Movie Review By Casey McCabe
I took my nine year old niece to the latest Disney offering, "The Emperor's New Groove." Natalie is a reluctant critic who can't bring herself to speak ill of anybody. She even strives to be diplomatic about broccoli. The only movie I ever recall her disliking was "Simon Birch," which she still actively hates because they let the title character die.
Which got me thinking: there's not much you have to do to win the loyalty of children. And lord knows there's no surer bet in the film industry than an animated Disney feature with a Christmastime release. Since they are guaranteed vanloads of families with acute cabin fever, Disney can even afford to take a calculated risk now and then, which they do in "The Emperor's New Groove."
No, the lead character doesn't get offed. But they do allow you to think — for most of the film — that that might not be such a bad idea. It's a tad different for Disney, and like the film's penchant for tossing characters down impossibly deep canyons, it often feels genetically closer to classic Warner Brothers cartoons.
"The Emperor's New Groove" is not an adaptation. It's that rarest of things in an animated blockbuster, an original story. If you think you sniff a familiar legend behind it, it's because the screenwriters weren't out to get excessively original. In this one, a spoiled teenage emperor runs afoul of his evil court wizard and in an attempt to poison the arrogant emperor dead, the plotters accidentally turn him into a llama. The rest of the film follows the physical and spiritual journey that requires the emperor to bond with a peasant, learn a lesson or two about trust and humility, become human again and earn his empire back.
Now....how smug, insincere and unlikely a plush collectible is our lead character? Well, how do you feel about David Spade? Spade provides the voice of the Emperor, and one suspects, improvises more than a little of the tres hip putdown artist dialogue. The other main voice-overs, John Goodman, Eartha Kitt, and Patrick Warburton (aka David Puddy from "Seinfeld") also appear to have had their characters written around their established personas, so the chemistry here, even though it's acetate-based, is extremely natural.
As aspiring legends go, "The Emperor's New Groove" is short and skinny, with surprisingly few twists, ironies or emotional payoffs. As compensation, it moves quickly, hits with a majority of its gags, and even shows off some good-natured cartoon anarchy. Tom Jones sings the only big musical production number. Sting's contribution has been buried in the credits. Both of these were good calls.
Oh yeah. So what did my nine year old niece think of "The Emperor's New Groove?" She really liked it. Really.
© 2000 - Casey McCabe - Air Date: 12/13/00
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