|Emperorís New Groove, The (The Ultimate Groove 2-Disc Collectorís Edition)|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 01 May 2001|
In "Groove," the 18-year-old Emperor Kuzco (voice of David Spade) rules over an unnamed kingdom that looks as though it’s Central or South American. Kuzco, not to put too fine a point on it, is a spoiled brat who endangers both himself and other with his whims. Unfortunately for Kuzco, he’s rude once too often to his chief advisor, Yzma (voice of Eartha Kitt), who plots to assassinate the royal twerp. However, the poison gets mixed up with a shape-shifting potion, and Kuzco, instead of dying, turns into a talking llama, who gets carted off to the mountains. The only man who can help Kuzco is hearty peasant Pacha (voice of John Goodman). Kuzco has already announced his plan to demolish Pacha’s village to make way for a giant swimming pool, so Pacha wants Kuzco the llama to promise that he’ll spare Pacha’s people’s homes and build his toy somewhere else. Although he is in potentially dire straits, the concept of mercy – or even barter – is slow to occur to the transformed monarch.
The notion of a buddy comedy between a big, earthy, decent fellow and a thin, high-strung, whiny quadruped has a lot of comedic potential. Goodman and Spade have expert timing and delivery, as do Kitt and Patrick Warburton, as her stolid, easily distracted sidekick. Furthermore, the direction by Mark Dindal and script by David Reynolds, from a story by Roger Allers (supervised by Stephen Anderson), has definite wit, with plenty of good throwaway one-liners. The narrative style references a "Rocky and Bullwinkle" cartoon, with its asides to the audience and occasional verbal and visual references to the fact that the characters are in an animated movie. (There’s a nice gag when the characters are chasing each other all over a map, leaving map-marking footprints in their wake.) All of this makes "Emperor" consistently amusing.
However, what is charmingly kooky in five-minute installments (like "Rocky and Bullwinkle") doesn’t necessarily sustain a feature, even one that’s only 77 minutes long. You can see what the filmmakers are going for with Kuzco, who’s meant to be an adorable egomaniac. They get it half-right. Kuzco isn’t just self-obsessed and dangerous in an absent-minded way, he’s devoid of empathy and actively destructive (he has people thrown out of windows for accidentally bumping into him). The only substantial difference we can see between him and the villainous Yzma is in appearance. By the time Kuzco is in any sort of vulnerable position, he has been established as thoroughly dislikable. As the movie takes its time to try to redeem him, he becomes still more objectionable – we don’t want Kuzco to mellow out and bond with the agreeable Pacha, we want Pacha to find a friend who’s worthy of his amiability. When Kuzco finally does begin to come around, the problem is compounded by the utterly insincere sound of his protestations of reform, even though they’re meant to be genuine.
The picture quality is excellent, although the color palette is tends more toward pastels than bright colors, except for the bright yellows of the palace and the hot pinks and purples of Yzma’s wardrobe. The DTS sound is excellent, though there aren’t many standout moments. There are good surround rain effects in Chapters 1 and 21 and an intriguing, atmospheric wind effect in Chapter 11 that whooshes around the rears, making us feel like we’re ascending an Andes peak. Tom Jones turns up on the vocals for "Perfect World" in Chapters 2 and the Chapter 27 reprise, sounding as hip and knowing as ever – in his hands, the Sting composition is reminiscent of Jones’ hit "Simply Irresistible." Sting himself appears vocally in Chapter 28 on his Oscar-nominated end credits song "My Funny Friend and Me," crooning thoughtfully in the center while smooth harmonies surround him in the mains. The song is lovely, and if it doesn’t exactly suit the mood of all that’s come before, it’s hardly the first movie theme to fit that description. It should be noted that "Emperor" has its own menu vocabulary – instead of "audio options," we’re presented with "tweaking it" – this is the menu to use in order to enable the DTS sound.
The supplemental materials are abundant, as noted above. The first disc on the set contains the film, plus an audio commentary track from director Dindal and producer Randy Fullmer, with guest observations from many of their department heads. The commentary takes the unusual step of beginning with a disclaimer stating that the views expressed are not necessarily those held by anyone at Disney. One view that may not be held by many audience members is Dindal and Fullmer’s belief, expressed as they discuss the opening, that they’ve managed to make Kuzco sympathetic. Still, the filmmakers are likable, articulate speakers. Disc 1 also holds an interactive quiz game that serves as a brief sequel to "Emperor," with Kitt and Warburton reprising their voice roles as they gleefully guide the player through the moves. The DVD-ROM features are also on Disc 1.
Disc 2 has featurettes on a multitude of aspects of the animation process. There are a number of ways the features can be accessed. Pressing the menu key gives you the option of exploring individual featurettes or clicking on "the groove," which then allows you to choose from "the studio groove" or "the animation groove." The latter seems to consist of a very detailed examination of a single sequence from sketches to finished product, while the former contains an orderly path through some of the material that is found elsewhere as solo features. The "grooves" are hosted onscreen by Dindal and Fullmer, with a kid-friendly Nickelodeon-style introduction that is fun once and can be skipped through with arrow or menu keys. The case comes with a set of liner notes that feature a very helpful map through Disc 2’s many features (deleted scenes are in "Story and Editorial," for instance).
"The Emperor’s New Groove: The Ultimate Groove" is a bonanza for animation fans in terms of added features. The film itself has some laughs, but in the end, we’re a lot more convinced that a man can turn into a llama than that Kuzco can turn into someone we care about.