Posted January 13, 2011 by editor in Retrospectives

Disney: The Emperor’s New Groove

In another one of their slumps (thanks this time to the battle of the Computer Generated animation film) The Emperor’s New Groove strikes an unlikely positive chord in the Disney canon.

The film’s look and tone is often mistaken for a Dreamworks animated release – which may show Disney’s panicked response to their classic animation films not doing quite as well as they had hoped. Still the only real curse on this project is that it barely has any resemblance to The Emperor’s New Clothes where it takes its title from. So what is going on here? Is it a con to use a title when your content differs from what people are expecting? Is it a sign of weakness to have your style much more like the style of something that is popular at the time? (Is that like when Bond went all Bourne on us?) Will this affect the longevity of the film when we look back in another 10 years from now? The long and short of it is that the film works well, for now.

If you are asked to recall moments from The Emperor’s New Groove then you may be able to pin point a few fast paced comedic scenes off the top of your head. Beyond that the story is actually a bit of a mess. It is all over the shop – which being together all at the same time. The right scenes are there and generally in the right place – but the dramatic beats are perhaps a little too underwritten so that they come off as a bit tiresome and boring. With Characters this damaged – you kind of wait in anticipation for slapping your own face with grief when the soppy buddy drama moments happen (But you know they have to happen in order for the film and characters to come good).

That is the downside!  The upside is that the jokes are often hilarious, the pace in some of the scenes (See the diner scene) whip by so fast you barely have time to laugh before the next gag is there, and the characterisation is some of the most original for a long while. The Good guy is far from good! The bad guys are bad without being cruelly evil. Only John Goodman gets lumbered with the everyday fatherly home maker part with very little spectacle in his performance. But with so many crazy characters around you do need him to help serve balance.

It’s also quite how shockingly unsympathetic our lead character is. Yes we do live safe in the knowledge that he will adjust his evil ways before the film ends – which he does (Disney are still at least that predictable), but it is a surprise to see how long they stretch out his bad nature throughout the film and how long people take it for.

The land they have created for this emperor is immense and fairly majestic. It is also littered with modern day equivalents so that younger audiences can follow the likes of these ancient based characters. The Inca diner being a prime example.

It is by no means a perfect film, but it is different enough; the humour adult enough; and inventive enough (see the final chase sequence that includes trail dots across a map actually appearing on the landscape – hilarious!!!) to be a joyful romp.

You don’t even care much about the comeuppance the bad guys might get as they are far too comic for you to truly despise them. Besides you despise the hero so much it might have been too much to have anything more serious than a panto villain on scene. And oh boy do our team of baddies get the pies thrown in their faces from the beginning with Yzma, constantly having jokes made about her age and looking like a shrivelled up fly (wonderfully played by Eartha Kitt) and her dumb but lovable sidekick Kronk (Patrick Warburton) supplying some very funny random tasks he performs when distracted away from the main task at hand (like suddenly taking over chef duties at the afore mentioned diner). They are villains from the Wile Coyote walk of fame. You want serious harm to come to them, but only for the sake of laughter and seeing the expression on their faces when it happens – but you never at any point wish the kind of fate on them bestowed to the likes of wicked stepmothers.

The Emperor’s New Groove then works best as a character comedy, but not so much as a grand adventure. John Goodman’s family man may be desperate to save his home from destruction so that the Emperor can build himself a summer home, but it is in the journey he spends with the Emperor where the film has a little bit of repetition and, er, lack of danger. We are told of all sorts of threats that lurk around every corner – and yet we are only treated to characters bickering, and very little in the way of actually excitement. 

This is therefore quite a stretch for the studio to have made this film possible – and it will be the differences that it is remembered for. They are questionable sure – but we still got a very entertaining film out of it. It won’t top any lists – but it won’t be anywhere near the bottom either!

Steven Hurst