out of five
Smart, funny, madcap animation that’s a far cry from typical Disney fare - a treat for kids and adults alike.
Disney films are usually pretty easy to predict: strong animation, straight-and-narrow heroes, cuddly sidekicks (generally animals with half an eye on burger joint merchandising), a handful of spectacularly awful songs (normally by a Balding Brit of some variety or other) and a huge dollop of syrupy message-type nonsense at the end. Be thankful, then, that someone at Disney has seen fit to throw away the usual template and deliver something that’s fresh, funny, fast and a far cry from the usual Disney fodder.
Somewhere in South America, the Emperor Kuzco (voiced by comedian David Spade, less well-known here than in the States) rules over his kingdom with little or no thought for other people. He’s self-obsessed, and used to getting everything he wants - his first action when we meet him is to inform a hill-dwelling peasant Pacha (John Goodman) that his house is to be demolished to make way for Kuzcotopia - the Emperor’s personal hillside resort.
Kuzco, however, has reckoned without his evil advisor, the sorceress Yzma (voiced by Eartha Kitt). When he casually dismisses her, she hatches a plot to kill him, though this doesn’t quite go according to plan and he’s turned into a llama instead. Soon Kuzco finds himself cast out of his kingdom and has to reluctantly enlist Pacha’s help to get his kingdom back!
The most important thing to say about The Emperor’s New Groove is that it is very funny indeed, with a consistently high level of rapid-fire wisecracks and visual gags. Spade can be an intensely irritating screen presence in person, but here he manages to make Kuzco a sympathetic character, despite his general selfishness. Goodman and Kitt give great support, too, but it’s really Patrick Warburton (familiar to Seinfeld fans as Elaine’s on-off boyfriend Puddy) who steals the show, as Yzma’s somewhat dim, well-meaning musclebound henchman Kronk, who’s really more concerned with his cooking skills than with doing Yzma’s evil bidding (a superb running gag).
Thankfully, someone at Disney came to their senses in time, because The Emperor’s New Groove started out very differently as a serious Mulan-type epic called ‘Kingdom In The Sun’ with a ‘worthy’ slate of songs by Sting, to boot. Fortunately, only one song remains in the film - the highly amusing opening number, peformed by Tom Jones as the Emperor’s personal ‘Theme Song Guy’.
Basically, there’s a huge amount to enjoy here, from the inventiveness of the non-stop gags to the delirious set-pieces and the wacky designs – Yzma’s Secret Underground Lair (bearing a more than slight resemblance to both the Batcave and Dexter’s Laboratory) is a highlight, as is the gloriously frenzied finale.
It was a bold move to depart so strongly from the Disney norm, but it has paid off beautifully, aligning the general anarchy and mayhem of the Warner Brothers cartoons with the Disney feel for top-notch family entertainment. Highly recommended, for kids and adults alike.