The Emperor's New Groove: I Can't Believe This Is Good

Emperor

Okay, after heaping all that criticism on Mr. Mouse & Co. for the surprisingly bad Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, let me talk about something surprisingly good from the folks at Disney.

When I sat down with the family to watch The Emperor's New Groove, my expectations were low. Why? I didn't know much about the film beyond the following facts:

  • The film originally was going to be called Kingdom of the Sun, a grand and serious piece of animation, but when the early versions tested poorly, the filmmakers churned out an almost entirely different film in record time.
  • The animation was simple and the film was unapologetically goofy.
  • The film starred David Spade.

I think I can be forgiven for assuming this was going to be a waste of 78 minutes of my life.

In fact, this was as much fun as I've had from a "family film" in a long time. Let's be clear up front. In terms of story, emotional content, animation quality, etc., this is not a Disney masterpiece. While the character animation is well-done, there's no real attempt at "art" in the backgrounds. The emotional beats in the plot are mostly predictable. The story does not bear close scrutiny. But the film delivers is a lot of genuine laughs. That's not easy to do. In most films aimed at children and adults, the writers attempt to keep adults laughing through winking references to pop culture or references to go over the children's heads. There is a tiny amount of that in this film, too, but mostly it's just good comedic set-up and timing that make the film enjoyable for all ages.

Special mention has to be made of Patrick Warburton, perhaps best known as "Puddy" on Seinfeld. Here, he plays "Kronk," the sidekick of the villain played by Eartha Kitt. His great, perfectly underplayed line readings form the core of the film's humor.

I should also state for the record that I find nothing objectionable to David Spade's work in this film. I haven't enjoyed him in anything else I have seen, but he does a good job with the starring role of the Emperor. One element of the storytelling I really liked is that they waited as long as possible to reform the Emperor's character. On several occasions, I said to myself, "Okay, here's where he stops being a jerk," but no, he kept right on being a jerk. By having the Emperor delay his transformation until after he's tried everything else, this element of the story has a curious believability in an otherwise unbelievable film.

Look, you don't need me or anyone else tell you that Beauty & the Beast or Pinocchio is a great film. But I imagine a lot of people will skip right past the Emperor's New Groove, and that's a shame. As long as you don't expect a moment where tears form in your eyes, you won't be disappointed.

So yeah, I'm giving this a four. Remember, that doesn't mean this is a great, four-star film, but in my rating system, this is the highest honor, a film adults would be entertained by even if no children are around.

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