EmperorsNewGrooveGrade:  B, C-
Entire family:  Yes
2000, 2005; 78 min., 75 min.; Color
Rated G
Aspect ratio:  1.85:1
Featured soundtrack:  DTS-HD MA 5.1
Bonus features:  C+
Includes:  Blu-ray, DVDs

While the world was preoccupied with Y2K fears, Disney decided to start the new Millennium with something a little different from their usual animated features. The Emperor’s New Groove is a little sassier, a little hipper, and maybe just a little crazier—as if the cartoon cast drank some of the old Warner Bros. Kool-Aid.

I certainly had flashbacks to those irreverent cartoons when early in the film the emperor has an old man thrown off his mountain palace, and again when one of the characters experiences some quick changes into various creatures as he drinks potion after potion.

The Emperor’s New Groove is very loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Emperor’s New Clothes, about a vain ruler who’s taken in by a pair of con artist weavers claiming a new suit of clothes they’re making for him will be invisible to anyone unfit to behold it or too stupid to hold their jobs. Of course, all of the emperor’s advisers are too afraid to admit they can’t see this pretend garment, and it takes a naive peasant child to shout “But he isn’t wearing anything at all” as the emperor parades half-naked in public and finally realizes his folly.

It’s probably the loosest adaptation of a fairy tale that the House of Mouse has attempted. In this Disney version, the emperor is an extremely vain (“It’s all about ME”) 17 year old who rules a tiny Incan empire somewhere in ancient Mesoamerica with no thought for anyone but himself. Instead of two weavers it’s a shriveled up adviser named Yzma (Eartha Kitt) and her boy-toy assistant Kronk (Patrick Warburton) who try to bamboozle the emperor. And the child-like peasant who is finally able to make the emperor see the error of his ways is village leader Pacha (John Goodman). 

Driving the craziness are songs by Sting, one of which received an Academy Award nomination. The vigorously upbeat music and David Spade’s manic voiceover as Emperor Kuzco (“BOOM, Baby!”) infuse The Emperor’s New Groove with all sorts of energy. And the screenplay scores points for making sense of that old Hollywood gambit: talking animals. In this film, Yzma has a secret lair full of potions, and one intended to kill Kuzco only turns him into a llama.

EmperorsNewGroovescreenEven though Kuzco called Pacha to the palace just to tell him he was building a summer palace on the mountain where Pacha and his village have lived for generations, Pacha decides to help the emperor-as-llama . . . and it’s their growing trust in each other, friendship, and Kuzco’s transformation not just to a human again, but to a REAL human that’s central to the plot. It’s a solid film that has laughs, energy, and a feel-good message.

Kronk’s New Groove, however, is a strange pick-up-where-the-original-left-off sequel insomuch as Kuzco is back to being egotistical and Pacha doesn’t get nearly the screen time he deserves. Instead, Warburton’s dim-witted character is called upon to carry the film. Having opened a pizza place, he’s coerced into joining Yzma in selling a bogus fountain of youth serum (unless she’s 300, you’d think the old gal would be a poor pitch person). And as with so many Disney sequels, the animation and backgrounds seem more suited to television. Very small children may like the sequel, but the rest of the family will think it a poor follow-up.