Rated G - Running Time: 1:19 - Released 12/15/00

Disney can never seem to miss these days when it comes to animated features, and Mark Dindal's The Emperor's New Groove is the latest in the chain of Mouse House productions to prove this point. It's cute, it's funny, it teaches a lesson, and it features well-realized characterizations by well-known actors. This time, the lead role is played by the ultra-sarcastic David Spade, nicely counterpointed by the always reliable John Goodman, and the script by Dindal, Roger Allers, and several others is programmed to exploit the talents of these two actors as well as that of Eartha Kitt and Seinfeld's Patrick Warburton as the diabolical but clumsy villainess and her thick-necked, common sense challenged assistant. Like Tarzan, the film has none of the traditional Disney musical numbers, but features the music of one of rock's most well-known songwriters. In that film it was Phil Collins; this time, it's Sting.

Kuzco (voice of Spade) is the young emperor of some Mezzo-American country several hundred years ago (as with most kids' movies, the period setting is a tad muddled). Apparently with no parents and no authority figures around him to squelch his style, Kuzco relishes his kingly life, even planning to build a fabulous summer home called "Kuzcotopia" on a beautiful hilltop near the palace. This is unfortunate for Pacha (Goodman), a poor villager and herder of llamas, because his house sits precisely on the site of the future royal playground. When Pacha goes to the emperor to ask where he and his neighbors are supposed to live, Kuzco answers characteristically: "Um...don't know, don't care."

What Kuzco also does not know is that his lead advisor Yzma (Kitt) has plans to take over the kingdom by poisoning the young ruler and assuming power herself. But because of a mixup with the potion prepared by her trusty sidekick Kronk (Warburton), the emperor doesn't die when he drinks the stuff; instead, he turns into a llama. However, he escapes the palace and disappears into the countryside, where he again meets up with Pacha. Now, despite their initial disagreement, the two must work together to return the emperor to his rightful throne and save the kingdom from Yzma's evil clutches.

This is a classic buddy movie, and each actor is staying strictly close to his established range of character. The scriptwriters obviously tailored the text to Spade's ascerbic style, and he is right at home playing a spoiled twentysomething. Goodman is also very comfy playing the straight man with the heart of gold, and Warburton occasionally steals the scene as the non-chalant but devoted Kronk. The script doesn't exactly sparkle the way many recent Disney cartoons have, however, and the animation, while perfectly servicable, is not particularly dazzling, either. For some reason, this film feels rushed through, like the conventional animation pictures are becoming a kind of filler between the computer-animated Pixar releases. This film doesn't hold a candle to A Bug's Life or the Toy Story movies, of course, but even up against older films like Aladdin and Beauty And The Beast it seems a bit lacking, even from the standpoint of screenplay or characterization. It's not bad, it's just not astounding. This is perhaps the curse of producing the kind of top-notch films Disney has become associated with: once that level is reached, it becomes expected, and while New Groove would have been a groundbreaking masterpiece 10 years ago, by today's standards it seems somewhat . . . pedestrian. ****

Copyright 2000 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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