The Grooviest Film of the Canon.
The plot of this film is somewhat barebones, but it’s left that way for the boundless creative humor within. Disney has never really done a ‘buddy comedy’ before, and this film pulls it off twice, with both heroes and villains going on road trips and learning lessons within. The jokes and comedic beats are nonstop, so the lack of true story (this film is more character-driven anyways) is a non-issue. The film also isn’t afraid to poke fun at itself as well. Several jokes pertaining to Disney’s history are present, and it all makes the film more enjoyable as well.
Originally, this film was supposed to be a grand epic titled Kingdom of the Sun, at the scale of Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, or Pocahontas (using the art style now found in the later Brother Bear), but instead, it took a more Aladdinesque route and doubled down on the comedy. The plot became too convoluted during the lengthened planning stage and was scaled back for clarity’s sake, and is one of the most streamlined stories Disney has ever done.
This film has the tightest plot of the Canon, with no ‘fat’ or extraneous scenes to speak of. The film moves at a quick clip comedy-wise, yet has some slower moments built for drama, and everyone gets their moment in the spotlight, even minor characters. As a staple of comedy films, there is usually a humorous scene or two set during a meal, and this not only pulls it off once, but twice!
As an aside, I used to complain that this film had a short runtime, but upon re-watches, the current runtime is perfect. Not too short, nor too long either. A very humorous, and tidily-plotted film.
My PLOT RATING is 10 / 10.
Kuzco (David Spade) goes through the most change in a Disney Protagonist, basically going from a villain-type character to somewhat of a hero. His slow, deliberate change throughout the film is done masterfully, and you never get the sense that he suddenly shifts, but grows as he learns more about life outside the palace, and he never loses that comically selfish streak, though he dials it back by a lot towards the end. He’s snarky, immature, and incredibly relatable with some younger children in the audience. Kuzco alone teaches the children of the audience lessons on friendship, kindness, and above all, humility and admitting your mistakes. David Spade voices him excellently, not only doing that sassy voice we all know him for so well, but for nailing the dramatic, quiet, and heartfelt moments of the film as well.
Pacha (John Goodman) is the heart of the film. He always tries to see the best in people and never truly gives up on Kuzco, no matter how frustrating the Emperor can be. He is a father figure not only to his own children, but to Kuzco as well, and possibly could have not changed the Emperor if it were not for his own children. He sticks to his principles, and his conscience guides him throughout the film, even when he himself isn’t up to the task. His chemistry with other characters (especially his wife) is great, and his quick thinking and brawn help save the day on several occasions.
Yzma (Eartha Kitt) is a wonderful comedic villain. In her original incarnation, she was obsessed with being beautiful, enough so to blot out the sun, the supposed source of her wrinkles. In this version, she retains many of those vain aspects, but they are played in a comedic light. Her fashion and style stand out as well, and she sports many different and varied outfits throughout the film, mostly containing, black, purple, teal, or a close shade to those.
Her ugliness is played up by other characters in the film, mostly using the comedic phrase, “scary beyond all reason”, yet her look and movements, while exaggerated, are some of the best in the film. To steal a page from Warner Brothers, she is basically the Wile E. Coyote of the film, always a step behind the hero. Eartha Kitt puts on a fantastic performance here, each line dripping with just the right amount of style, glam, and malice, but with a comedic twist here and there, switching from emotion to emotion at the drop of a hat.
Kronk (Patrick Warburton) is the breakout star of the show. As a fan of villains, I’ve always gravitated towards Yzma, but Kronk is her perfect balance. He usually keeps his cool when she panics and reassures her as much as he frustrates her. Canonically, they’re in a relationship, but personally I see Yzma and Kronk as a ‘bodyguard with benefits’-type situation, which is both hilarious and scary to think about.
Kronk is a jack of all trades, a master of all trades, and he just keeps racking up the trades and talents as the film goes on. His varied life and optimistic outlook surprises with every turn; there’s a ‘Kronk Detail’ around every corner. He’s not really a villainous character, just working for one, and he’s really in touch with his inner child, feminine side, and conscience as well. The scenes with him and his ‘Shoulder Angel’ and ‘Shoulder Devil’ are highlights, proving that three Kronks isn’t a bad thing at all. Kronk definitely steals every scene he’s in, but he is used in a way where he doesn’t become overbearing, and I tip my hat to Disney’s restraint here.
ChiCha (Wendie Malick), Tipo (Eli Russell Linnetz), and Chaca (Kellyann Kelso) are Pacha’s family. Tipo and Chaca are cute, savvy, precocious kids that are actually helpful, for however brief. They get some really good moments and jokes, as well, and don’t fall under the ‘animated kid, horrible actor’ banner. ChiCha is a fantastic, groundbreaking character here, not only being voiced by the excellent Wendie Malick, but by being the first pregnant woman in a Disney Film. She truly cares about her family, and isn’t above trickery, sarcasm, or even violence to keep them all safe. She sticks up for her family’s welfare, and is as level-headed, though somewhat volatile, as her husband. I really enjoy the brief snippets that we see of their relationship. They’re both so caring for each other.
