The Emperor’s New Groove (2000)
Bad Movie Studios Review
I broke convention with my last review, Deathstalker (1983) , and I thought, screw it, I’ll just keep breaking convention and review The Emperor’s New Groove. Usually, I stick to reviewing Horror films, and that changed when I did Deathstalker, a fantasy film from the early 80’s. Well I just sat through The Emperor’s New Groove and thought, why not do a review of it. I’m also breaking tradition for me because I usually do reviews of movies while I watch them and I’m not doing it here. I did JUST watch it though so it’s still fresh in my head.
Growing up, I wasn’t a very big Disney fan. A strange statement because I grew up during the boom of their animated features in the 90’s. You had The Little Mermaid (1989, technically not the 90’s but mostly grouped with those films), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), The Lion King (1994), A Goofy Movie (1995), Pocahontas (1995), Toy Story (1995), James and the Giant Peach (1996, one that isn’t usually lumped in with the rest), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), Hercules (1997), Mulan (1998), A Bug’s Life (1998), Tarzan (1999) and Toy Story 2 (1999). That’s 13 films alone in 10 years that kids went gaga over. And of course there were a few in the early 2000’s that are worth mentioning too like Dinosaur (2000), The Emperor’s New Groove (2000), Atlantis (2001), Monsters Inc. (2001) and Lilo & Stitch (2002). I know that’s leaving a few out, but that really encapsulates the Disney’ films that I was inundated with as a child. Now if you ask any Disney fan which of those movies they like, they’ll have an easier time telling you which one’s they don’t. But me? I was a rebel. Okay not really, but I wasn’t big on Disney. I mean sure I liked the Lion King a lot, it’s probably my favorite Disney movie, but who didn’t? I wasn’t turned on to The Hunchback of Notre Dame until, legitimately a few months ago. I didn’t watch any of the Disney Princess films excepts for Mulan, an alright movie but I didn’t love it. That same opinion goes for A Bug’s Life and Dinosaur. I did however really like Monsters Inc. and thought that Lilo and Stitch wasn’t too bad either. But for the most part, I’ve either not seen the rest of the Disney Classics, or I just really didn’t care for them. The Emperor’s New Groove however was one that I did enjoy as a kid. But I hadn’t seen it in years prior to watching it just a few short hours ago.
The Emperor’s New Groove came out in a very interesting time in the Disney Animated Life Cycle. By 2000, Disney had started experimenting with more computer animated features, and clearly they were liking it, as a lot of their traditional animated films were starting to have more and more scene’s with some CG touches thrown in. By the time that The Emperor’s New Groove came out in 2000, Disney had already showed what computer animation could achieve with Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Dinosaur. And Monsters Inc. would appear a year later to reinforce the idea. And it was pretty much a wrap after that. Following the release of Finding Nemo in 2003, nearly every Disney Animated Classic that came out would be computer animated, with a few exceptions like The Princess and the Frog (2009) and Winnie the Pooh (2011). The reason of even bringing this up is because The Emperor’s New Groove is one of the last Disney Animated features to be made primarily with traditional animation. I say primarily because it has one or two computer enhanced shots, but the other 95% of it is traditional drawn animation. In short, by the time it came out, it was already a part of a dying breed. It’s kind of a shame. Although you can do a lot of really cool things with computer animation, I personally would like to see a return to the traditional 2D style more often. I think an animated version of The Phantom of the Opera, if done in the style of the Hunchback of Notre Dame, would be awesome. But that’s my own wishful thinking. Anyway, let me get to the review.
An added point: like always, I will not be running down the plot as best as possible and will instead try to talk about the aesthetic and technical parts of the film that I find need mentioning, giving my opinion in the process.
I guess the first thing that sticks out to me about The Emperor’s New Groove is the cast. We have David Spade in the lead as the Emperor Kuzco, John Goodman as the peasant Pacha, Eartha Kitt as the evil Yzma, Patrick Warburton as her bumbling but good hearted assistant Krunk and Wendie Malick as Chicha, Pacha’s wife. Really why this is funny to me is because Disney animated films today are known for hiring big name A-list celebrities for their features. Now with no disrespect to any of the cast of this film, even in 2000, they were hardly a hot commodity. But with that aside, I have to say that each actor does a great job with their characters. David Spade’s Kuzco is a prefect self centered jerk, and I love Eartha Kitt as Yzma. There’s just an over the top character to her voice that makes her great, and I just love her in anything she’s in, From Holes (2003) to when she was on the Batman TV Show from the mid to late 60’s as Catwoman. Patrick Warburton’s baritone voice fits Krunk like a glove, and John Goodman does a good job as a believable, down to earth good natured man. Overall everybody does a good job, and the characters are enjoyable (Pacha’s children being the exception for me), with a sort of over the top nature hovering above most of the performances. But it’s okay because it doesn’t get overbearing. It’s just right.
