“Squeakity squeak, squeakin’.” – Kronk
This is amazing. We are not even are the Top 25 yet, and I’m already watching films where I’m having trouble finding strong enough weaknesses. The quality of the Disney canon is quite remarkable.
The Emperor’s New Groove certainly has the most interesting development history of any film in the canon. The film was originally known as Kingdom of the Sun, and was supposed to be an Incan take on the classic Prince and the Pauper story in the grand dramatic Disney Musical style that was a staple of the 1990s, with music by the world-famous Sting. As the production wore on, the story started to have great trouble, and a screening with 50% of the film finished garnered a very poor response. Soon, the director was fired, the script was rewritten, and the once dramatic Disney Musical transformed into the zany, over the top comedy you know and possibly love today. Kuzco, Yzma, a heavily altered version of Pacha, the Llama transformation, and David Spade are the only aspect that were kept from the original idea. You could have seen an extremely different film.
The story of The Emperor’s New Groove follows the young emperor of the Incan empire, Kuzco, who one faithful day alerts the peasant Pacha that the hill where he lives will become Kuzco’s new Summer Home, while also firing his advisor Yzma and her assistant, Kronk, for posing as the emperor herself. For revenge, Yzma plans to poison Kuzco and take over the empire. Due to a mistake made by Kronk, Kuzco is actually given a potion that transforms him into a llama. Kronk is then tasked at disposing of the body, but one guilt ridden change of heart later, Kronk accidentally places Kuzco on Pacha’s kart. When Pacha discovers Kuzco, Kuzco decides he has to return to the palace, and attempts to go at it alone, but soon finds he might need Pacha’s help to get there. Meanwhile, Yzma discovers Kronk’s misdeed, and sets off with Kronk to make sure the job is finished herself.
This film was transformed into a comedy throughout its production process, and in the end, the film does what it’s changed self set out to do. It has some very, very funny sections, especially in its middle section. Each character has their strong comedic moment and their quotable moments. There are so many quotable moments in this film, moments that you take with you. That’s a sign of a good comedy.
It’s not just moments though. Many of the film’s funniest moments are not one-liners but how humorous scenes build and succeed for an extended amount of time. That’s also a sign of a good comedy. The diner scene, the “family reunion” scene, and the hanging off the bridge scene are just a few examples of the fantastic way the film is able to keep entire scene active and hilarious. It’s great that you have both the one liners and the great scenes.
Many of the film’s best and most quotable moments come from Kronk, fantastically voiced by Mr. Patrick Warburton. This was my first introduction to Patrick, before David Puddy, Soarin’ Flight Attendant, and Joe Swanson, so Warburton will always be Kronk first to me. Anyways Kronk is no doubt the absolute funniest character in the movie, and has so many fantastic character quirks. Kronk is one of the reason I keep coming back to this movie. He plays off all the other characters very well, he is simple yet brilliant, he has awesome shoulder angels, and he can speak squirrel. Riiiiiiiiight.
Of course, the main characters have to be good too. Luckily, the relationship between Kuzco and Pacha really works. Again, it all comes down to contrast. Pacha and Kuzco play so well off of each other that it not only creates tension, but ends up create a great relationship. Kuzco is at his strongest when with Pacha, and many of his best moments are quotes towards Pacha. Pacha himself has a good enough emotional core that we care about him and care about him teaching Kuzco a lesson. One of the great modern Disney Bromances.
I mentioned the middle section at the beginning, but I want to say that the middle of film is no doubt the strongest section. You hear about the second act slump, where the second act is hard because you need to get the audience to care once they know the character’s goals. New Groove does that pretty well by becoming a tour de force of relationships and humor. Everything between Kuzco discovering his llama form to his reuniting with Pacha and the “family reunion” are great, with most of it eclipsing great and going into excellent mode.
The beginning and ending of the film, however, have some issues. Let’s begin with the beginning. Makes sense, right? Anyways, the beginning of the film is a bit too slow, both on the pacing side and on the jokes side. Outside of parts of the opening song, Kronk, and one brilliant section from Yzma (“AND I WILL SMASH IT WITH A HAMMER!”), there is not a ton of material there that’s memorable or strong. The best part of the beginning, again outside of Kronk, is the set up of Pacha’s Emotional attachments, which comes very much towards the middle of the film. There just needed to be more ooomph in the beginning.
The beginning of the film also demonstrates a bit of a weakness within Kuzco. Without Pacha to play his jokes off of, he isn’t that strong of a character. Surprisingly enough, he doesn’t really do well when paired against Yzma or Kronk. Kuzco doesn’t really pick up for me until he wakes up and discovers he is a llama, which coincidently is also the turning point of the film to me. After that, he is good, but again, it is because he has a good straight man to play off of.
I have mixed feelings about the third act. The third act is stronger than the first act, and at times is almost as strong as the middle act the comes before it. I really like the call backs to both Kronk’s Shoulder Angels and the climbing together, and I am a sucker for the random, fourth wall breaking humor that the film gives us in one of its funniest moments. However, once Kronk disappears, the whole thing starts going downhill. (Coincidence? I THINK NOT!). Once Yzma becomes a kitten, much of the drama and stakes are lost, and the film pulls out one too many Deus ex Machinas out of its behind. The film needed to take itself seriously for just a moment. Just one tiny, simple moment.
BEST MOMENT AND SONG
Though the musical aspect was eventually dropped, the movie does have one musical sequence: the opening number, “Kuzco.” By default, it wins. I’m not trying to shortchange the song, however. It has its moments.
There are so many scenes in this film I could choose at it’s best, but I am going to highlight the diner sequence. It’s hilarious, shows off all of the character’s best aspects, and has them all playing with each other without actually doing it, a brilliant move.
The next film is the one where the strength of the Disney canon really showed to me, but this was the start of it. The Emperor’s New Groove is another one of those films that I wish I could rank higher. It’s fun and funny, with some classic characters and gags that easily become part of your comedy lexicon. Even with some of the faults in the first and third act, New Groove is able to work extremely well. Considering the fact that this film is completely different from its original vision, that’s quite an accomplishment. It just turns out that the rest of the canon is so strong that it falls in the 29 spot. Don’t let that get you down. If you haven’t seen it, learn some squirrel and laugh a little.