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In this episode: The Emperor's New Groove | That DLP Thing
Greetings, movie lovers! Welcome to my show! Today, I have a special treat for you. Can you say "special treat"? Of course you can, you smart, smart person! You fill me with such happiness and joy! Yes you do! Yes you do! Excuse me while I take my brain pills...
The Emperor's New Groove

This is the newest animated movie from Disney. To start this review off right, and to show off that I have impressive sources, the word from the inside on this one was not so very positive. It was called, I believe, a throw-away similar to Hercules (though I liked that one), a mere buddy movie, and very slow in the middle.

Imagine my surprise, then... first that I got to go to the Feature Animation employee screening at the Wiltern Theater, where the movie was shown on a brand new screen in DLP digital projection; second that the wrap party afterwards at the Park Plaza was an amazingly fun and swanky and expensive affair (we don't get shit like that in Home Video, friends!); and third that I liked the movie. A lot.

"Are you quite done, Mr. Licowbitz, trying to impress us with your friends in high places?" Yes, I am. And I sense you are not jealous.


The Emperor's New Groove is a fast, colorful, witty flick with amusing characters and a comic sensibility that is rooted in what I would like to so snootily call "The Classics." I'm talking the old Warner Bros. cartoons, Chaplin, Monty Python, What's Up, Doc?... The Emperor's New Groove has countless moments filled with brilliant comic timing and solid comic sensibilities. However, whereas Hercules was funny with moments of forced melodrama, this film is all candy. You know that candy that you eat and it makes you laugh 'til your mouth hurts? No? Neither do I. But if there were such a candy, this would be the place I'd make reference to it.

This movie is amazingly quirky for a Disney project. Lots of wacko, off-center, non-sequiturish jokes and physical humor pepper the thing so that you're never expecting what's coming next. It's not just wackiness happening for wackiness' sake, either, but wackiness well planned into the structure and plot of the film. There are a few Warner Bros. moments in the movie. For instance—and skip to the next paragraph if you don't want to know anything—there's the moment when Kronk and Yzma, giving chase to Kuzco and Pacha (all characters I'll talk about later), fly across a cliff thanks to these Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang-like wing extensions. They celebrate their cleverness only to get zopped in the noggins by a random bolt of lightning. Funny. But then we crash zoom out to see they are underneath one tiny little cloud. Even funnier. Then we cut back to an Indiana Jones-like map charting the progress of the chase and we see the little cloud there with a cartoony lightning bolt coming out the bottom. The cherry on top. And all this in a matter of no more than four seconds. It's classically silly, which is so close to being cliché it's hard to define the difference. But like the physical comedy of the Warner Bros. cartoons, there's a precision to the execution which helps create the humor.

There are numerous other quick-witted and unpredictable jokes and physical gags, none of which, even thanks to the timing, would have worked had the characters not been funny themselves. There's the main character, Kuzco, the emperor who gets turned into a llama. Kuzco is actually funny despite being voiced by that hideous little vole of a man, David Spade. I did not have the desire to kick David's ass more than three times during the movie, and that's a positive thing. He is, in fact very funny in many places, and that, too, is a positive thing.

Then there's Pacha, the good peasant man who is the second buddy in this buddy flick. His voice is provided by John Goodman, and he plays the straight man, so he's not really so funny.

What you should prepare yourself for is the tag-team duo of Yzma, Kuzco's ancient and wrinkled nemesis, and Kronk, the gigantic, stupid, but generally kind-hearted lummox who assists Yzma in her dastardly schemes. Yzma is voiced perfectly by Eartha Kitt. Oh, her ratchety voice plays so wonderfully on the ears. As an evil nemesis, Yzma's got a wicked flamboyance blended with a dose of hilarious unluckiness. She's not really evil so much as just bad. She's like a Vegas lady. Or that grandma you just can't bring yourself to kiss. Her character requires no back story or explanation, really. She's just bad girl Yzma. And at the end when she turns into that— oh, I won't spoil that one because it's too precious a twist. Yzma kicks.

Of course, like all evil nemeses, Yzma has a henchman. And like all henchmen, Kronk is dumb. But what's so refreshing here is how innocently and unannoyingly dumb Kronk is. Dumb henchmen almost always grate on the nerves, but Kronk is delightfully unique. Patrick Warburton has a winning charm as Kronk's voice. With the amusing subtlety of his line readings, Patrick takes the dumb out of Kronk, making him merely ignorant and child-like. Kronk has most of the best moments in the movie, and, ergo, he steals it.

The plot is about as typical as you'd expect from Disney. However, nearly every done-a-million-times plot device is made fun of, called out, satirized. Have you noticed how there's a baby at the beginning of every Disney movie? Baby Simba. Baby Hercules. Baby Aladar. Baby Tarzan. ACK! Well, we get to see baby Kuzco, too, but it's made fun of thanks to Señor Spade's snarky voice-over. There's also the moment in all these films where the henchman bungles the plans to kill the protagonist, but here it comes to light almost immediately instead of being relied upon as a plot point at the very end of the movie. And, yes, the villain falls to her death, just like Scar, Frolo, Clayton, etc. Oh, but then, thanks to another funny random joke, Yzma— well, once again, I won't ruin it for you.

The Emperor's New Groove was a huge surprise. I laughed more than any recent Disney movie. It's funnier than many other live-action movies, too. It's silly and jokey, but it's smart and it's fast and—BEHOLD!—not a single fart or burp joke to be found! As Anakin Skywalker might say, YIPEE!

Go see this movie. If you like Bugs Bunny, you'll like this.



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So you know I have to give my thoughts on this digital projection thing. Go here for a nice collection of my comments and links to my comments about this. Also, see my comments in the Dinosaur review. I have relatively little to add to all that, I guess. In The Emperor's New Groove, we were sitting close top the screen but not uncomfortably close, yet we could still plainly see the pixels in the picture. It was distracting to me now and then, and on a less entertaining movie, it would have been a good excuse to throw my hands up into the air and shout "This technology isn't good enough yet, dammit!" despite the complaints I'd receive from the people right behind me. And, like all compression, certain reds look splotchy and muddy. This is especially noticeable in the credit graphics. But since this was an animated movie, the overall picture (discounting the pixelization) was bright and beautiful. I reiterate my claim: Give this technology a few more years, and then we'll have something.




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©2000 Steven Lekowicz except
The Emperor's New Groove artwork ©Disney