The Emperor’s New Groove is a spectacular, goofy, manic, roller-coaster ride of a film. I loved it. While it doesn’t offer the emotional grandeur and sheer memorability of Disney classics such Bambi and The Lion King , I can guarantee you there will be no seat-fidgeting while this wild ride is on the screen. New Groove is a buddy story. Kuzco (nasally sarcastic David Spade from TV’s Just Shoot Me) is a self-absorbed, nasty teenage emperor. His scrawny old sorceress, Yzma (singer Eartha Kitt), orders her muscle-bound servant, Kronk (Patrick Warburton), to poison Kuzco at dinner. But the death plot gets botched while Kronk is trying to make spinach puffs and Kuzco ends up getting turned into a llama. (You’ll understand when you see the film.) Pacha (John Goodman of TV’s Roseanne fame), is the kindly peasant giant who tries to get Kuzco home and rethroned. The two punch, pout, go their separate ways — then save one another’s lives, in turn, and end up best pals forever. Along the way, they run from jaguars; fight off bats, crocodiles and scorpions; dress up like girls; fall off cliffs; climb up canyons; go over waterfalls, cling to temple walls –you know the routine. But in The Emperor’s New Groove the “routine” action is visually stupendous and hilarious. The story takes place in a mythical pre-Columbian mountainous jungle kingdom with lots of llamas (in other words, a place much like Peru). The art directors actually call the style of the film “Incan paint” — having based the color palette for the film on their study of Incan artifacts and archaeological sites. The Incan influence in the film is everywhere, from the depictions of pottery and feather-flounced headdresses to the angular style of the human characters — who are often seen, Inca-like, in profile. The visual impact of the movie is so intense, you feel like the color rods in your retina are on overload and the imagery stays with you for days. Animation students are going to be studying this film’s artwork for decades. But the absence of two Disney signature items diminishes the movie’s emotional impact. First, there are no singable songs. In fact, there are only two songs in the entire movie, both by Sting. Sadly, the tunes are not memorable. Also missing is the usual oddball cast of supporting characters; there’s no Tinkerbell to be found here. The funniest moment in the film, however, did come from two minor characters. Pacha’s two kids brought the house down with their hysterically funny bunk-bed bickering. If Disney execs were smart, they’d whip up a spin-off sneak the Inca brats into the emperor’s palace (and possibly into their own TV series).
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