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With: David Spade, John Goodman, Eartha Kitt, Patrick Warburton, Tom Jones
Written by: David Reynolds, based on a story by Chris Williams, Mark Dindal, Roger Allers, Matthew Jacobs
Directed by: Mark Dindal
MPAA Rating: G
Running Time: 78
Date: 12/10/2000

The Emperor's New Groove (2000)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Hip 'Toons

by Jeffrey M. Anderson

So I sat down to the new Disney movie, looking forward once again to the typical decades-old formula and the increasingly stupid musical numbers by soft-rock radio lightweights.

Boy was I surprised.

It looks like director Mark Dindal (Cats Don't Dance) has been watching a lot of Chuck Jones lately. The Emperor's New Groove is immediately alive with inventive sets and backdrops, funny one-liners, and those wonderful small pauses in the action that made Jones' cartoons so brilliant.

Moreover, The Emperor's New Groove has only three songs in it; a nutty and most welcome opening title number sung by Tom Jones, a groovy instrumental about halfway through, and a stupid, sappy Sting ditty during the closing credits, which no doubt will be the hit radio song. We're spared the boring, stupid songs during the story. With such a furious pace, they would have ruined it.

The Emperor Kuzco (voiced by David Spade, the funniest he's ever been) is a selfish horror who wants to build himself a swimming pool on top of a hill where Pacha (voiced by John Goodman) and his family live. The emperor's evil advisor Yzma (voiced by Eartha Kitt) turns him into a lama and has her beefcake assistant Kronk (voiced by Patrick Warburton) toss him into the river. Instead he ends up in the back of Pacha's cart and is soon lost. Pacha agrees to take him back home in exchange for getting his home back.

The idea of the protagonist of a Disney film being such a nasty scoundrel is very appealing. Of course, he sees the light of day and learns to be nice, but he's very entertaining while he's nasty. Even better is Kitt as the villainess. Her evil coo is perfect for a Disney character--it's a wonder she hasn't been used before. And Warburton is the best sidekick in many years. His self-mocking manliness becomes more and more hilarious as the film goes along.

Another improvement in The Emperor's New Groove is the lack of talking animal comedy-relief sidekicks. (God, am I sick of those.) If only George Lucas would take the hint and get rid of his similarly annoying Jar-Jar Binks.

I got the same buzz watching The Emperor's New Groove as I did watching Aladdin 8 years ago. I'm sure we'll hear some of the same complaints about this new film as we did about the other one; that it's not timeless. It won't be as interesting ten or twenty years down the road. I say phooey to that. I have delirious fun watching and listening to hip movies from the 1940's and 1950's and the snappy dialogue of the day. (Look at Howard Hawks' Ball of Fire as a perfect example.) Slang may go out of style, but coolness never does.

I hope the title of this movie represents a change of tide for Disney. It would be nice to think that going into a new century that we won't have to put up with the same old formula garbage. The Emperor's New Groove will be enjoyed by both families and hip lounge cats.

DVD Details: Disney re-released this film in a 2005 special edition called "The New Groove Edition," and it holds up well. It's still very funny without feeling desperate, cloying or pandering. Not even David Spade ruins the fun. Extras include "deleted scenes," games, videos, a behind the scenes featurette and an audio commentary track.

DVD Details: Disney released a straight to video follow-up, Kronk's New Groove, in late 2005.

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