20 March 2003 | Victor Field
"Bring it on."
"The Emperor's New Groove" is stylistically a break from Disney tradition - it's closer in tone to the Genie in "Aladdin" or some of their TV shows than most of their movies, making a refreshing change. In fact, you could be forgiven for thinking that this isn't a Disney movie at all... the only talking animal has a good excuse for yapping in the voice of David Spade, the only romantic relationship is that between Pacha and his wife (and even there it's more the sign of a happily married couple), and apart from the Emperor's Theme Song Guy ("He's the hippest cat in creation...") - and Sting over the end credits, but we'll forgive that - no one bursts into song. Plus the emphasis is more on Warner Bros-type energetic humour than usual. No wonder it was a disappointment at the box office; not your traditional Disney movie.
Then again, "The Rescuers Down Under" was an underrated pleasure as well.
The story isn't particularly different - you've got the ruler who has to change externally before he can change internally ("Beauty and the Beast"), Kronk, the good-hearted sidekick of the villain (Yzma) who can't bring himself to kill the hero ("Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs"), and so on - but as is often the case it's not so much what the plot is as how it's handled. Although the movie suffers from "Is-that...?" syndrome - it's too hard not to see Finch from "Just Shoot Me!" every time Kuzco speaks (strangely enough, even though Pacha's wife has the voice of Wendie Malick from the same show, I never pictured Nina Van Horn... which isn't the case with "Fillmore!", where Miss Malick voices Principal Folsom. Go figure) - the movie's speed, energy and high humour rate make it easy to forgive, with Kuzco and the bad guy's sidekick as standouts. The movie's also a bit more self-reverential than other Disney movies, notably in our hero's narration (plus at one point Yzma and Kronk notice they're leaving a blue trail behind them, which turns out to be the trail they leave on the map to the palace illustrating the race between them and our heroes).
The surprising thing is that it even works with character - though the Emperor is enough of a self-absorbed hedonist (to a prospective wife: "Let me guess - you've got a really great personality") to turn off Paris and Nicky Hilton, he and Pacha have a believable relationship throughout the movie, so that by the end we're rooting for him to get turned back into a human. Too bad Marc Shaiman's score was thrown out (he'd have been a natural, as opposed to John Debney), but no sense whining over what might have been. An adventure, a comedy and a drama all in one, "The Emperor's New Groove" has everything that was notably absent from DreamWorks' own South American-set cartoon "The Road to El Dorado" (charm, interest, no Elton John overdose and so on) and is the funniest movie from the House of Mouse since "Aladdin." It's easier to forgive them for giving the world "Dinosaur" in 2000 as well.
Why DOES she have that lever, anyway?