Personal Overview: I missed The Emperor's New Groove one at the cinema, which is interesting, because 2000 was the year I actually went to South America and did the Inca Trail, and this film is set in South America at the height of the Inca Empire, when the Emperor was considered a virtual living god. It is possible that I didn’t even know this was a Disney film. It is different on a number of fronts.
It isn’t based on a well known story, it has a real world setting, it’s not European or North American based, there’s no romance (unless it’s the love affair Emperor Kuzco is having with himself) and it’s largely straight comedy. Very little music.
The voice cast for this was excellent. David Spade as the self obsessed Kuzco, and he was largely playing his usual on screen persona, selfish, obnoxious, annoying. John Goodman as Pacha, the peasant who has to save Kuzco, and at the same time make him wake up to himself. Eartha Kitt as the ambitious and vengeful sorceress Yzma, and the underrated Patrick Warburton as the underappreciated, but multi talented Kronk.
It’s an old story with the Emperor being turned into a helpless animal (in this case a llama, because llamas are funny, they just are) and having to rely on someone who bears him or his regime no love (Pacha, whose family house Kuzco was intending to destroy to replace it with his summer house). Of course his way back home and to a cure was never going to be easy with Yzma and the surprising Kronk in pursuit.
The end sequence with Yzma and Kuzco desperately trying to get an antidote (she had managed to turn herself into a kitten that looked like something out of the Aristocats, but spoke like a chipmunk from Alvin and the Chipmunks, and he was still a llama, although he had also been a number of other creatures throughout that sequence) to turn human again, was highly tense. I did actually wonder if Kuzco may stay a llama or turn himself into something else non human.
It was interesting that they chose to focus on a non European story, not that it mattered, because it became very American, right down to Yzma’s high tech secret laboratory and the restaurant which was an Inca version of a highway diner, because that wasn’t something Disney generally did.
Hero/es: I can’t call Kuzco a hero, he eventually becomes semi decent, but it takes a long time for him to learn and if I’d been Pacha I would have either left him by himself in the jungle to be eaten by jaguars or alligators, or eaten him myself. I’m sure llama stew would have been quite tasty. Pacha is the hero of this, unfailingly good and always willing to do the right thing. It’s not really surprising that the name is a diminutive of Pachacuti one of the great Inca emperors. Oddly enough I rate Kronk as a hero, too. I know he’s Yzma’s henchman, but most of what he does benefits Pacha and Kuzco more than it does the witch. It’s actually hard to know if that’s by chance or design, it happens so often and he is on the right side at the end.
Villain/s: with me giving Kronk hero status that leaves Yzma to carry the villain tag. She does it quite well. She’s described as horrendous looking and she is. She’s rather like a typical Disney villain who has undergone extensive plastic surgey. She’s kind of like Grimhilde, Maleficent, Cruella and Ursula all rolled into one hideous package. Her sheer incompetence and Kronk’s intervention are the only things that stop her from gaining her goal or getting rid of Kuzco and taking over as the Empress.
Cuteness Factor: Pacha’s kids; Chaca and Tipo fill this. The uh uh, nuh uh argument they have at one point is priceless. They also form a really nice team along with their mother Chicha in foiling Yzma at one point. Mostly the film is funny, rather than cute.
Animation: the idea of making characters look like their voice actors continues. It doesn’t work with Spade although Kuzco does sport a rather Joe Dirtlike mullet. Pacha, Yzma and Kronk are definitely based on Goodman, Kitt and Warburton, although suitably exaggerated or caricatured. They also tried to give the characters identifiably South American features, especially the noses. The backgrounds are amazing and particularly in the capital attempt to convey some sort of idea to the audience about the scale in which the Incas built things. It’s also very colourful. A lot of it is done in an exaggerated cartoony type of style, which I don’t know was appreciated by audiences.
Final Words: I liked this. I thought it was funny. I appreciated the move away from the tradition of what Disney film is. It was a bit uneven and some sequences were overdone. It had a troubles production and the lack of music (I liked this for once) bothered management, because the company’s releases were so identified with it and had been for decades. There may have been a conscious decision to change things up because Pixar was giving Disney definite competition by now. It’s not a release you hear much about and I do wonder if they’d tried to forget it due to disappointing results. They did try a direct to video sequel and a spin off TV show, but neither caused much buzz. I think it’s an underrated entry and I can think of a few that caused bigger waves and which this is more enjoyable than.