movie review by
Crissa-Jean Chappell


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The Emperor's New Groove

Unlike other animated features that incorporate comedic characters (such as the schizophrenic genie in Aladdin or the jive-talking dragon in Mulan), Disney's The Emperor's New Groove constructs its entire narrative around slapstick gags and self-conscious spoofs. It pays homage to silent clowns, such as Buster Keaton, and the cheeky cartoons of MGM and Warner Bros.

The Emperor's New Groove has gone through a major reconstruction since it began on the storyboards. Originally called Kingdom of the Sun, it planned to evoke the "traditional" Disney style as a romantic musical comedy in which the emperor played a secondary character. Director Mark Dindal (who worked on the visuals for The Little Mermaid and Aladdin and helmed Cats Don't Dance for Warner Bros.) said the shift required his team to employ "out of the box" thinking. However, most of the musical numbers have hit the cutting room floor (except for Sting warbling over the credits and a Tom Jones extravaganza at the beginning). The result is unusual for Disney because the lead is a self-centered meanie and his tireless sidekick the true hero.

Emperor Kuzco is voiced by David Spade and he bears resemblance to the bratty characters Spade often plays: a wiseguy with an endless fascination for himself. Kuzco has a big birthday present in store for himself. It involves the construction of a palace called "Kuzcotopia" atop a sun-touched hill presently occupied by lowly peasants. In a surge of ego, he fires his wizened advisor, the witch Yzma (voiced by Eartha Kitt). She then seeks revenge by poisoning him with a drink. Kronk (Patrick Warburton, from Seinfeld), her dim-bulb boy-toy, prefers cooking and chitchatting with squirrels over carrying out evil deeds, so Yzma turns Kuzco into a pack animal, or more specifically, a llama. Kuzco slinks into the jungle and meets Pacha (voiced by John Goodman), one of the peasants about to face eviction. Conscience is the key word (Pacha has one, Kuzco doesn't yet), so the unlikely pair must rely on each other to escape a tragic fate. They follow in the footsteps of their historical counterparts, those wascally wabbits and anvil-toting coyotes who defeat gravity and ignore the boundaries of the film's frame in a countless manner of reflexive jokes.

The villainess, Yzma, doesn't seem any darker than the emperor himself, but her badness stems from age and gender. She remains the butt of many of the film's jokes, particularly on account of her visual offensiveness (when a woman loses her beauty, she becomes a beast, at least in Disney movies). Her eyelashes extend like barb-tipped cattails and her breasts have sunk somewhere south of the border. Pacha, like many plump sidekicks, has a jolly disposition that offsets the emperor's blistering attitude. Together they make a formidable comic duo in the tradition of Laurel and Hardy, part gallumphing ox, part tear-stricken coward. Kuzco may out-Grinch this season's favorite anti-hero, but has anyone ever measured the size of a llama's heart?

[rating: 3 of 4 stars]