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Pacha: An Underrated Disney Hero

Pacha shrugging from "The Emperor's New Groove"

Everyone has a favorite Disney hero.

Aladdin is the scrappy, quippy underdog who makes misguided choices (like lying about who he is to trick a princess into marrying him) but ultimately owns his mistakes and uses one of his three wishes to grant freedom to someone else.

Robin Hood takes from the rich and childishly selfish Prince John to give back to the poor. He shifts through disguises effortlessly while also winning the heart of Maid Marian. He’s a little arrogant but when he’s winning for the poor, we love him the same.

Wreck-It Ralph is a bad guy (and that’s good) but also he’s not. He learns that medals aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, friendship goes further than popularity, and he can be good despite the “bad” things he does in his game.

But what about Pacha?

When most people think about The Emperor’s New Groove, they immediately think of Kuzco, Yzma, and Kronk. As they should, since these are three of the best Disney characters of all time. IN. ONE. MOVIE. I’d imagine that most people who aren’t explicit fans of the movie wouldn’t even remember Pacha’s name. (Hence underrated!)

When we first meet Pacha, he comes to the palace because Kuzco summons him to ask where the best spot in his village is. Pacha learns this is for Kuzco’s birthday present to himself: Kuzcotopia, an extravagant waterpark getaway fit for a friendless and self-serving emperor. When he arrives back home, it’s clear right away that he’s got a good relationship with his wife and his kids. Consider how rare this is for a Disney movie: an entire nuclear family. (And the fun fact that Chicha is the first pregnant woman shown in a Disney movie!)

But the real crux of Pacha’s character comes in the way he interacts with Kuzco. Kuzco makes it clear he has no intention of ever swaying from his plan to level Pacha’s village and construct his ultimate summer getaway. Despite this, Pacha leaves his home again to go after and eventually rescue Kuzco from attacking jaguars. Then he decides he would perform mouth-to-mouth to resuscitate Kuzco. And then he gives his poncho to a shivering Kuzco during the night. Kuzco seems to turn a corner and when Pacha makes a deal the next day to help escort Kuzco back to the palace if Kuzco will change his construction plans, Kuzco accepts.

Until Kuzco reveals he doesn’t actually accept anything. Pacha is on the verge of falling to his death and Kuzco’s murky character is revealed again. Pacha finally feels the justified anger the audience feels toward Kuzco and the two begin physically fighting before being aided back to safety by flying bats.

(... yes, that’s right lol…)

Pacha’s goodness ultimately is the catalyst that helps Kuzco become a better version of himself. By the end, Kuzco risks losing his chance at becoming human again to save Pacha from falling (again). There’s an explicit redemption in Kuzco’s behavior but the unsung hero behind that transformation is a man who works hard, trusts his wife and kids to handle a woman who is scary beyond all reason, sees who even the most selfish of people (llamas?) can become, and consistently puts himself out to help someone else.

Pacha displays virtues like love, patience, faithfulness, hard work, kindness, goodness, and self-control. He loses his temper only once, and only after multiple attempts at making peace. So while he isn’t perfect, he’s about as perfectly human as you’ll find in a Disney hero. And even though Yzma would tell him he should have thought about needing things like a village or a home before he became a peasant, Pacha is the everyman among us. He’s the neighbor who’s happy to help find the right tool you need. He’s the coworker willing to take on an extra load this week without complaint while you’re sick. He’s the man unintimidated by his wife’s assertive personality and ability to take charge. Pacha isn’t flashy and he’s not concerned with being right as much as he is with being good, whether to his wife, his kids, or his egotistical emperor-turned-friend.

The Emperor’s New Groove was originally written as an epic prince and the pauper retelling. (There’s also an unreleased documentary very much worth tracking down online that shows the behind-the-scenes journey of the failed film!) But without knowing the Pacha (to be voiced by Owen Wilson) in that version, I’m willing to bet that this is the better, more realistic hero the movie needed. The next time you watch The Emperor’s New Groove, pay as much attention to Pacha as you do to Kronk and his shoulder Devil’s cool moves, Yzma and the cruel irony of her dependence on Kronk, and Kuzco’s quick quips.

He’s the underrated Disney hero we would do well to learn from.


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