The Emperor's New Groove
Screenplay : David Reynolds (story by Chris Williams and Mark Dindal)
MPAA Rating : G
Year of Release : 2000
In The Emperor's New Groove, David Spade, former Saturday Night Live alum and current star of the TV series Just Shoot Me, lends his voice to Emperor Kuzco, the self-centered, pampered teenage ruler of an unspecified ancient kingdom. Spade was a key choice to voice Kuzco because he lends the character exactly the kind of infantile, smart-aleck narcissism that the plot requires without making him intolerable. Yes, we all know within five minutes that the story will entail Kuzco's learning to think of others before himself, but director Mark Dindal makes the movie so much fun in a free-form, slapstick, throw-away manner that is largely lacking from most high-concept Disney animated films that you can absorb the narrative's vague didactic urges without choking.
The Emperor's New Groove feels about as spontaneous and improvised on-the-spot as a Disney movie is likely to be, which in and of itself is a virtue in a time when animated movies seem more and more like factory products assembled out of "essential" parts: a Broadway-type musical number here, a comedic sidekick there, some dazzling special effects, and a good life lesson to wrap it all up. Instead, The Emperor's New Groove doesn't take itself too seriously, avoids having its characters burst into song, and is populated entirely by the comedic sidekick characters that usually litter the margins of Disney movies--all of them are extreme caricatures designed to make you laugh (this is especially true of Yzma, who resembles Cruella DeVille reduced to a skeleton and then crossed with one of the insects from A Bug's Life).
The story involves Kuzco being turned into a llama by his recently fired advisor, a scathing old crone named Yzma (Eartha Kitt). Yzma meant to poison him, but her dim-witted, but ultimately well-meaning right-hand man, Kronk (Patrick Warburton), accidentally gave him llama potion instead. So, the vain emperor finds himself stranded in the dangerous jungle and trapped in the body of a llama (surely one of the more absurd creatures in the animal kingdom) with only a big-hearted peasant named Pacha (John Goodman) to help him.
Thus, The Emperor's New Groove turns into a buddy movie, with Kuzco and Pacha forming an unlikely odd couple. Pacha is upset because Kuzco plans to demolish his village in order to build "Kuzcotopia," a new summer palace. Yet, Pacha is so kindly and decent that he helps the insufferable emperor anyway, which is, of course, the first step toward teaching Kuzco humility and benevolence.
The filmmakers keep the look of the movie fairly rough, which is entirely appropriate. This is not a smoothly polished piece of animation, and it doesn't feature the kind of jaw-dropping, eye-boggling computer effects that have become the hallmark of recent animated films. Instead, director Mark Dindal sticks to the basics of slapstick and relies on the talent of his vocal performers to bring the characters to life.
The Emperor's New Groove moves quickly along on with pratfall goofiness and a light-hearted attitude toward its subject matter (read: very little sentimentality). It's not out to overly impress anyone, just to offer a good time. There are a few exciting action sequences that kick the momentum up another notch, and screenwriter David Reynolds keeps the dialogue hip and contemporary, despite the ancient setting. The result is no masterpiece, but it is a fun, throw-away kid's movie that has enough solid laughs and sly jokes to keep adults entertained, as well.
©2000 James Kendrick