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A Grateful, Talking Llama?!?

Updated: Dec 27, 2022

Lessons of Gratitude and Morality from Kuzco the Talking Llama

As our days grow shorter, our trees begin changing colors and the seasons fade into one another; these are a few signs that mark the upcoming holiday season. Depending on your perspective and participation, it can be challenging as a parent during this season to squeeze in the energy required to lead and model the lessons we hope our children follow. Lessons of gratitude, kindness, and appreciation of others can feel like additional holiday preparation tasks - especially when battling the overwhelming materialistic "must haves" of said holidays.

In a world that seems to value overabundance it can seem like a challenge to help children find reasons to be grateful. But it is doable! By embracing gratitude and prioritizing it in your home, you allow the entire family to benefit. So why not turn these times into teachable moments of gratitude, kindness, good morality, and the ability to search for the silver lining when faced with negative experiences? Disney’s classic movie The Emperor’s New Groove showcases these lessons for us. What Good Moral and Character Looks Like – and Doesn’t…

This Disney classic is largely centered around the character growth of Emperor Kuzco, an initially selfish, egotistic, and vain young ruler of a fictitious Mesoamerican civilization. When Kuzco fires his advisor for exercising too much power, she in turn tries to poison him. Fortunately, thanks to the efforts of her loyal but laughably simple sidekick Kronk, the poison is accidentally swapped with a potion that instead turns him into a talking llama.

The lessons go deeper than just the karmic retribution of being turned into a llama after ruling a kingdom with little consideration for anyone outside himself. Kuzco only becomes a redeemable character after his time as a llama. Likely the sole result of the impactful moral example Pacha sets for him as their eventual friendship, and the movie develop.

Pacha is the moral compass and heart of the film, with us seeing how much his village means to him and how much he cares for his family. Pacha isn’t willing to compromise his morals to benefit himself or those he cares about, which is clear from the beginning. If Kuzco dies, Pacha’s village is saved, but Pacha still attempts to rescue Kuzco multiple times and looks out for him whenever danger is around. He doesn’t have to, but he does so because that’s just who Pacha is. He’s a well-natured and responsible father with a heart full of compassion for those around him. Because that’s who he chooses to be. Pacha serves as the perfect teacher of just how impactful kindness and choosing good morality can be.

What If Kuzco Never Lost His Groove? A Battle of Self-Awareness

The movie eventually leads to a crucial moment in the rain, where Kuzco begins to struggle with his own self-awareness. Being privy to his inner thoughts as he begins his internal struggle with self-awareness allows us to grasp what it’s like to grapple with proper accountability. It is only when Kuzco loses his groove and becomes a llama where he realizes this lack of gratuity and self-awareness of the privilege and power he once held. We watch and empathize with the feelings of despair as the realization kicks in that he has not been the victim he initially thought himself to be. The choices he had made had a direct and negative impact on all of those around him and likely led to his own less-than-favorable predicament.

Kuzco holds two inner dialogues the “Winner” and “Loser,” as he calls them, the spoiled human living in the castle and the sad llama in the rain–two voices in one body vying for control. By taking on the two perspectives, Kuzco becomes his own foil, each of his bad choices, making his good ones carry the weight of even more meaning. We get to watch Kuzco work through his problems and face reality, and this works to emphasize the difference between who he was and who he became. We journey alongside of him as he reflects on what led him to his lowest point empowering him with the freedom to change and to bear witness to his silver lining.

Kuzco’s moral development occurs gradually and is genuinely transformative as he’s faced with a difficult decision; does he grab the potion to transform him back into a human or save Pacha from falling to his death? At the beginning of the movie, he likely wouldn’t have paused, yet his journey through the jungle with Pacha has given him more than he knew he was missing. Pacha has shown him genuine affection, friendship, and respect. Luckily for Pacha, Kuzco has begun to learn from his previous mistakes and chooses to save his friend rather than the vial to return him to his human form. As the two continue their journey back to the palace, the opportunity for moral improvement continues for Kuzco as he’s exposed to novel perspectives through the lens of others and truly begins to comprehend that his interests should not be prioritized over those of others.

Growth & Transformation Through Accountability

Ultimately, his ability to accept responsibility for his past choice and actions allows him to gain the compassion needed to grow. He takes accountability for who he was and how he’s hurt others. He values and finds gratitude of human life (even when not speaking of his own) over the vanity of his body’s form. He learned an appreciation for human connection and friendship, allowing him to reciprocate the kindness shown to him by Pacha as he apologizes to those he wronged in the past.

This emphasizes how getting to know someone else on a deeper level can change one’s perceptions about life and the values one holds. Pacha remains a patient leader, consistently modeling and teaching Kuzco through his actions throughout the movie, reinforcing the gratitude Kuzco now holds for the second chance at life he received when Kronk mixed up the potions. If Kuzco hadn’t been turned into a llama, would he really ever have gained this opportunity to experience life through compassion, love, and understanding?

Help your kids see that something good can come from a difficult circumstance or a negative experience. Ask questions that help your child discover the potential silver lining in a tough situation. Such as, “What’s something good that could come from something hard like this?" In doing so, you’ll help them focus on gratitude, even on their worst days. Work on new gratitude strategies and keep modeling how to be thankful, kind, humble, and appreciative of the wants and needs of others, and you’ll likely see these moments of entitlement fade away.


A self-described geek, Maria Laquerre-Diego is a CEO and Owner who is committed to increasing access to mental health services and breaking down the stigma surrounding therapy services. As a therapist turned CEO, Maria has developed a unique perspective when it comes to mental health and the barriers surrounding mental health treatment. Influenced by her time at New Mexico State University in the Family and Consumer Science department, and University of New Hampshire’s Marriage and Family Therapy department, Maria has turned her dedication to giving back and supporting future generations of therapists. In addition to supporting mental health providers, Maria takes an active role in addressing the continued stigma of mental health services through the use of pop culture – everything from movies and television shows to superheroes and Disney characters. Maria has spoken about mental health at several local events, has served as an officer on professional boards and has provided training to clinicians all over the country while maintaining her and her family’s roots as Aggies! Outside of the office, Maria can be found spending time with her family and loved ones, exploring the world through travel, and creating cosplays for herself, her husband and their two little ones. Maria is always happy to talk about Star Wars, Marvel and mental health and can be contacted through her practice website

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