EMPEROR'S NEW GROOVE - DVD review

It is not vintage Disney, to be sure, but it beats most anything on the Cartoon Channel.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.
Puccio

Never let it be said that Disney ever missed an opportunity to reissue a product. The studio released "The Emperor's New Groove" in a two-disc special edition several years ago, and they are now releasing again it on a single disc, with a select few of the original bonus materials. It would appear the idea is to persuade potential buyers who heretofore have been hesitant about investing in the more-expensive product, the new single disc carrying a suggested list price about half that of the bigger edition. For people who are not keen on paying a high price or buying a used DVD set, the new offer seems reasonable.

Let's talk about the movie first. I suspect the Disney folks were as surprised as anyone at the phenomenal success of their 1992 animated feature "Aladdin," among adults as well as children, thanks largely to the hip vocal talents of Robin Williams as the genie of the lamp. It must not have taken them long to recognize that they might duplicate that accomplishment with a whole movie devoted to hip, cool, smart dialogue and characters. Thus, no doubt, was born the idea for "The Emperor's New Groove," a 2000 animated feature four years in the making that tries to one-up its 1992 progenitor in the "with-it" category. If it doesn't fully succeed in its goal, it still produces enough witty narration and snappy repartee to keep audiences comfortably occupied for seventy-seven minutes.

"The Emperor's New Groove" tells the story of a llama, a llama named Kuzco. Or an emperor named Kuzco, if I'm not confusing you. You see, they're one and the same. The llama used to be a human, an eighteen-year-old, pre-Columbian, Mesoamerican king whose groove was thrown out of whack early on. He got on the wrong side of his advisor, an evil crone and part-time sorceress named Yzma ("Proof that dinosaurs once roamed the Earth"), who turned him into the fleecy creature we meet at the beginning of the picture. Fortunately, Kuzco can still talk (and talk and talk), so he narrates the tale of how he came to be in his frightful condition.

Yzma's dim-witted flunky, Kronk, was supposed to have given Kuzco a deadly poison, but he goofed and gave the emperor a llama potion instead. Then Kuzco got away before Kronk could do anything about it. When Yzma found out what happened, she was determined to find Kuzco the llama before he could talk to anyone. But in a rather involved plot complication, Kuzco wound up in the middle of the jungle far from the palace, with only a peasant, Pacha, to help him get back to his rightful throne. The plot involves Kuzco and Pacha trying to return to the palace before Yzma and Kronk can knock them off.

Kuzco is played by the voice talent of David Spade, whose dialogue alternates between clever and funny and syrupy and annoying. When he's in the former mode, the movie zips along; when he turns all gushy as typical Disney animated characters are wont to do, things slow down considerably. Kuzco's bigger problem, however, is even more disturbing for the audience; namely, he's almost totally unlikable. He's a conceited, self-absorbed jerk, a selfish brat, traits we can see at the outset are going to concern the movie's ultimate moral but don't help us much while we're getting there. Yes, of course, it's about the emperor learning to be more humble, more giving, and, yes, of course, he learns his lesson. This is Disney, after all.

Still, Kuzco is so unsympathetic most of the time, the film doesn't afford us anyone to root for except Pacha, played in unusually understated fashion by John Goodman. Pacha the peasant is kind, generous, and caring, everything Kuzco isn't. Pacha is also dull and mostly boring. Which brings us to the villains, Yzma and Kronk, who constantly upstage their protagonist cousins. Yzma is played brilliantly by Eartha Kitt, who shamelessly steals every scene she's in by chewing up the microphone. Thank heaven for her energy because the others have to rely solely on the script for their presence to be noticed. Kronk, played by Patrick Warburton, is a fairly typical big, dumb, cartoonish goon.

The best parts of the film are its appearance, its energy, and its continual high spirits. It's one of Disney's better-looking animations, not quite equaling "Tarzan" in overall beauty but doing a good job filling the screen with luminosity and invention, particularly the palace scenes and the mountaintop settings. The script, and Ms. Kitt, maintain a high kinetic level, with jokes, attempted jokes, and visual gags coming fast. Pacha's rescue of Kuzco from a pack of panthers is an exhilarating sequence, and a scene in a jungle restaurant is fairly funny.

Don't expect a lot of originality in the film, though. It's mainly derivative of previous Disney efforts. I already mentioned the Robin Williams genie. Then there's Yzma, a combination of the wicked stepmother in "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" and Cruella DeVil from "One Hundred and One Dalmatians." That Kronk doesn't actually kill Kuzco in the first place is also from "Snow White." The turning-into-a-llama bit comes to us courtesy of the donkeys in "Pinocchio." Several of Pacha's rescues are straight from "Tarzan." You get the point.

Finally, don't count on much in the way of music from this one, something I think I missed more than anything else. Disney cartoons are practically the only bastions left of the Hollywood movie musical, and when you get one that has little or nothing in the way of songs in it, well, it's a little disappointing. "The Emperor's New Groove" does sport a brief opening song by Tom Jones and a closing-credits song, "My Funny Friend and Me," by Sting that got an Oscar nomination, but neither one is anything you come away remembering especially.

Video:
The movie's picture quality is the same as in the earlier edition, and it's still as nearly perfect as it could be: Near-perfect colors, near-perfect delineation and contrast, and a near-perfect transfer; or as close to a near-perfect transfer as non high-definition technology can come. The keep case still says the screen size is 1.66:1, enhanced for 16x9 televisions, but on my set the screen size continues to measure closer to 1.74:1, even wider than the Disney folk admit.

Audio:
The Dolby Digital 5.1 (or DTS 5.1, the disc offers both) sound is quite good, too, although I found the movie's visual characteristics so good, I probably didn't notice the audio as much. I thought the sound setup could have delivered more information to the rear channels, but it's sufficient to make a decent impact.

Extras:
Insofar as extras go, as I said earlier, you get a sampling of things on this single disc from the original two-disc set. First, there's an audio commentary with the producer, the director, and various others of the filmmakers, seven people in all. I found their remarks fairly dry, although informative. Next, there are three deleted scenes: "Destruction of Pacha's Village," in full animation, and "Pacha's Family" and an early, discarded "Kuzcotopia" ending in storyboard form only. After that is "The Emperor's Got Game," an adventure game for kids, followed by two music videos, Rascal Flatts doing "Walk the Llama Llama" and Sting making "My Funny Friend and Me." Then, there are several brief, self-explanatory, behind-the-scenes featurettes: "The Research Trip," lasting a little over a minute; "The Character Voices," about five minutes; and "Creating Computer-Generated Images," about two minutes. Lastly, there are Sneak Peeks at six other Disney titles: "Lady and the Tramp," "The Wild Shaggy Dog," "Kronk's New Groove," "Tarzan," "Valiant," and "Toy Story 2."

The disc also provides twenty-eight scene selections; a chapter insert; a colorful slipcover that duplicates the cover art; English and French spoken languages; and English captions for the hearing impaired.

Parting Thoughts:
"The Emperor's New Groove" is lovely to look at and supplies a few good laughs. It is not vintage Disney, to be sure, but it beats most anything on the "Cartoon Channel." So, if you've been meaning to buy the film but were put off by the cost of a two-disc set, this single-disc affair makes the proposition a little easier.

Ratings

Video
8
Audio
8
Extras
4
Film Value
7