Just like with Tarzan and Phil Collins, it is easy to figure out if Emperor’s New Groove is a movie you will enjoy. The lead character Kuzco is voiced by David Spade and if you think his brand of sarcastic humor is funny you will probably like the movie. If not, this one can be a skip.
Luckily I do think he is funny, and I do enjoy this movie.
For some reason we are usually quick to dismiss comedies, whether animated or live action, as being less worthy of praise than dramas or musicals. I’m not sure why this is because if anything making people laugh is harder than making them cry. That’s at least my experience. In writing for Nanowrimo the sections where I am trying to tell a joke are brutal and what I think is funny others don’t give a chuckle. So I stand up for comedies, especially Disney comedies.
While Disney has comedy in most of its movies there are 5 I would classify as outright comedies-
1. Jungle Book
2. Robin Hood
5. Emperor’s New Groove
Each of these comedies for me has strengths but as far as non-stop laughs I think Emperor’s New Groove is the best. Jungle Book has great music, Robin Hood adds some adventure and dry wit, Hercules goes gospel, and Aladdin has the funniest single performance in Disney, but it feels like Emperor’s has a joke every 2 sentences and for me 99% of them make me laugh. Therefore, it is a successful comedy.
I also appreciate the comedy is funny for adults and children. It’s not like Shrek with innuendo and lewd humor. Most of it is very sarcastic asides, oftentimes breaking the 4th wall (the characters talking to the audience).
The story is also cooky enough to also make laughter easy. It’s all so ridiculous it puts us in a mood to laugh. In fact, when I first heard about a Disney movie about a man being turned into a llama I thought it sounded so stupid, but then I saw it at my college theater and laughed a lot. Such low expectations made it feel even better than it was but it has held up and still makes me laugh.
The production behind this movie is interesting. They had originally assigned Roger Allers from The Lion King to direct a serious picture called The Kingdom of the Sun. They hired Sting to write the songs and his wife made a documentary on the mess (not available I checked everywhere).
Delays kept happening and Michael Eisner was feeling the heat from McDonalds and other companies who were waiting for a movie. He put the pressure on Allers to produce a film but it was still slow so Eisner asked writers Mark Dindal and Chris Williams to write a 2nd script just in case.
It got up to a year and change before the release date. Sponsors were getting nervous so Eisner pulled the plug on Kingdom of the Sun, Allers quit and Dindal and Williams completely retooled their idea into what we see today.
Poor Sting was left with only 1 song in the credits. The only other song is sung by Tom Jones called Perfect World which is our intro to Kuzco.
The movie did fine at the box office but word of mouth has made it very popular.
There are celebrity voices just as in the Lion King including David Spade, John Goodman, Ertha Kitt, Patrick Warburton, Wendie Malick, Jon Fielder
The animation really isn’t that special. It is supposed to be an Incan world but just like with Hercules there is no attempt to be true to the time period or lore of the native people. This is a comedy and it stands only upon its writing, which I liked.
The introduction is very good. We see Kuzco as a llama in the rain telling us what a sad situation he is in. He then begins to narrate the story in flashback starting with what a greedy pig he is (but in a comical way)
He’s so greedy in fact that he is going to build a summer home called Kuztopia on the site of a village where our hero, Pacha lives voiced by John Goodman.
He fires Yzma his ‘assistant’ and she grows angry and decides to poison him. Yzma is a great villain voiced by Ertha Kitt. Maybe not the most complex but very funny. I love when they try to use a trap door and it ends up taking her to crocodiles ‘why do we have that lever.’
Unfortunately her poison plot doesn’t go as planned:
Yzma has an assistant named Kronk who is hilarious. He is a loveable buffoon who loves to cook and battles angels and devils on his shoulders (literally). The writing for Kronk is consistently funny.
Yzma tells Kronk to get rid of Kuzco but he puts him on Pacha’s wagon and figures he’s done for.
Pacha finds Kuzco as a llama and is reluctant to help him since he was so rude about the summer home, but being a good guy and hoping he can convince him to change his mind, Pacha rescues him in a very funny section of slapstick (it reminds me of Captain Hook and the crocodile scenes in Peter Pan).
Pacha is very caring towards Kuzco despite his continued bad attitude and rudeness (creating a lot of the humor). For example, there’s a nice moment where Kuzco is cold and Pacha gives him his poncho for the night.
They end up making it back to a bridge and it breaks trapping Pacha. To his horror Kuzco says he is not going to help him and that he is going to have him arrested once they get to the castle. Pacha yells back ‘we shook hands’ calling back to an earlier conversation. Then Kuzco trips and they both end up suspended and we get a funny scene with a nice message on trust and teamwork
On the other side of the bridge it is going to be 4 more days together so they end up at a diner in a very funny scene. Yzma and Kronk are also at the diner but neither of them know it. This is just classical physical comedy
Kuzco realizes Yzma tried to kill him and the llama was just a mistake and they find out Yzma and Kronk are at Pacha’s home.
Pacha’s family is one of the best family’s in all of Disney, and his wife is pregnant which is the first time a pregnant woman has been on an animated feature. Go pregnant women! But seriously cool to show all types of women not just pretty adolescent girls.
Finally they get to the castle and as they look for the potion Yzma is there and we get a great chase sequence that I think is just as good if not better than the wizards duel in Sword in the Stone (still don’t get all the love for that movie) . They turn into all different shapes and sizes depending on the potion they drink.
My favorite is probably when she turns into a cat and has a new voice:
In the end, Kuzco is changed back, Kronk is head of the junior chipmunks and Kuzcotopia is no longer built on Pacha’s village. (Even that you get a good joke with a man Kuzco threw through a window saying ‘it wasn’t the first time and it won’t be the last time’. That’s funny to imagine an old man frequently being thrown through windows)
It shouldn’t take you more than 5 minutes to know whether it is for you or not. The tone and type of humor is obvious from the start and it either makes you laugh or it doesn’t. For me, it does, and I think that is worthy of praise.
There is some nice messaging and I think the villain is pretty good but all that would be nothing if the jokes weren’t so consistently funny and so plentiful.
So give it a shot. It’s humor your whole family can enjoy which is actually kind of rare. Nothing inappropriate or offensive. Just sarcastic, silly comedy.
The animation is on the Saturday morning level and it is probably on par with good Disney afternoon episodes of Ducktales or Tailspin in that department.
The voice acting is uniformly good and the Tom Jones number at the beginning is fun (if you have a boy who hates musicals this is a good one for him).
My score is going to seem high but it truly did make me laugh that much, and it is one I find myself wanting to rewatch again and again.
Overall Grade- A-