The Emperor’s New Groove

The Emperor’s New Groove (2000)
Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Cast: David Spade, John Goodman, Wendy Malick
Extras: Commentary Track, Music Videos, Trivia Game, Deleted Scenes, Animation Studio Tour, Extensive Making-of Featurettes and more

While the quality of the Disney animated films which have appeared over the past 15 years may vary greatly from movie to movie, you typically know what to expect when you sit down to view one of these films. (Here, I’m speaking of Disney’s traditional animated movies, and not anomalies like the "Toy Story" films, "A Bug’s Life", and "Dinosaur".) We’ve become very accustomed to the traditional Disney formula, which typically includes lots of songs, cute characters, talking animals, straight-forward storytelling, and most of all, nothing (truly) controversial. Well, you can throw all of that knowledge out the window when you watch "The Emperor’s New Groove", because except for the talking animals, this ain’t your momma’s animated Disney movie! "The Emperor’s New Groove" may retain the expected polish and finesse in the animation department, everything else is new and different. Disney has given "The Emperor’s New Groove" the royal treatment with "The Ultimate Groove" 2-DVD set.

At first glance, the story of "The Emperor’s New Groove" doesn’t seem that unique. The movie is set in a fictional South American country, many years ago. (The design of the film is apparently based on natives of Peru and the ancient Incan culture.) Here, we meet Emperor Kuzco (voiced by David Spade), a young prince who is very self-involved and vain. While Kuzco isn’t necessarily a cruel emperor, he doesn’t treat his subjects very nicely, because he thinks that the whole world revolves around him. Enter Yzma (voiced by Eartha Kitt), the emperor’s advisor and her assistant, the brawny Kronk (voiced by Patrick Warburton). Yzma doesn’t hide the fact that she would love to usurp Kuzco’s power and take over the kingdom. Sensing this, Kuzco fires Yzma. But, she swears that she’ll get her revenge.

At the same time, Pacha (voiced by John Goodman), a peasant, has been summoned to the palace by Kuzco. Pacha isn’t sure why he’s been called there, but he’s quickly disappointed to learn that Kuzco wan’t to destroy Pacha’s village in order to build a summer home. Pacha protests, but is escorted from the palace.

Meanwhile, Yzma has formulated her vengeance on Kuzco. She’s decided to poison him. However, Kronk, the consumate chef, dilutes the poison, and instead of dying, Kuzco is transformed into a llama. Kronk attempts to get rid of Kuzco, but only ends up putting him on Pacha’s cart. So, Pacha’s ends up taking Kuzco home. At first, Kuzco can’t believe that he’s now a llama. Then, he decides that he needs to return to his palace and correct his situation. Soon, the vain Kuzco realizes that he’s going to need Pacha’s help in order to get home and avoid the murderous Yzma.

While that plot synopsis seems fairly straightforward, the film itself is very irreverent and bizarre. While "The Emperor’s New Groove" carries on some traditions from past Disney animated films, it owes a great debt to the classic Warner Bros. cartoons, Jay Ward’s animated shorts, and to a lesser extent, "The Flintstones". At the outset, "The Emperor’s New Groove" sets up the story and a certain amount of reality, and then throws all of those things out the window. This movie is a comedy, first and fore-most. Nearly every scene contains some bizarre aspect or situation that has nothing at all to do with the story, but is very funny. Each scene is more ludicrous and over-the-top than the last one. As if a movie about a talking llama isn’t wacky enough, "The Emperor’s New Groove" throws in hundreds of other crazy things, culminating in a scene in which the movie basically stops so that we can watch a monkey eat a bug. It’s almost as if the Disney animators throw off the chains from years of creative oppression and decided to go for broke.

But, that’s not to say that the movie if frivolous and confusing. At the core, this is still a Disney film, so therefore, it has heart. The "Odd Couple" buddy relationship between Kuzco and Pacha is very endearing and it carries the movie. However, it’s the character of Kronk which steals the film. Looking like a superhero and sounding like Adam West, Kuzco starts out seeming kind of annoying, but he ends up being the funniest character in the film. Speaking of Kronk’s look, the character design in "The Emperor’s New Groove" is very refreshing. While the characters in past Disney films have been diverse as far as size, shape, color, etc., it was always clear that they all originated in the same world. With "The Emperor’s New Groove", you really get the feeling that each supervising animator was given the freedom to design their individual characters, because Kuzco, Yzma, Kronk, and Pacha look nothing alike and each has their own distinctive design. This is just another facet which makes "The Emperor’s New Groove" such a unique film.

"The Emperor’s New Groove" comes to DVD in two versions. A single-disc version and a 2-DVD set which has been dubbed "The Ultimate Groove", which was viewed for this review. The film has been transferred directly from the digital source and is also <$THX,THX>-certified. The movie has been <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.66:1 and is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. There’s not much to say about this transfer folks — it looks gorgeous. There isn’t a speck of grain or any flaws from the source print visible on this transfer. The colors practically leap off of the screen at the viewer. Unlike some other Disney projects, such as "Beauty and the Beast", "The Emperor’s New Groove" is a very colorful film, exhibiting brilliant reds, blues, and greens. This is actually an important part of the film, as each of the main characters has it’s own particular color scheme. The image is always stable and there is no noise or problems from artifacting present.

