Dancing Llamas: The Emperor’s New Groove

         The first time I saw The Emperor’s New Groove was a bittersweet day: the last day of middle school. You may wonder why the last day of school—let alone the last day of middle school—would be bittersweet. One word sums it up: redistricting. Our school went from being comprised of mostly going to the same high school to being completely split down the middle. It was a sad day in those silver-and-blue bedecked halls. What made it sadder? Rain, storms, and field day being cancelled. The last day of 7th grade, we took a field trip to a huge park and it was like totally awesome. It rained while we were there, but it started after we got there, so our day wasn’t ruined. However, when it starts storming before your trip, your trip gets cancelled all together. This didn’t just upset the students—suddenly the teachers had to figure out what to do with a huge group of 8th graders about to explode with last-day-of-school energy
            In hindsight—especially now that I am a teacher—I can see what a difficult situation they were put in. Our school was set up as a central hub with several wings sprouting off in straight lines. In one hall, they conjured up a deejay for dancing. In another, the computer lab was open. In the auditorium, they started playing movies. I heard The Lion King was playing, but I was tricked: it was second. I was shocked to discover a very non-Simba-centric movie playing first: The Emperor’s New Groove. I was not pleasantly surprised. I even tried to leave—but once you were committed, they wanted to keep you in one spot.
            So there I was, expecting cake and getting carrots. But I ended up not hating the movie, even though I was being held against my will. I wasn’t dreading watching it again, but I wasn’t really looking forward to it, either. But with all quality products—and Disney does, as a rule, create quality products—I discovered something new as I watched it as an adult, instead of as an impatient 13-year old.
            What I noticed kind of surprised me: Yzma, the villain, is a cougar. Not like the jungle cat; the real, modern-day slanging for an older lady chasing a younger guy. Apparently Kronk is her prey, a young-if-dumb beefed up muscle man. However misguided his soft brain may be, his ability—and willingness—to talk to squirrels and chipmunks makes him okay in my book. Especially once he escapes the evil clutches of Yzma.
            I just finished a Walt Disney biography, and I believe his goodness permeates this film, released so many years after his death. I think the Disney animation studio made a lot of mistakes after Walt’s death (any straight-to-video sequels qualify for this category). Every now and then, I come across something I think Walt would have approved. The message of goodness radiates from Pacha, John Goodman’s voice is the perfect balance, partially because Pacha just looks like him so much, the connection is easy. And as long as I don’t think of John Goodman from the 80’s, with the Roseanne and that general category of ‘things I don’t like’, it’s great. For some reason I can’t really explain or justify, or really feel the need to justify, I love John Goodman. Pacha is the same way. He’s kind, but funny. He’s huggable, but in an uncle sort of way. He’s just a good guy. While I still don’t love the whole movie, I do love that character and the goodness he represents. Goodness is the foundation for greatness.
            Beginning this past Tuesday, I resumed my tutoring at the University. Only now, since I teach in the afternoon, I have to be here early in the morning. I’m not especially a morning person, so this isn’t exactly fun for me. But, as I was driving in the mad darkness that is Alaska at 8:40 a.m. in January, I was rewarded with a lovely sight: a yearling moose in the halo of a streetlight. My first thoughts were of how pretty it was and how thankful I was that it was in that yellow circle of light near the highway without stepping onto the highway. Then I realized that since it’s so dang dark, I couldn’t see any moose if they weren’t near streetlights.
            Fun fact about Alaska: they aren’t a fan of street lights. While this is nice at night, when there aren’t any lights shining in our room, in the morning and while driving it isn’t so nice. They (they being the mysterious people who do things like put up street lights and fix the roads when they’re torn up) added many street lights from Eklutna to Anchorage over the summer. This is great—once I get to Eklutna. But that means for half my drive, I have only my headlights. Because of the vast amount of snow we’ve received so far this year—much more than is typical—the moose are hurting. Their food is under two feet of high-winds-packed snow. This is drawing them out further and further, and bringing them closer to the roads. There’s a sign along my daily drive that says “Mat Su Moose killed this year:” and a steadily increasing number. When I finished tutoring in January, that number was between 100 and 150; I can’t recall exactly. It is now at 269.
            For the rest of my drive, all I could think about was the moose that could be lurking in the shadows of the majestic mountains I so love to see every day. Every uprooted tree, mound of dark snow, deserted cars and exit sign made my heart stop with fear that it was a moose, any moment about to step into the road. Thankfully we’re rapidly gaining daylight and this won’t be a problem for long, but the morning drive seems so much longer when I spend half of it straining to see moose that may or may not be there.
            Sadly, I also saw a moose—or part of one—on my way home. A truck was driving in the opposite direction and all I saw were antlers in the back, but not mounted style, and I knew where they led. I looked away before my eyes could confirm what my mind already knew.
            Despite the now ever-present fear of hitting a moose with my car, the sunrise over the mountains will never cease to amaze me. Today I came into work late and was able to witness the glory that is sunrise over the mountains: pink-lit cloud rushing towards snowy, shadowed peaks. It makes me want to drive to work with a video camera strapped to my head, so everyone could see the beautiful land I now call home.

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