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The Emperors New Groove

Film Review: The Emperor's New Groove

By C. Antonio Romero

he Emperor's New Groove

The Emperor's New Groove

The Emperor's New Groove

Photos courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc.

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SAN FRANCISCO, 13 February 2001 - Those up for more wit than warmth in their animation - and parents looking for smarter fare than the Grinchflick - should consider Disney's The Emperor's New Groove. In this bit of whimsy, Kuzco (voiced by David Spade), a smug, self-absorbed, casually cruel and mostly loathsome teenager, opens the film as Emperor of all the Incas. He is, however, soon transformed into a llama, of all things, in a botched assassination attempt by his witchy advisor Yzma (the legendary Eartha Kitt), here purrfectly repellent) and her side-of-beef boytoy, Kronk (Patrick Warburton). Cast, hooved and fleecy, into the cold, cruel world, Kuzco falls in with goodhearted peasant Pacha (John Goodman), who assists his sovereign's attempts to return to his throne and his human form (despite Kuzco's stated plan to bulldoze Pacha's village to make way for a new summer palace). Learning of Kuzco's survival, Yzma sets off in pursuit, Kronk in tow.

If this conceit sounds a bit thin, well... it is. This is lighter fare than most Disney classic revamps like Tarzan, Hunchback, or Lion King. (Shakespeare, it ain't - but does everything have to be Shakespeare?). And with a basically unsympathetic main character, the usual maudlin attempts to pull the heartstrings are kept to a minimum, and even sent up at various points, plus or minus a few heartwarming scenes of peasant life (with a maternal Wendie Malick as Pacha's wife ChiCha and their two adorable rugrats). But, perhaps surprisingly, these factors work to the film's benefit.

Relieved of the duty of being heartwarming, the film can focus on being geuinely clever if occasionally savage. Splitting the character from whose perspective we get most of the narration, Kuzco, from the figure one most identifies with, Pacha, opens a space for an ironic, even sometimes cruel humor more Warner Brothers than Disney. Even the occasional cute forest animals and adorable peasant whelps have a nasty streak, though those it's turned on mostly deserve it.

The writers thus have room to create a script that's genuinely witty, and that more than compensates for the insubstantial plot. Further still, at times the movie tosses out all reason - a truly silly episode that has Kronk as short-order cook in an Incan diner (Incan diner?) left audiences howling. Many of the wisecracks and gags here will soar effortlessly over the kids' heads, and the sight-gags and bits of physical comedy rush past almost too fast even for the adult audience. Add to this clever musical numbers composed by Sting (thankfully, only a couple of these), and the result is a confection that will please adults - or those with a silly streak, anyway - as much as the kids. Groove is thus a light, tongue-in-cheek, treacle-free treat with a beat, perfect for those with a cartoon craving.

The Emperor's New Groove

Three stars.

C. Antonio Romero is a writer and engineer based in Silicon Valley. He is the Nouveau editor of

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