The audio on "The Emperor’s New Groove" DVD is also impressive. This DVD features both a <$DD,Dolby Digital> 5.1 track and a <$DTS,DTS> 5.1 track. Both offer very clear and audible dialogue, featuring well-balanced volume throughout the film. The soundtracks both offer a wide and dynamic soundfield (with the DTS track being a bit more vibrant), giving us lifelike music and a deep bass. There is a very nice use of surround sound, as the rear speakers remain active continuously during the movie. The exciting and well-balanced soundtrack adds another dimension to the movie.

The special features that accompany the film begin on Disc One. We start with an <$commentary,audio commentary>, which features director Mark Dindal and producer Randy Fullmer, along with five other artists who worked on "The Emperor’s New Groove". The <$commentary,audio commentary> carries a warning, which states that the commentary is for entertainment purposes only and that the views expressed in the commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Disney. Whoa! Well, don’t expect anything juicy from this commentary, as this is your average group discussion. The speakers talk throughout the film, and thankfully, they assume that we’ve already seen the movie, so they feel free to discuss everything. They give many details about how the story was developed and how many of the animated ideas came about. While their discussion isn’t incredibly dynamic, it is informative.

Disc One also includes a music video by Rascal Flatts for the song "Walk the Llama Llama", from which you can the "Walk the Llama Llama" dance. (No thanks.) There is also a very cute set-top trivia game featuring the voices of Patrick Warburton and Eartha Kitt, and some fun animation.

As is expected, the bulk of the special features are included on Disc Two. The DVD opens with an introduction by director Mark Dindal and producer Rany Fullmer, in which they "infiltrate" the Disney animation studios. From there, we are given a choice of which "Groove" we would prefer — the Animation Groove, or the Studio Groove. If you choose the Animation Groove, you will be treated to six minutes of footage, which offers side-by-side comparisons of how four different stages of animation look when compared to the final product.

The Studio Groove is much more involved, as it continues Dindal and Fullmer’s tour of the Disney studios. This 25-minute featurette takes us through every stage of the animation process to show us exactly how an animated feature film is completed. It starts with story development and goes all the way to the final sound mix. This segment features many interviews with the animators and artists who were involved in the making of the film. While other DVDs have offered overviews of how animation is done, the Studio Groove is a definitive look at the animation process.

Unfortunately, this is where the rest of the special features fall apart. Due to the fact that the Studio Groove is so comprehensive, the rest of the special features come across as redundant. Actually, each segment of the Studio Groove (as well as the Animation Groove) is repeated in the individual sections of the special features, which examine Development, Story and Editorial, Layouts and Backgrounds, Animation, Putting it all Together, Music and Sound, and Publicity. So, if you watch the Studio Groove and the Animation Groove, you’re going to see 80% of the information on this DVD.

As for the remaining extras, they are very hit or miss. There are three deleted scenes, of which only one is fully animated. (The very end of the original ending is funny.) The overview of the character voices features interviews with the four principal actors, as they give their takes on their individual characters. The look at the CGI animation is very interesting, as the CGI in "The Emperor’s New Groove" blends very nicely with the hand-drawn animation, to the point that it’s invisible. There are two theatrical trailers offered, and three TV spots. On the negative side, we have the music video for Sting’s Oscar-nominated song, "My Funny Friend and Me." Oddly, Sting talks over most of the song. There are several still galleries on the disc, and they get very redundant after a while.

Comparing the one-disc version of "The Emperor’s New Groove" to "The Ultimate Groove", I feel that I can only recommend "The Ultimate Groove" to those who either love the art of animation, or those who know nothing about animation and wish to learn. Otherwise, the best facets of the 2-disc set, the brilliant transfer, the <$commentary,audio commentary>, the trivia game, the actor interviews, and the look at the CGI animation, are all available on the one-disc set. The extras on the second disc of "The Ultimate Groove" are ultimately very brief and (if you’ve seen the "making-of" on other movies, like "Tarzan") unfulfilling.

While "The Emperor’s New Groove" has been compared to "Aladdin", it’s really quite more than that. While "Aladdin’s" charm lie in it’s cultural references (which seem very dated now, especially the Arsenio Hall impression!), the energy in "The Emperor’s New Groove" comes from its irreverence and risk taking. Yes, there are some historical inaccuracies, but they only add to the film’s charm. Disney has done a great job with the transfer of the movie, both in terms of picture and sound. Some of the extras are interesting and fun, but the two-disc set is a bit redundant. But, no matter which DVD version you choose, you will have fun with "The Emperor’s New Groove".