The Emperor's New Groove

Ever since the phenomenal success of The Little Mermaid and Aladdin, animated Disney movies seem to stick to the same formula of taking an old story and updating it, 'Disney' style, adding songs and cartoon sidekicks in the process. As with many processes, recent movies are meeting diminishing returns in both revenue and quality. That is why The Emperor's New Groove is such a pleasant surprise. Once, it followed the same formula. Some place along the way, it changed into a drastically different movie, a road trip-like buddy movie with a deft sense of humor. It is surprisingly funny and only contains one song.

This movie also does the impossible by taking David Spade's trademark sarcasm and making it G rated without taking away its humor and wit. Spade (The Adventures of Joe Dirt, Lost & Found) is Kuzco, the spoiled emperor in a nonidentifiably familiar but undeniably ancient South American civilization. Yzma (Eartha Kitt, Boomerang, Unzipped), his skeletal advisor, schemed to kill Kuzco with her dim servant Kronk (Patrick Warburton, Scream 3, The Woman Chaser). Instead of killing him, they turned him into a llama. He ends up with Pacha (John Goodman, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Coyote Ugly), the kind leader of a local village. Kuzco wanted to build over Pacha's house, but now he must rely on Pacha to help him regain his throne, although they are near opposites.

David Reynolds' (Toy Story 2, Tarzan) is immediately different from other Disney movies just by its humor (much of it borders on wacky). It is a strange but wonderful melding of Disney and David Spade, an unlikely yet compelling combination. The fact that it works speaks volumes about the ability of both Reynolds and director Mark Dindal (Cat's Don't Dance). Many of the physical gags are unmistakably Disney, while many of Kuzco's comments cannot come from anyone else but Spade. Goodman, Kitt, and Warburton are also easy to identify, with Kitt and Warburton each poking fun at prior roles.

The animation is easily identifiable. The clean lines and sharp colors scream "DISNEY!" It may not be the most complicated or realistic looking, but it still gets the job done. The exaggerated shapes and angular curves are most reminiscent of Hercules. Dindal and Reynolds' made the choice to take away anything that would identify a specific culture, probably because of prior criticisms on historical inacccuracies. This was a good choice. The Emperor's New Groove sets out to be a fun family film, and unlike many other supposed 'family films,' this one works and shows that Disney can still be innovative without losing any sense of quality.

Haro Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour 21 minutes, Rated G.

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