The Emperor's New Groove
review by Dan Lybarger, 15 December 2000

In many ways, The Emperorís New Groove is the "low-calorie alternative" to the usual Disney offering. Several Mouse House trademarks are absent here, and like the calories in diet foods, they are not missed. There are only two songs on the soundtrack, and thereís only one anthropomorphic animal. While there are no jaw-dropping sequences like the avalanche in Mulan or the stampede in The Lion King, there is enough vitality in The Emperorís New Groove to compensate. By emphasizing story and character and removing some of the less potent elements from the Disney formula, The Emperorís New Groove has a freshness thatís been missing from some of its predecessors.

The new cartoon is not adapted from a fairy tale, history or a literary classic. True, the script (primarily credited to David Reynolds, Chris Williams and director Mark Dindal) borrows elements from Beauty and the Beast and other Disney flicks. Nonetheless, the lack of a direct source in another medium is the first of many wise decisions. One does not watch The Emperorís New Groove and groan over what the screenwriters have done with the original. The story is set in a mythical kingdom with South American terrain and Aztec architecture. It is also curiously replete with 21st-century slang (there is talk of "downsizing"). The realm appears prosperous despite the fact that its leader, Kuzco (voiced by David Spade at his caustic best) is a 24-carat megalomaniac. The young Emperor is fond of naming things after himself (he wants to name his proposed summer home "Kuzcotopia") and orders a disabled old man to be thrown out a window because he threw off the sovereignís dance steps.

Kuzcoís behavior doesnít endear him to the palace staff. When he fires his top advisor Yzma (Eartha Kitt) for sitting on his throne, it proves to be a nearly fatal mistake. Yzma is as devious as the Emperor is egotistical. She and her muscular assistant Kronk (Patrick Warburton) try to poison Kuzcoís birthday dinner so they can take power for themselves. The plan falls apart because Kronk misreads the vials and instead pours the Emperor potion that turns him into a talking llama. Yzma demands that Kronk kill the poor beast, but Kronk (whoís better at cookery than skullduggery) bungles that task as well. In the process, Kuzco falls into the cart of a peasant named Pacha (John Goodman).

When he discovers that what heís brought home is no ordinary llama, Pacha agrees to help Kuzco get back to the palace and return to human form. This is a generous move on the part of the peasant. In his only previous encounter with Kuzco, the Emperor proudly stated that he would destroy Pachaís village to create "Kuzcotopia." The two also face a myriad of obstacles, including waterfalls, jaguars, scorpions, and greasy spoon diners. The biggest hindrance, however, is the fact that Yzma has no desire to break her spell. 

All of these factors help keep The Emperorís New Groove moving at a quick pace. Another component is the inclusion of Kronk. Kronk steals just about every scene heís in. His fondness for cooking and mingling with forest animals makes him lovable. Warburton, who starred in the underrated The Woman Chaser, has a beautiful deadpan delivery that makes every remark that emerges from his mouth hilarious. Donít be surprised if Kronk gets a TV-show of his own after this movie hits the screens

The other voice actors are also solid, and the hipster attitude usually works. Every now and then the writers overdo the jokes about unemployment and fast food. Still, the filmmakerís willingness to tweak the Disney formula helps keep it from growing stagnant.

Directed by:
Mark Dindal

David Spade
John Goodman
Eartha Kitt
Patrick Warburto
Wendie Malick
Trudy Styler
Tom Jones

Written by:
Roger Allers
Mark Dindal
Matthew Jacobs
David Reynolds
Chris Williams





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