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THE EMPEROR'S NEW GROOVE

Review by Michael Jacobson

Voices:  David Spade, John Goodman, Eartha Kitt, Patrick Warburton
Director:  Mark Dindal
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.66:1
Studio:  Walt Disney
Features:  See Review
Length:  78 Minutes
Release Date:  October 18, 2005

"You're doing something nice for someone else."

"I know."

"And you're...okay with that?"

Film ***

The Emperor's New Groove might be the most unusual traditionally animated feature to come from the Disney studios since Fantasia, and just as different as it could be.  While Fantasia pushed the artistic boundaries in exploring light, color and music as ideas made tangible, The Emperor's New Groove is a crudely animated, zany slice of pure slapstick.

And kudos to them for rolling the dice and making this kind of picture.  It may never stand alongside the glorious classics like Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella, it may not have the majesty of The Lion King or Beauty and the Beast, but what it offers is a mindless thrill ride of laughs and characterizations.

The voice talents are perfect, and so is the unbridled wackiness of the animation that goes with them.  David Spade stars as Kuzco, the Emperor of the title, in a role that was made for him.  Shallow, self centered and kind of bratty, Kuzco frequently causes misery for others through his selfishness.  It doesn't help his image that he plans to tear down a peasant village headed by Pacha (Goodman) in order to build a pleasure palace (actually more like a modern theme park than the pleasure palaces of old Mesopotamia, but hey, this is Disney), or that he's fired his long time assistant Yzma (Kitt).

The wicked Yzma, along with her unfocused big lunk of a sidekick Kronk (Warburton), seeks revenge.  Planning to kill Kuzco, she accidentally turns him into a llama, and he gets freed in the jungles of the kingdom.  But she intends to finish the job.  Can the shallow Kuzco, with the help of the big hearted Pacha, make it back to his palace, reverse the spell, and maybe learn a lesson or two about what it means to be a kind leader in the process?

Well, come on...what do you expect?  There's nothing in this story that falls out of the range of prediction, including the close calls, final showdown, and ultimate resolution.  The joy of this picture is that it's like taking the scenic route...it's not where you're going that's the fun, it's the getting there.

Considering the beauty and splendor of many of Disney's animated offerings of the early 90s, The Emperor's New Groove is quite surprising.  It hearkens back to the days when cartoons were really wild and crazy.  Think Looney Toons or Tex Avery, and you'll get an idea of what to expect.  This is a world of pratfalls, crude jokes and defiance of every physical law known to man.  But that was always the wonderful thing about animation:  normal rules go out the window.

On one hand, I can't equate it with the truly great films of Disney's library.  But neither can I dismiss it.  There are many films we watch to broaden our minds and enlighten our beings, and there are films we watch just for sheer abandonment and entertainment value.  I have many favorites that fall squarely into the second category.  Who ever said one of them couldn't be a cartoon?

Video ***1/2

Loving it...as always, Disney offers a top notch transfer for their animated titles, proving once again how well animation and DVD go together.  This is a bright, colorful jaunt that comes across with beauty and integrity.  It lacks some of the 3D quality of Disney's best offerings, but no matter...it's still a lovely presentation.

Audio ***1/2

The Emperor can definitely get his groove back with this audio offering, featuring both Dolby Digital and DTS surround tracks.  The music is happenin', especially the opening song by Tom Jones.  The constant action and comedy keeps all channels engaged and the dynamic range strong.  Voices sound great; listen for some clever off-camera effects here and there.  Very well done.

Features ***

The extras are groovin'...for starters, you get a commentary with director Mark Dindal and some of the producers and artists...an enjoyable listen with some good stories.  There are three behind-the-scenes featurettes, including one focusing on the great voice talents, one on the research, and one on the computer effects.  Rounding out are three deleted scenes, an interactive game with voices by Patrick Warburton and Eartha Kitt, and music videos from Sting and Rascal Flatts.

Summary:

The Emperor's New Groove may not end up as anyone's favorite Disney animated film, but it would take a truly rigid person not to like it.  With an anything-goes approach to classic cartoon slapstick and a cast of unforgettable voices, Kuzco and Co. will guarantee a good time for all.

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