incredibles II movie uses tones like muted brown so that more attention is brought to the forefront characters. Similarly, in Finding Nemo the background is just the blue of the ocean. However, this is not the case for The Emperor’s New Groove. The background for most of the movie’s duration consists of bright colors that pop off the screen. This paper will examine if ​​the bright and bold colors used in The Emperor’s New Groove are one of the reasons that it captivates audiences of all ages.


This paper focuses on three distinct scenes from The Emperor’s New Groove that elicit different emotions and use different bright color pallets. The first scene is from early in the film and introduces the main antagonists. The second scene is when Kuzco experiences the central conflict. The final scene selected is from the film’s resolution. The analysis looks at how the notable colors contribute to the scene and film by creating motifs, adding to the humor, and driving the plot forward.

Scene 1: Introducing the Antagonists

​​​This first scene is from the movie’s exposition and introduces the main antagonist Yzma (center) and her henchman Kronk (left). Here, Yzma is scheming about how she can steal the royal title of empress away from the protagonist Kuzco, who she works under. Right away, the vibrant purple exudes villainous energy and reveals that she is the antagonist. The bold use of purple in her design serves as a visual representation of the royalty and power she wields as the former advisor to the emperor (Hoekstra, 2022). Purple can also represent ambition, highlighting Yzma’s role as someone who works in the shadows and runs the empire behind the emperor’s back (Hoekstra, 2022). Her skin is also a shade of light purple, thereby deepening the association between Yzma and purple. Due to color theory, the association between Yzma and purple further creates an association between the character and the symbolic meanings of purple.

Kronk is also dressed in purple to link his loyalty to her. He wears purple until the end of the movie when they change the color of his costume to reflect his character growth and rejection of Yzma. Therefore, changes in color allows the audience to notice plot points without being explicitly told them. The creators opted to “show, not tell” some aspects of their storytelling, which allows the audience follow plot developments and character changes without being explicitly told. This dramatic storytelling with purple engages the audience and uses elements of color psychology.  ​ ​

Through carefully manipulating the color palette, the filmmakers effectively immerse the audience in the intended mood and narrative. The deliberate use of red in the background of this scene intensifies the atmosphere and contributes to the villainous energy. Red can be used to foretell danger and is associated with the Devil (Ferreira, 2022). Red also highlights something of importance which again speaks to the status that Yzma has (Chapman, 2021). However, the filmmakers chose a darker shade of red, allowing purple to remain the focal point.

Gold serves two purposes by representing the crown’s wealth and abundance but also as a stark contrast to the villagers and their struggles. (Gold: Color Meaning, Symbolisms, Hex Code). This ​​color choice adds depth to the narrative as it demonstrates how the crown refuses to help the disadvantaged villagers despite the empire’s wealth. This color choice once again speaks to self-centeredness without having to state it. ​​It adds nuance to the scene that audiences subconsciously notice which creates a deeper meaning of class differences and greed to the movie engaging audiences further.

Scene 2: Jungle Conflict

In this next scene, the emperor and protagonist of the film Kuzco has been accidentally turned into a llama and transported to the village. He is desperately trying to find his way back to his palace so that he can change back into a human. However, because of his ego, he was too proud to admit he needed help navigating the dangerous forest and ends up getting lost with a prowl of jaguars chasing after him

​​​The green present in the background sets the scene nicely as green typically represents forestry and nature (Chapman, 2021). It is mixed with a blue tint that indicates the sadness and loss that Kuzco feels as he longs to be human again. It also speaks to him missing his home and his job where he did not have do any work himself like he is having to do in this scene. (Chapman, 2021). The blue drives the narrative of Kuzco feeling a sadness that he typically does not experience, which signals the start of his transformation to becoming a better human.

The cool tones of the blue and green create a contrast with the black which makes the black stand out. The black induces a tone of intimidation, fear, and death to portray to the audience that Kuzco is in real trouble (Chapman, 2021). This amps up the drama and suspense keeping the audience engaged because they do not know if he is going to survive. It also contributes to the underlying theme of karma. Since Kuzco laughed at the villagers and refused to help them, he is now stuck in this helpless situation.

Scene 3: Resolution

This final scene is from the end of the movie and shows Kuzco’s best friend and villager guide Pacha and his family who help Kuzco on his journey to become a better human. In this scene they are celebrating the fact that Kuzco let them keep their house that was at risk of eviction.

In this scene, the yellow represents optimism, and tranquility which creates a positive atmosphere for the conclusion of the movie (Dymova, 2020). Pacha’s consistent green attire symbolizes his connection to the earth and his role as Kuzco’s steadfast rock throughout the movie (Ferreira, 2022). It is like the green in the previous scene as it still connects to nature. However, because the green in this scene is a lighter shade, it projects a more uplifting energy (Stanton, 2023). The difference in the meanings of green in the two scenes shows how colors can take on different associations depending on the specific context. Green also represents growth (Ferreira, 2022). Pacha tries to encourage growth within Kuzco and for the empire. The green is correlated with fertility too, which is fitting, as their family grows by another child by the end of the movie (Ferreira, 2022).

​​​The combination of green and yellow represents a fun and creative atmosphere that compliments the mischievousness of the family, which is evident during the climax of the movie as they find fun ways to distract Yzma and Kronk from killing Kuzco. It also adds to the characters’ personalities and creates more depth keeping engagement up.


The use of bold bright colors in the Emperor’s New Groove allows the movie’s humor, themes, and character development shine without being explicitly stated. Between the bright and villainous purple and red, wealthy gold, nostalgic blue, ominous black, and optimistic green and yellow, the narrative drove forward, creating a unique story that captivated.

If creators use color psychology to their advantage, they can drive up audience engagement. If color can be used in marketing for brands, the same can be applied to the film industry. The creators of The Emperor’s New Groove manipulated color psychology to propel the narrative and connect audiences with the film, which possible contributed to its successes

However, there are limitations to this study. Color was not the only visual aspect engaging viewers. The shapes and lines also play a role, which cannot be controlled in this case. Viewership is also highly based on the narrative and story features. The use of color can add to the narrative element, but the story is made up of much more than just colors.

Future research can dive deeper into the other visual elements in film that affect audience engagement. The enduring appeal and beloved status of The Emperor’s New Groove stands as a testament to the role of color psychology in captivating audiences and creating an enamoring experience that viewers of all ages can enjoy.



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Isha Pattanaik