Now the plot of the movie is fairly simple, and although I won’t reveal the particular’s of it, I will say that if you’ve seen these kind of films before, it’s pretty predictable. It’s about a young emperor, Kusco, who only thinks of himself an acts very rude to his subjects, and who gets his just desserts when he is turned into a llama (by Yzma) and sent from his empire. He then has to learn humility and travel back with Pacha to be turned into a human again and reclaim his empire. Like a lot of Disney movies, it’s based on a fairy tale. This time it’s the Danish tale, The Emperor’s New Clothes. And if you’ve read that story, I will say that this movie does a pretty good job in transferring the general idea of it. Although it doesn’t have the same characters and the plot is completely different. The message is good, essentially “Don’t be a jerk”, but it’s really a run of the mill fair for Disney films. The movie also doesn’t take any real chances with the movie for drama or suspense, it’s a buddy comedy through and through with an emphasis on comedy. Although some people might like something a little deeper, like the Lion King with it’s shifting tone from serious to childlike and back again, I will say that atleast this movie IS funny so the all comedy tone doesn’t get wasted.
Another thing I like about the film is how self aware it is. There are multiple points where Kuzco and other characters break the 4th wall and talk about plot holes in the film and that stuffs great. Again, I like the change in pace from the traditional Disney formula. And that’s really the thing I like most about this film, it’s diversions from the norm with Disney. The 4th wall jokes, the constant tone, and the fact that there isn’t a single musical number in the whole thing besides the bookend scene’s. I’m not a fan of musicals, and that takes me out of a lot of Disney films because they’re synonymous with musical numbers in their films, and the “Villain Song” motif is almost a standard at this point. Yeah, some movies do them alright, like Lion King and Hunchback, but it would be nice is it didn’t happen as often. It’s one of the reasons that I liked The Incredibles (2004) and Ratatouille (2007) so much. They were solid movies, with entertaining characters, a fun plot, and not a single music number in sight. Instead they had montages, but I would almost always prefer that as an alternative. I know a lot of people really enjoy the music in Disney movies and that for them it can be a main part of the experience, but it’s just not for me.
Aside from the change in pace from the Disney formula, I love the animation in this movie. A stark difference from the altered formula, the animation harkens back to the Disney movie from the 50’s and 60’s. It has that sort of colorful bouncy quality that I like. It’s the artistic style I see when I think of Disney. The CGI movies still look good, and they update the image, but for me they’re nothing close to the classic designs. If they could find a way to capture that old school Disney look in today’s feature’s, that would be perfect.
Something interesting about this movie to me, is that The Emperor’s New Groove had a 6 year development time. Over that time, the film had been revised on multiple occasions, originally intended to be a romantic comedy musical that was similar to the Mark Twain novel, The Prince and the Pauper. Another interesting difference is that Owen Wilson was originally going to be cast in the movie, to play a peasant that looks like Kuzco (still cast as David Spade at that point). They would end up switching lives and Yzma (an evil witch in this version) would turn the emperor into a llama, and blackmail the peasant who took his place into obeying her. Then the llama-emperor would fall in love with a female llama-herder, and the two would set out to save the day. Personally I’m really happy that we didn’t get that version, because that sounds awful. And Disney knew it too, because they tried several times to revise the story to make it “more original, with less lack of direction”. Even with it’s creative short comings and poor screen testing feedback, Disney was unsure whether not not they wanted to pull the plug on the project based on the success that Roger Allers (this films original writer) had directing Lion King. Eventually though, Disney decided otherwise and when Roger Allers was denied an extension to the project, he left it altogether. Then Chris Williams (writer of Mulan and the director of 2008’s Bolt) and Mark Dindall (writer/director of 2005’s Chicken Little) overhauled the project, dropped the idea of it being a musical, and gave it a comedy themed story.
Overall, the Emperor’s New Groove is a pretty decent movie. It’s not great, but it’s not close to bad. It’s also pretty short, about 78 minutes, so it doesn’t drag. I find there’s a lot to enjoy in this movie. Although it’s not amazing, it doesn’t really try to be. It knows what it brings to the table, and it’s perfectly content with that. And what it brings is an entertaining movie that’s easy for anyone to enjoy. Interestingly enough, although this movie’s pretty good, it didn’t do amazing in the box office. It cost around $100,000,000.00 to produce, and only gained about $170,000,000.00. A profit, but nothing like Lion King’s near Billion dollars in returns. But it’s not all about $ signs, and at the end of the day, The Emperor’s New Groove makes a good movie to watch on movie night.
Final thoughts – This isn’t the biggest Disney film, but I think it’s had a bit of a lasting impression. The fact that over the last few years, Disney has been trying to break their own mold with their films I think is a testament to that. People generally have a fond remembrance of this movie, even if they don’t speak of it in the same breath as a lot of other Disney movies. It’s definitely a second or third tier film in the line up, on the same ground I think as say, A Bug’s Life. It’s a shame that this movie wasn’t more profitable, but a lot of that $100 million price tag has to have been by it’s development hell. It was successful however, spawning a tv series called The Emperor’s New School in 2006, and a direct to DVD sequel called Krunk’s New Groove in 2005. I find it weird that they didn’t come around until half a decade later, but at the same time, this seems like a movie that became a sort of nostalgic favorite. And I guess that’s deserving. I probably won’t get to Krunk’s New Groove, and I think I’m going to try to get back to Horror for my next review. I do have plans however of doing some more well known movies down the line like A Nightmare Before Christmas. That’s one I’ve always wanted to sink my teeth into. I can’t wait for the hate mail.