Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Emperor’s New Groove


This movie has less of the Disney look and feel of any of the 47 features we’ve watched so far. Somebody said it seemed more like a Warner Brother Looney Tune than a Disney movie. That’s not all bad, of course, and there is a lot of sly humor here, but mostly it’s all knockabout action and slapstick gags. I understand it was what is known as a “troubled” production, and several times came within an inch of being cancelled. Originally, it was going to be a Prince and the Pauper story, with the Emperor changing places with a peasant. That was eventually seen as not very original; how many P&P variations have you seen? Dozens. So they started over from square one, and six years later, this is the result.
It looks damn good, especially the gigantic temples and jungles and steep canyons where all the action takes place. The best thing about it is the two villains, and isn’t that so often the case? The good guys are constrained by moral behavior, but the bad guys get to do anything damn thing they want, and have a hell of a lot of fun doing it. In this case it is Eartha Kitt as Yzma, the Emperor’s advisor who, when she is fired, plots to kill him but only succeeds in turning him into a llama. She is wonderful, a Disney bad girl so skinny she makes my darling Cruella look like the circus fat lady. She is ineptly abetted by one Kronk, a man so stupid you’d need to frequently remind him to breathe. But they have made him endearing, in that he’s not really a bad guy, he’s more of a clueless henchman. And when did you ever see a smart henchman? It’s practically in the job description: Wanted, henchman. Must have IQ equal to or less than his shoe size. All he really wants to do is cook, and can be instantly distracted by children playing games, which he enthusiastically joins.
Sorry to say that the worst thing about it, from my point of view, is David Spade as the Emperor. I’m not a fan of Spade, whose snarky sarcasm works for me for only a few minutes at a time, but the film is 95 minutes long and he’s in most scenes. He recycles all his SNL bits, including the stupid “buh-bye” routine. Yeah, I know he’s supposed to be Mr. Ultra-cool, but he’s a one-joke comedian, funny the first time you see him, tiresome after that.