Any time Disney releases a successful theatrical feature, you can bet your bottom dollar (or any dollar you have handy) they'll follow it up with a direct-to-video sequel. Oddly, it took them five years to provide "Kronk's New Groove," the 2005 follow-up to 2000's "The Emperor's New Groove," one of their better animated films. But it's not so coincidental, perhaps, that the new issue appears at about the same time as the five-year anniversary edition of "Emperor." Like most video sequels, "Kronk" doesn't live up to its progenitor; if it did, it would have been shown in theaters. But it's not the entire disaster it could have been, either.
Remember my credo about a movie's title: If the studio can't make up its mind about it, the confusion will probably be reflected in the film. Well, this one is labeled on the keep case, the paper insert, and the disc itself as "Kronk's New Groove." However, the movie's title screen labels it "The Emperor's New Groove 2: Kronk's New Groove." Why Disney decided to drop the first part of the title from its advertising is anybody's guess. You'd think they would want to capitalize as much as possible on the popularity of the first film. They certainly do so in the body of the sequel, where the first film is referenced several times, including one instance where the Emperor actually holds up a big sign for it.
Anyway, the new film takes up where the older one left off. The setting is pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, and as the prologue puts it, "Long ago, somewhere deep in the jungle....(again)." That sets a tone for what the filmmakers hope to be as sharp-edged an animated feature as the first film was. They don't succeed, however, because they chose as their lead this time the least likely of the previous film's characters, Kronk (Patrick Warburton), the big, dumb goon who used to work for the evil sorceress Yzma (Eartha Kitt). He hasn't got the sarcastic wit of Kuzco (David Spade) that made him if not a likeable hero at least an interesting one. Kuzco and Pacha (John Goodman), the helpful peasant, show up in the new film, but they seem only there to help sell the product; they are hardly in the story line at all, except Pacha toward the conclusion of the film. Kuzco is as egotistical as ever, and Pacha is as sweet as ever, almost as sweet as the reformed Kronk, but, as I say, they barely make an appearance.
That leaves Yzma to pretty much carry the show with her wicked ways, and she almost steals the picture until she disappears in the second half. Which brings up another problem with the film: It's like two half-hour segments of a television series strung together with a wrap-up at the end. In the first half we learn that Kronk has quit his nefarious past and become a good guy, good being his "new groove," opening his own pizza restaurant and making friends with everyone in town. But Yzma lures him back to the dark side with a con game to earn money selling a phony elixir of life, a youth serum. Kronk needs the money because his father (John Mahoney) is coming to visit him, and his father thinks Kronk is married, with a family and a big house on a hill. Kronk desires urgently to please his father, and the money will go a long way toward fulfilling that end. The story with Yzma then comes to an early climax, and a new story begins, one in which Kronk explains how he found and lost his girlfriend, Ms. Birdwell (Tracey Ullman), during a scouting competition. The two parts of the story hardly add up to a cohesive whole.
There is, of course, music along the way, most of it sterile, although Yzma's tunes are colorfully presented. It doesn't help, though, that the first musical number, "True To Your Groove," is one of the loudest and most annoying songs in the film, which does not bode well for the rest of the movie.
The animation is rather simple, somewhat like a made-for-television production, with only occasional backgrounds of any depth or detail. Understandably, Disney would not spend as much money on a direct-to-video product as they would on a theatrical release, but this sequel was still a tad disappointing in the art department. The colors are radiant and character expressions are vivid enough, though, so let's say it's a middling success.
The film's major salvation comes during the finish when we're treated to an old-fashioned, sentimental, uplifting, thematic close. While every little bit helps, even for a children's movie there should have been more to the plot and characters than this.
The picture looks good, transferred to disc at an anamorphic widescreen dimension that will easily fill up a 16x9 television and at a high enough bit rate to ensure plenty of deep, solid colors. The images are as well defined as we would expect from a conventional 2-D animated project, and digital artifacts like added grain, haloes, or pixilation are nowhere to be found. There is not a lot of texture or shadow to the cartoon, so the transfer engineers probably didn't have the biggest challenge to work with.
The sound in English is available in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1, while the French and Spanish soundtracks come in DD 5.1 only. The Dolby Digital audio is a tad too bright for my taste and lacks much energy in the lower octaves, giving it a hard, forward sound. The idea, I suppose, is to punch home the music and effects, but it was a little tiresome on my ears after a while. The front-channel stereo spread, while not enormously wide, is pleasantly alive, and there is a touch of musical ambience in the surrounds, with occasional voices.
The three major extras on the disc are two children's games and a behind-the-scenes featurette. The first game, "Kronk's Brain Game," had what seemed like about a two-hour introduction that put me off it right away; the second game, "Pyramid Scheme," is a TV-type quiz where you're asked to answer questions about the film. The seven-minute featurette is "How To Cook A Movie," wherein Patrick Warburton (Kronk), the film's co-directors, Saul Andrew Blinkoff and Elliot M. Bour, and others like Eartha Kitt provide some inside information on the film's making. Things wrap up with twenty scene selections; a chapter insert; Sneak Peeks at eight other Disney titles; English, French, and Spanish spoken languages; and English captions for the hearing impaired. The keep case comes enclosed in a colorful, embossed, cardboard slipcover.
"Kronk's New Groove" provides lighthearted fun for children, plenty of color, and a sweet moral lesson at the end. If its characters, music, and action seem to an adult less than inspired, that's the price one pays for watching a straight-to-video sequel. There is compensation in all things, and one must take the liabilities into account.