No cheesy musical numbers. No overly dramatic subplots. No llamas. Oh wait, sorry. It does have a llama. Actually, that's the main character. Relentlessly funny, fast paced, "Emperor's New Groove" is the best film to come out of Disney since the early 90's (excluding the Pixar films).
Kuzco (voiced by David Spade) rules his kingdom how he wants to with little regard for the people in it. After his disgruntled assistant Yzma (Eartha Kitt) turns him into a llama instead of poisoning him, he gets mixed up with a local peasant named Pacha (John Goodman). Now off to find a cure and stop Yzma from taking over the kingdom, the mis-matched pair find themselves in one ridiculous situation after another, all for the single vial of antidote that can turn Kuzco back into a human.
With a ridiculous premise, a Tom Jones cameo, complete lack of overproduced songs, and the some of the wittiest writing in the history of the studio, this brief ride (72-minutes not counting the credits) is absolutely brilliant. Mostly hand drawn with a brief assistance from the computer, this film should go down as a classic. Not a single character in this movie is dull and there is no time to be wasted.
The banter between Kuzco and Pacha as they make their way towards the castle is just priceless. Yzma's (who named these characters anyway?) assistant Kronk (see?) is the show-stealer, though the same could be said for the irritated chipmunk that makes a few hilarious appearances. There are so many memorable moments, it is absolutely impossible to pick a favorite, though the scene in which the two leads are about to go over a waterfall makes a strong case.
Absolutely anyone can and will love this movie. It doesn't need some deep backstory to get going. It's breakneck pace gives the film little time to slow down and become boring. Much like the Toy Story films, this is bound to become one of those movies the kids practically ruin by watching it so many times, but the parents will have no problem with it. They'll probably be right along side their kin every time. (**** out of *****)
This 2-disc edition (called "The Ultimate Groove) is perfect for the kids who want the film and animation buffs who need to know everything about the movie. A direct digital-to-digital 1.66:1 widescreen transfer, this feature looks superb. There are some noticeable compression artifacts, but the video hardly stands still long enough for it to become a major problem. Everything remains sharp and crisp throughout, the beautiful backdrops preserved flawlessly. It's not quite on par with the CG-animated films (not much is of course), but the overall video is solid. (****)
Mostly dialogue driven, there are only a few chances for the audio to get a workout. Even then, it remains fairly lifeless. Both the DTS and 5.1 mixes produce a little bass, but the surrounds never become active even when they should be. Obviously the most important part is the dialogue and there are no problems here, but there should be a few stand out moments. (***)
Special features here are insane. Disney rarely skimps on their Collector's Edition discs, this one being no exception. Disc one houses a commentary track from seven people on the crew, including director Mark Dindal plus a music video and some games for kids. Disc 2 is where things go crazy.
Split into eight expansive sections, nothing is missed, though making sure you've seen it all is a challenge. First is the "Studio Groove" which shows the animation process from the moment the idea of the film is spawned until the final drop of ink hits paper. The "Animation Groove" shows split screen comparisons from the various stages of production.
"Animation" is split into 10 sub-sections including character voice synching, character design, CGI, clean up, and more. "Development" takes viewers into seven sections, including one that looks at the original concept of the film, "Kingdom of the Sun." "Story and Editorial" highlights some deleted scenes and how the film is pitched to the studio.
"Putting it All Together" is a little redundant, showing more of the animation process including clean up again. "Layouts and Backgrounds" is seven more sections that focus on how everything is planned out from scene to scene. Self-explanatory is "Music and Sound" with a music video from Sting. Finally, "Publicity" features posters and trailers. (*****)
It's been so long since Disney produced a movie this funny without the assistance of Pixar. "The Emperor's New Groove" will likely (and sadly) be forgotten in a few years, buried in the glut of CG-animated features the studio now relies on. A sequel is in production, though it is planned to go directly to video like so many other Disney franchises.