Whoa whoa wait a minute. Now I know about Song of the South and Black Cauldron, but why would they bury the Emperor's New Groove? Not only was that movie awesome, but they made a DtV sequel and a TV series based on it.
Because Eisner hated it. Seriously.
A Disney animator team worked on an "epic" film about the Incas called Kingdom of the Sun for about 2 years. In it, a prince and a peasant trade places; meanwhile this villain person tries to destroy the sun because it ruined her complexion. Oh yeah, and the peasant falls in love with a princess. Yadda, yadda, yadda.
After The Lion King, it seemed all Disney ever wanted was dead-serious epics; surely one would be able to match up. So far, none really have. And the team could tell how dull this was; they hated working on it. The overseers didn't like their results either, so they gave them a deadline of 2 weeks to shape up the movie, or else they'd pull the plug and cancel the whole film.
With their heads now in a vise, the producer now shrugged and said, "Hey, if we're gonna go down anyway, why not actually have FUN with this movie for once?" So they changed the whole thing around; and shortly it became what you know now.
Eisner said, "Okay, fine; make it that way," but he was mortified. This silly thing wasn't the epic he was hoping for by any means.
So, when Groove came out, Disney did everything to make sure you DIDN'T know it was there. When they came out with their Groove trailer, they released the trailer for Atlantis: The Lost Empire at the same time to overshadow it. Atlantis wouldn't arrive for a whole year, but anything was better than people noticing this one weird film….. (And the commercials it DID have were pretty bad.)
Then, when it was released, none of the usual merchandising or Happy Meals resulted. No deals with advertisers; nothing. The attitude was, this is going to obviously bomb; let's just get it over with quietly.
Disney focused all their marketing on their "sure-fire hit" that holiday season, 102 Dalmatians. Why they keep putting their hopes in rehash crud I have no idea, because Groove went on to outgross 102 Dalmatians and become their most critically praised movie of 2000. If they hadn't released this, they would have had NO critical praise that year. Ha!
Seeing a "surprising" growth in sales because of this movie, Disney quickly made some hype posters and advertising for it for the Martin Luther King 3-day weekend. It made $6 million that week; in it's 6th week at the box office.
Eisner still wanted his way, so they quietly released the film onto video, and then put it on network TV rather early. Too bad. The only ones too dim to laugh at Kuzco were the people in charge. In future years, this one film will still be an underappreciated cult hit; much like Earthbound is to video games.
Eisner has since left the building, and the movie has developed the fanfollowing it deserved, which of course led to the tv series. So, there you go.
There are RUMORS that Princess Mononoke was similarly buried by Toy Story 2 and that no real effort was put towards marketing Mononoke at all, due to it similarly being "Unmarketable and guaranteed to fail", but I can't pull facts on that one, due to it being an outside product they licensed, rather than produced internally... and it seems silly to pick up the rights to an amazing movie and then try to bury it... or does it? (Because you know, theatrical release in 10 theaters with no tv comemrcials just screams "trying to make it succeed.")