Disney Review: ‘The Emperor’s New Groove’


Once you become a male adult it’s difficult to keep to date with Disney. I’ve missed most major releases over the past decade or so and by all accounts there’s been some quality cinema during that time. For no particular reason we’re going to play catch up, starting with this famously troubled flick.

Director: Mark Dindal

Cast: David Spade, John Goodman, Eartha Kitt, Patrick Warburton

Plot: A selfish brat of an emperor named Kuzco in the Aztec kingdom runs afoul of his advisor Yzma, who plans to murder him. Due to a mix-up he gets turned into a llama instead. Kuzco has to rely on a peasant who he already offended to restore his human form and reclaim his throne.

Review: The Emperor’s New Groove is quite fondly remembered by Disney fans in spite of not performing well in the box office. It’s easy to see why, it’s a quirky little comedy with some nice turns of animation. On the other hand it’s easy to see why it performed poorly (aside from the lacklustre marketing), with a confused approach to the material and lack of real direction.

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Originally the movie involved a peasant (voiced by Owen Wilson) who looked identical to Kuzco, and the two switched places. In addition Yzma would be bent on summoning an evil god to help her block out the sun, which she claimed was causing her to age. Between the Prince and the Pauper story having been done a dozen times and the movie running behind schedule it was given a massive overhaul, dropping Kuzco’s love interest in the process. Sting, who provided original music for the film, was angry about his material being dropped from the film. What was left was a rather thin plot driven by comedy more than anything else.

Not that it’s bad, but it does lack a certain sparkle. Neither Kuzco (Spade), Yzma (Kitt) or the peasant Pacho (Goodman) get much backstory. Kuzco in particular feels very poorly developed before being turned into a Llama – apart from being ‘spoiled’ there’s very little to him. Pacho does get a family further down the line but they pop in to the story so infrequently they may not exist. Yzma wants to kill Kuzco but her motivations are never fully explored, and she doesn’t pose much threat.

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By this point it may not sound as though there’s much to see here. Fortunately after hanging its hopes on the comedy it does manage to deliver. The sharply angled designs and snappy animation leads a fun kinetic feel to the story and the physical humour hits the mark frequently. The actions of Kuzco the Llama are particularly good fun, with him distorting every which way at a moments notice. Casting David Spade in the lead role is never a good move for a production but I’d be lying if you said he doesn’t raise a few laughs with his snarky brat routine.

Yzma is a confused character. She’s fun, but we never know what she’s about or what her end goal is. Fortunately she’s paired with the bone-headed henchman Kronk, played by Patrick Warburton. Almost every scene he was is pure gold. Occasionally the movie tries to break the fourth wall for extra attitude, but Kronk’s routine with the angel and devil on his shoulders is the only one that hits the mark.

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Animation wise it’s also hit and miss. As with any Disney flick the animation is above the bar industry wide but the style is uncertain. We switch from big, elaborate set pieces and neon laboratory equipment to scenes that play out entirely against a black and grey background. The lack of consistency winds up being distracting, particularly during the confrontation in the lab.

Should you see it? Sure, but it’ll work best in a marathon rather than the night’s headline act. It is good to see a Disney hero full of snark and not hinging his arc on a love story.

Rating: SIX outta TEN