Emperor’s New Groove, The
Release date: December 15, 2000
Director: Mark Dindal
Story by: Roger Allers, Matthew Jacobs, Chris Williams, Mark Dindal
Screenplay by: David Reynolds
Cast: David Spade, John Goodman, Eartha Kitt, Patrick Warburton
In regular situations, I don’t normally like David Spade, and though Kuzco is kind of a watered down version of him, the supporting characters in The Emperor’s New Groove are so hilarious that it’s easy to ignore Spade’s half-committed line delivery.
In this highly undervalued film, and one of Disney’s shortest feature films clocking at ten minutes past the hour, we visit a hudge pudge version of the Incan Empire where spoiled (but groovy) Emperor Kuzco (Spade) parties, as his power-hungry adviser, Yzma (Kitt), reigns with some… kind… of aid from her dim-witted assistant, Kronk (Warburton).
In preparation for his birthday, Emperor Kuzco is prepping his birthday gift to himself: the most perfect spot for Kuzcotopia! For that, he needs Pacha’s (Goodman) advice so he can go ahead and tear down his village. In the meantime, after firing Yzma from her job, she plots his murder… instead turning into a llama.
Starting with a quick background look at Kuzco, The Emperor’s New Groove gives us a musical number by musical guest Tom Jones singing Kuzco’s theme song, until an old man throws Kuzco’s groove off. From the get-go we know that this is going to be one of the silliest film rides, and its greatest feature is that it knows it. Though inconsiderate, selfish and quite insufferable, maybe it’s those qualities that make Yzma’s murder attempt hilarious, with machiavellian plans of turning Kuzco into a flea delivered in a box which she would step on to destroy him. Yzma, alongside Kronk, are what elevate The Emperor’s New Groove from a fun adventure to comedic heights worth quoting over 10 years since its release.
Alongside Dreamwork’s The Road to El Dorado, which also features art direction exploring American south of the border ancient civilizations released the same year, both also develop the Buddy film genre. But whereas Tulio and Miguel’s friendship is tested through their interest of a female character, The Emperor’s New Groove tests Kuzco and Pacha’s building a brand new relationship despite their difference. And with Yzma and Kronk, it becomes a double-edge sword Buddy film!
Before the worst years of World War II, Hollywood had already began catering to Latin American audiences, releasing a string of Latin-themed dance and party movies featuring stars like Carmen Miranda- Disney had back then released The Three Caballeros, which was admittedly better put together to celebrate Latin American culture. The Emperor’s New Groove has none of that, though they did visit Peru for visual research and all. The project was setup to be a bunch of fun, and besides adding that groovy Latin disco number with Jones, they have trampolines (which does become a plot point) and, what else, piñatas! But it’s part of that silliness that gives us the great scenes with Yzma and the birthday celebration, or the whole sequence at the restaurant, or Yzma and Kronk jumping the rope, or Yzma’s secret lab!
I guess the modernism displayed in the posters for the film really could have hinted at what the movie is really like, and though the clean style was applied to the most “traditional” aspects of the layout design, with Kuzko’s castle and Pacha’s village, looking familiar but with a hint of modernity. There’s nothing remotely serious, regal or historically respectful about it. Disney didn’t set to make a serious film about an ancient Latin American civilization, whose ancient capital had for the past few years become one of the New Wonders of the world. But hey, dude, The Emperor’s New Groove is hilarious.