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, Iím speaking of Disneyís traditional animated movies, and not anomalies like the "Toy Story" films, "A Bugís Life", and "Dinosaur".) Weíve 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 Emperorís New Groove", because except for the talking animals, this ainít your mommaís animated Disney movie! "The Emperorís New Groove" may retain the expected polish and finesse in the animation department, everything else is new and different. Disney has given "The Emperorís New Groove" the royal treatment with "The Ultimate Groove" 2-DVD set.
At first glance, the story of "The Emperorís New Groove" doesnít 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 isnít necessarily a cruel emperor, he doesnít treat his subjects very nicely, because he thinks that the whole world revolves around him. Enter Yzma (voiced by Eartha Kitt), the emperorís advisor and her assistant, the brawny Kronk (voiced by Patrick Warburton). Yzma doesnít hide the fact that she would love to usurp Kuzcoís power and take over the kingdom. Sensing this, Kuzco fires Yzma. But, she swears that sheíll get her revenge.
At the same time, Pacha (voiced by John Goodman), a peasant, has been summoned to the palace by Kuzco. Pacha isnít sure why heís been called there, but heís quickly disappointed to learn that Kuzco wanít to destroy Pachaís village in order to build a summer home. Pacha protests, but is escorted from the palace.
Meanwhile, Yzma has formulated her vengeance on Kuzco. Sheís 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 Pachaís cart. So, Pachaís ends up taking Kuzco home. At first, Kuzco canít believe that heís now a llama. Then, he decides that he needs to return to his palace and correct his situation. Soon, the vain Kuzco realizes that heís going to need Pachaís 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 Emperorís New Groove" carries on some traditions from past Disney animated films, it owes a great debt to the classic Warner Bros. cartoons, Jay Wardís animated shorts, and to a lesser extent, "The Flintstones". At the outset, "The Emperorís 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 isnít wacky enough, "The Emperorís 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. Itís almost as if the Disney animators throw off the chains from years of creative oppression and decided to go for broke.
But, thatís 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, itís 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 Kronkís look, the character design in "The Emperorís 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 Emperorís 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 Emperorís New Groove" such a unique film.
"The Emperorís 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-certified. The movie has been letterboxed at 1.66:1 and is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. Thereís not much to say about this transfer folks -- it looks gorgeous. There isnít 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 Emperorís 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 itís own particular color scheme. The image is always stable and there is no noise or problems from artifacting present.
The audio on "The Emperorís New Groove" DVD is also impressive. This DVD features both a Dolby Digital 5.1 track and a 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 audio commentary, which features director Mark Dindal and producer Randy Fullmer, along with five other artists who worked on "The Emperorís New Groove". The 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, donít expect anything juicy from this commentary, as this is your average group discussion. The speakers talk throughout the film, and thankfully, they assume that weíve 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 isnít 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 Fullmerís 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, youíre 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 Emperorís New Groove" blends very nicely with the hand-drawn animation, to the point that itís invisible. There are two theatrical trailers offered, and three TV spots. On the negative side, we have the music video for Stingís 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 Emperorís 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 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 youíve seen the "making-of" on other movies, like "Tarzan") unfulfilling.
While "The Emperorís New Groove" has been compared to "Aladdin", itís really quite more than that. While "Aladdinís" charm lie in itís cultural references (which seem very dated now, especially the Arsenio Hall impression!), the energy in "The Emperorís New Groove" comes from its irreverence and risk taking. Yes, there are some historical inaccuracies, but they only add to the filmís 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 Emperorís New Groove".