Queer Theory and "Kronk's New Groove": Part One

I will first and foremost clarify that I am not a film major or in any way versed in film analysis (the extent of my knowledge ends at my 12th grade “Introduction to Film Class”). This is simply a passion project following one simple claim: "Kronk’s New Groove" (2005) can be substantially analyzed through the literary lens of queer theory.

Before moving forward with this claim that will snowball into a manifesto, I will first explain what literary queer theory is and how it applies to media. Queer theory is a social literary lens. Like other social lenses (race, feminist, Marxist) it places emphasis on the existence of a dominant paradigm. A dominant paradigm is an overarching social structure that impacts the events in a piece of media and causes tension. For example, the dominant paradigm in a Marxist analysis of "A Christmas Carol" is capitalism. 

In queer theory, the dominant paradigm is the Cis-Heteropatriarchy. This means queer theory explores the oppressive forces of straightness, maleness and cisgendered-ness. This includes and is not limited to: cis-heteronormativity (the assumption that being cisgender and/or heterosexual is the default), toxic masculinity, gender roles, homophobia, transphobia, and queer erasure. 

There happens to be a lot of criticism surrounding queer theory, so let me clarify that my utilization of it in this context is not a full endorsement of it as a means of analysis. To touch on some of the main concerns: queer theory often relies on extremely convoluted language that makes it inaccessible to the average person. It also struggles to fully incorporate transgender experiences, and the utilization of “queer” as an umbrella term is controversial. But disregarding that—let’s have a bit of fun.

"Kronk’s New Groove" is the absurd sequel to the Disney film, "The Emperor’s New Groove" (2000). The plot is fast-paced and…not that good. Kronk, the ex-assistant to the first film’s antagonist, Yzma, has been making a new life for himself. He is a chef at a local restaurant and is beloved by the town locals. He’s content with his reformed lifestyle…until he gets a letter from his father. At this point, we learn that Kronk’s relationship with his father is strained. To escape his father’s disapproval, Kronk has been lying about his life—claiming that he owns a large house on a hill and that he’s married with children. Now, his father is coming to visit, and Kronk has to avoid being found out.

The film is told primarily through a series of flashbacks, depicting times during which Kronk almost had a home and almost found himself a wife before returning back to the filmic present in which he still has neither of these things. I’m not going to summarize the entire movie for you—if you want to know exactly what happens, you’re free to watch it yourself. However, I will begin to apply queer theory to the film. Spoilers for "Kronk’s New Groove" (2005) lay ahead, if that is the sort of thing you would care to avoid. Academic discourse about Kronk’s New Groove is welcomed and encouraged. Now, without further introduction, let’s queer this up:

In order to go forward with a queer theory analysis of "Kronk’s New Groove" (or any work), there are a few questions we have to ask: 

  • Where is the paradigm of the cis-heteropatriarchy present?
  • How do the characters adhere to the pressures and expectations of the paradigm?
  • How do the characters subvert or defy the pressures and expectations of the paradigm? 
  • What evaluations are being made of gender roles and relationships?
    • How is gender presented and examined?
    • How are heterosexuality and heterosexual relationships presented?
      • Are queer relationships presented? How are they being presented?
      • Are there transgender characters being presented? How are they being presented?

For the sake of keeping things article-length, this essay will be posted as 3-part series. In this post, I’ll only be tackling one of these questions:

  • Where is the paradigm of cis-heteropatriarchy present?

As is often true when analyzing media with social lenses, the dominant paradigm’s presence is both overarching and difficult to pinpoint. Basically, it tends to reveal itself as consequence of minor conflicts that lay the foundation of the movie’s plot. In "Kronk’s New Groove," the pressures of cis-heteronormativity have some heavy-handed undertones. I’ll touch on these later. For now, let’s examine the film’s biggest conflict—Kronk’s relationship with his father. 

An early flashback in the film reveals that Kronk’s father first started to disapprove of him when he began to show an interest in baking and speaking to animals. While there is nothing inherently gendered about either of those hobbies, there is some subtle queer and gender coding about them. Baking is stereotypically associated with traditional expectations of womanhood. We see a young Kronk—whose features give him a degree of visual androgyny at this age (long hair, wide eyes, pouty lips)—in an apron, serving cupcakes decorated with pink icing. The cues here aren’t exactly subtle. Kronk himself is not told that his interests are “too girly”, but to viewers, it’s implied. Another layer to this coding of gender-nonconformity is the fact that Kronk expresses a connection to animals from a young age. With the broader context of "Kronk’s New Groove" as a Disney film, there’s reasonable connection to be made between Kronk and the standard Disney princess. 

When we cut back to the present, we are reminded of the two lies that Kronk has told his father: 

  1. He has a wife.
  2. He has a large house on a hill.

The first lie indicates the pressure for Kronk to be heterosexual, and implies that a heterosexual marriage is a success in life. The second lie sets up the stereotype of men being the family breadwinner, and the need for Kronk to perform maleness in order to be accepted. See the following analogy: “male provider:head of the family:master of the house.” 

In the second part, we’ll be talking more about our dominant paradigm, gender roles, and relationships.