The Emperor's New Groove
2000, G, 78 min. Directed by Mark Dindal. Voices by David Spade, John Goodman, Eartha Kitt, Patrick Warburton, Wendie Malick, Trudie Styler, Tom Jones.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Dec. 15, 2000
Instead of venturing out to the theatre to see the Mouse's newest, I'd have been better served by staying home and watching a video copy of 1987's goofy, endearing animated kidflick The Brave Little Toaster, on which Emperor director Dindal cut his teeth. The Emperor's New Groove has no clothes, and not much else either. Long branded with the dreaded “troubled production,” the early, more serious, Aztec-flavored script was thoroughly rewritten midway through in favor of a newer, hipper style of wisecracking humor that begins badly and continues gathering a nasty sort of moss until you want to smack the producers around the head and pine for Ariel, Belle, and the studio's other, more fully fleshed-out (not to mention sympathetic) characters from their Eighties-Nineties heyday. Emperor's main problem is the fact that the story -- egocentric Aztec emperor Kuzco (Spade) is morphed into a llama by bitter ex-right-hand gal Yzma (Kitt) and her lumbering toady Kronk (Warburton) and must gain some semblance of humility with assistance from homily-spouting villager Pacha (Goodman) in order to win back his kingdom and his groove -- is, for a long while, totally devoid of any empathetic protagonists. Kuzco offers a Spade-ian riff of truly epic proportions, allowing the diminutive, blond ex-SNL star a chance to really unleash the hounds of smarm as he enters the story backed by no less than Welsh knickers-collector Tom Jones singing his praises and generally acting the spoiled cad. Kitt's outrageous Yzma -- a visual cross-pollination of Cruella De Vil and Snow White's Evil Queen -- is a giddy treat the first time you see her (she's all violet wrinkles and pasty flesh, a pre-picked Great Aunt ready to pinch your cheeks clean into oblivion, but the surfeit of baddies on board, at least until the plodding Pacha arrives, is grating. Disney's stock-in-trade is, by necessity, broad in both character arcs and definition, but Emperor suffers from a persistent case of narrative backsliding that only serves to make older members of the audience long for the days of the dwarves, beauties, and poisoned apples of Disney-yore, and younger ones squirm in their seats (the few kids who managed to drag mom and dad out on this of all nights were tellingly peepless throughout). Emperor's animation is also a minor letdown, with none of the ecstatic visual tour de force of, say, Tarzan and all of the bad, nearly neon color palettes of an out of control Hype Williams video. It's all enough to make you wonder what -- if anything -- this “new direction” of Disney's signifies, and for the kids a minor night out -- at best.