Friday, April 10, 2015

The Emperor's New Groove Review

Disney is responsible for some of cinema's most incredible features in history. They pretty much wrote the book on animated movies. Disney is also responsible for some of the most deplorable rubbish imaginable that ever hit the direct-to-DVD shelves. An oft overlooked animated movie they did remarkably well on was The Emperor's New Groove (2000). It was unlike many of its predecessors in that it wasn't an epic drama, it was a full length slapstick silly movie that the legendary Chuck Jones, director old of the Loony Tunes shorts, would have been proud of. This great and fantastic film puts me in stitches every time I see it!
Vain and cocky Emperor Kuzco (David Spade) is a very busy man. Besides maintaining his "groove," and firing his suspicious administrator, Yzma (Eartha Kitt);he's also planning to build a new water park just for himself for his birthday. However, this means destroying one of the villages in his kingdom. Meanwhile, Yzma is hatching a plan to get revenge and usurp the throne. But, in a botched assassination, courtesy of Yzma's right-hand man, Kronk (Patrick Warburton), Kuzco is magically transformed into a llama. Now, Kuzco finds himself the property of Pacha (John Goodman), a lowly llama herder whose home is ground zero for the water park. Upon discovering the llama's true self, Pacha offers to help resolve the Emperor's problem and regain his throne, only if Kuzco promises to move his water park. Kuzco's perfect world becomes a perfect mess as this unlikely duo deal with hair-raising dangers and wild comic predicaments as they race to return Kuzco to the throne before Yzma tracks them down and finishes him off.
Believe it or not, The Emperor's New Groove started out as another epic as per Disney's usual standards. It was going to be called "Kingdom of the Sun" set in the ancient Incan world and feature a selfish emperor who finds a peasant who looks just like him along the lines of Mark Twain's archtypal novel The Prince and the Pauper. However, the evil witch has plans to summon the evil god Supai and capture the sun so that she may retain her youth forever. She turns the emperor into a llama and threatens to reveal the pauper's identity unless he obeys her. The emperor-llama learns humility in his new form and even comes to love a female llama-herder; and the two set out to undo the witch's plans. It would have delved into Incan spirituality and culture and been a romantic comedy musical in the traditional Disney style.
I think this sounds like a fascinating story! But following the underwhelming box office performances of Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, studio executives felt the project was growing too ambitious and serious for audiences and needed more comedy. The project was pulled and put on hiatus for a number of years, then had the script completely rewritten, the actors recast, the whole thing went in a completely different direction, and had a new title slapped onto it. It resulted in a very light hearted cartoonish romp that had above average animation for its day. The Emperor's New Groove certainly doesn't aim high or strain too hard; it is completely at ease inhabiting it's pretty miniature realm.
The two things that make this movie so utterly fantastic are the voice actors and the animation. There is a brilliant all star cast here, and all of them have experience with comedy. David Spade plays a fantastic sarcastic short guy. John Goodman is a quintessential bighearted teddy bear. Eartha Kitt can be so zany and expressive that everything she says is a hoot. Patrick Warburton has a distinctive voice, and often plays a surly tough guy or a very dim-witted one. Warburton had roles in television shows before The Emperor's New Groove, but he was such a lovable and hilarious part of this movie that every time I have heard his voice after seeing it, I instantly get excited and say, "It's Kronk!" Everyone gets hilarious lines in this movie and no one outshines anyone else; they are all at the top of their game here and it is simply amazing.
The animation is classic 2-D hand drawn cell animation and it's pretty solid. The art has a simple color scheme and doesn't focus too much on shading. This gives a Saturday morning cartoon quality to it. The backgrounds look more detailed than the characters do and there's lots of pretty designs to see. The spastic way the characters are drawn and animated, couples beautifully with the voice actors' performances. Nearly everything they do, both grand and subtle, are funny. Everything from casual exchanges of dialogue to the screwball action is uproarious, thanks to some skilled animators and talented voice actors.
I dare say that Yzma and Kronk steal the show in every scene they are in; they've got to be some of the best, albeit funniest, Disney villains ever. At first Yzma's plan to kill Kuzco is to transform him into a flea, put him into a box, mail the box to herself, and then smash it with a hammer. But then decides poisoning him would be better and save on postage. Kronk keeps forgetting the plan, gets distracted making spinach puffs, and is anything but subtle when Yzma reminds him of their objective. The scene that always gets me is when Yzma and Kronk suspect Pacha of hiding Kuzco and try to search Pacha's home only to be foiled by Pacha's very pregnant wife and two rambunctious prankster little kids. Every time I see this scene I end up literally rolling on the floor laughing out loud and have to pause the movie until I can catch my breath.
While it is unfortunate that the original movie had a complete overhaul and was entirely changed around, the resulting movie is animated comedy gold. The Emperor's New Groove is absolutely uproarious and highly entertaining. The animation is fantastic and reminds me of classic Saturday morning cartoon shows, the voice actors are absolutely brilliant, and the resulting characters are some of the most lovable Disney creations I can think of. The plot is very simple, but that's okay. It may be light hearted, but it's so much fun to watch. The Emperor's New Groove is an outstanding Disney movie that seems to be overlooked these days. It is absolutely worth the cost of a copy to add to your home collection, but as of writing it is available on Netflix streaming. If you haven't seen this movie, you're missing out on a lot of laughs.

Is there an oft overlooked Disney movie that you are particularly fond of? Comment below and tell me all about it!

1 comment:

  1. The Black Cauldron isn't great. The characters are a bit bland, but it's still pretty entertaining in a high fantasy sense, and John Hurt is a completely terrifying villain. Also, The Recuers Down Under is amazing and still a huge favorite. Proof that Disney can do a sequel that outshines the original.