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Thursday, July 5, 2012

Disneyear: The Emperor's New Groove (2000)

Boy, did this film have a rough beginning. Originally considered for a musical drama called Kingdom Under the Sun, it would have been about a greedy emperor that finds a peasant doppelganger and swap places for fun while an evil witch plans to call forth a dark spirit to blot out the sun forever to keep her youth. (the sun gives her wrinkles, so she surmises that living in a world of darkness would prevent her from wrinkling). Discovering the switch between the prince and the peasant, she turns the real emperor into a llama and threatens to reveal the pauper's identity unless he obeys her. The emperor-llama learns humility in his new form, and even comes to love a girl llama-herder. Together, the girl and the llama set out to undo the witch's plans. Set to have been directed by Mark Dindal (Cats Don't Dance) and Roger Allers (The Lion King) and featuring songs written by Sting, this was planned on being Disney's next big epic. However, it had a lot of problems during the six year production. Not pleased with the uneven story, the lukewarm reaction from a test audience and production was falling dangerously behind, executives nearly shelved the film due to it not being done by it's planned summer 2000 release. On top of that, the two directors wound up making two completely different films. Dindal pushed for comedy while Allers wanted more drama. Allers eventually left the project and the animators were reassigned to work on the Rhapsody in Blue segment for Fantasia/2000, so Dindal was on his own. He and a team of writers completely overhauled the film and turned it from an epic yet uninvolving story to a buddy-buddy comedy just in time to be released around Christmas of 2000. While Disney exec's thought that it would bomb, the new film The Emperor's New Groove actually did a lot better than anyone expected it to do. It made it's budget money back and has a continuing growing fanbase due to clever jokes, fast-paced story, and unique feel to it. Let's get our groove on and examine why with The Emperor's New Groove.

The final story keeps a lot of characters from early production. A greedy, selfish Mesoamerican emperor named Kuzko (David Spade) meets with a villager named Pacha (John Goodman) to let him know he plans on building an enormous summer home where Pacha's house is. Pacha attempts to protest but is dismissed. Meanwhile the emperor's adviser named Yzma (Eartha Kitt) and her dim-witted assistant named Kronk (Patrick Warburton) attempt to murder Kuzko because he fired them. However, Kronk gets the potions mixed up and accidentally turns Kuzko into a llama. Kronk is told to finish the job but messes up again and winds up in Pacha's kart. Kuzko later meets up with Pacha again after being knocked out and thinks he kidnapped him and turned him into a llama. After trying to go back to the palace on his own, Kuzko gets in all kinds of trouble with jaguars, waterfalls, and a squirrel, Pacha reluctantly rescues him. The two don't get along at first and back stab each other along the way. It's not until later that Kuzko figures out that Yzma wants to kill him and apologizes to Pacha. The two become friends, defeat Yzma, and Kuzko goes back to being a human again, but nicer.

Let's begin with what everybody loves about the film: the comedy. In my opinion, this is really good comedy and it comes bot visually and verbally. There's a lot of adult humor and fourth wall jokes and it's really fast-paced, much like a classic Warner Brothers cartoon. I love the animation, I love the timing, I love the razor-sharp wit this film has, it's just a great comedy.

The characters themselves are decent enough. David Spade's narration is sometimes annoying, I'll admit, but this is still one of his better movies. I guess part of the problem is that whenever I hear his voice, I just hear David Spade and not a character but he has some good moments, so I'll let it slide. John Goodman is your typical nice guy in the film. He's more of the straight man to David Spade and I suppose it works fine. They have some good chemistry as actors and I kind of want see some more films with him and Spade. The side characters where funny too, particularly Pacha's family.

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The best thing about the film by far are the two villains. I don't know who's idea it was to team Eartha Kitt with Patrick Warburton, but they steal the show! They make me laugh and they make me laugh hard! These two surprisingly work well together and they have some of the best moments in the film. The expressions, voices, and the animation on them is just wonderful.

The designs in this film are pretty nice too. It's pretty stylized and mostly angular like most artworks from that area and has some interesting patterns and color schemes. And like I said, the animation, as far as comedy goes, is really good animation. The timing's fast, the line work is great, the expressions and reactions are great, and it's practically leaps off screen. 

Robin Williams calls Aladdin "a Warner-Bros. cartoon made by Disney". In my opinion, this one fits that title better. While it is a far cry from Disney's best, it's certainly one of the funniest. Some parts may have been done before, but it's razor-sharp wit, big laughs, fast pace, and nice characters make it easily one of the most entertaining Disney films. I guess one of the problems may be it's too modern for some, like how it's supposed to take place in Mesoamerican history and there's diners and labs and all that stuff. I never thought that was a big deal here because it's not really based on any part of history. In fact, it feels like the events here happened very recently like in Shrek's time, so I never found it a big deal. So yeah, The Emperor's New Groove isn't the best, but it's a very entertaining film and arguably the funniest Disney ever made. It's so far from Disney's typical fare that it comes off as unique. So go check it out if you love to laugh. It probably won't disappoint.

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