Other characters are numerous and insanely memorable, even if they have a single line. There’s the Old Man (John Fiedler) Bucky the Squirrel (Bob Bergen), the Waitress at the diner (Patti Deutsch), and many, many others. All are perfect in their roles and each character provides the right amount of comedy and drama.
My CHARACTERS RATING is 10 / 10.
This film is the reason why I created this category. The dialogue in this film is perfect. So, so many memorable lines. The inflections are excellent, and the actors’ comedic timing is just so. There’s an endless amount of rapid-fire jokes, quips, and memes that come from this film, as well as a bounty of lessons to share. The dramatic moments and quiet portions of the film also work very well, showing that while this is a comedy film through-and-through, that comedy is rooted in love and heart.
My DIALOGUE RATING is 10 / 10.
While not as outwardly flashy as other films, the effects are great and the animation is excellent. The style used in this film is best described by Robin Williams on the production of Aladdin, “Warner Brothers in Disney drag,” and this film exemplifies that statement. As someone who grew up with Looney Tunes cartoons, this film hits a nostalgic funny bone for me. The character animation is very squash-and-stretch (malleable and move to fit the scene’s tempo, rather than real life actions) yet the movements are snappy and pose-to-pose, intentionally rigid at times. This variety in animation lets the film feel looser and more free than the others of its time. The style here is also similar to Hercules, with a distinct angular graphic character design.
Something I need to mention is the backgrounds in this film. Every one of them is beautiful. There are a lot of extreme long shots in this film, and they’re all breathtaking, particularly when the palace is the focus. The bright golds, reds, and teals are amazing to see when in the light, and even in heavy rain. Water, rain, and smoke are all wonderful here, and the smoke comes in pink with sparkles this time around!
My EFFECTS RATING is 10 / 10.
The music in this film tells an interesting story. There is only one song in the film, and it appears at the beginning and end, bookending the film excellently. The other appears during the credits, and is the only Sting song within the film. During development (detailed in the documentary, The Sweatbox, or as I call it “Sting’s Slow Slip Into Sadness”)), Sting was hired to write songs for the film, and over the time the film was being made, his song count in the film slipped from eight to one, with three surviving on the soundtrack.
The score by John Debney is jazzy and bright, matching the insanity of the animation and situations. It really helped explain why I love that ‘big band sound’ so much. Special mention to all versions and variations of “Run, Llama, Run”, my favorite bit of score from the film.
“Perfect World” – Tom Jones sings this with all the exuberance he can muster. It’s truly a rocking song.
“My Funny Friend and Me” – A contemplative song that calms down the audience at the end of the film, and it teaches a lesson on friendship and care. The melody also appears during the film proper, during some more quiet moments.
My MUSIC RATING is 10 / 10, but what about the other songs on the soundtrack not in the film?
“Walk the Llama Llama” – An amazing song featuring Rascal Flatts. Bouncy, fun, and bright, and has a lot of clever rhymes. The ‘pied piper’ theme whenever llamas were herded in Kingdom of the Sun.
“One Day She’ll Love Me” – A nice love duet that helps explain the relationship between the male and female leads of Kingdom of the Sun.
“Snuff Out the Light” – The best Disney Villain Song. Catchy, fun, expositional, and sung by EARTHA KITT. In Kingdom of the Sun, this song explains Yzma’s motivations and plans. I can only dream of the insane visuals this song would have conjured. It’s just perfection.
My MUSIC RATING is still 10 / 10.
If you all couldn’t tell by now, this is my favorite Disney film of all time. I wasn’t the biggest fan of it as a child, but my love for it grew, and now it’s simply the best. It’s better than all the rest.
The plot is airtight, the characters are fantastic, the animation is snappy and out-of-the-box, the dialogue is hysterical every time, and the music is always pleasing to the ears.
From the ashes of Development Hell came this phoenix of a film that, while it didn’t wow the box office by any stretch, shone brightly for years to come. The Emperor’s New Groove has gained a cult following that lasts to this day. Listen to the audience reaction in this clip (43:13):
The love for this film is still here. We all love it, yet it’s treated like this black sheep of the Canon, when it should get more praise. Yes, it did get a television show and a sequel (with plans for a third centering on Yzma before Eartha Kitt’s passing in 2008) yet this film still does not get as much love as it should. It’s an incredibly fresh take for Disney to make, and it has also influenced Disney Films moving forward even now. Disney has realized that humor wins audiences over more than earnestness (as much as they wanted this to be like Hunchback of Notre Dame or Pocahontas) and the newer films are all the better for it.
This Perfect Film begins and ends with us.
My OVERALL RATING for Disney’s The Emperor’s New Groove is 100%.
The opposite of this movie.
The Disney Dark Age 2.0 continues…