Reviewed by: Curtis D. Smith
|Featuring:||David Spade, Eartha Kitt, John Goodman, Owen Wilson, Patrick Warburton|
|Director:||Marc Dindal, Roger Allers|
|Distributor:||Walt Disney Pictures|
“The Emperor’s New Groove” is a solid, enjoyable Christmastime release that features most of the standard animated feature aspects except (thankfully) an abundance of crude jokes, hackneyed singing and countless fast food toy tie-ins. It has all the animated feature elements in all the right spots: negligible potty humor, merciless yet ineptly benign bad guys and a strong moral message.
And you thought that Walt Disney Pictures was to the point of being morally irreparable. Maybe not. It seems that Hollywood—led by a growing base of virtuous family films—may finally be catching on to the fact that ethical stories not only sustain a clear conscience, but they consistently generate huge amounts of money at the box office.
A whiney-sounding David Spade has the title role as Kuzco, a young, self-centered emperor in need of a serious attitude adjustment. Kuzco’s problems begin after he unsympathetically fires Yzma (a well-cast Eartha Kitt), one of his top aides, and her goofy assistant Kronk (Patrick Warburton). Later that same day, Kuzco summons Pacha (John Goodman) to inform him that his beautiful, reclusive village will be demolished to make way for the new royal swimming pool.
Pacha is devastated and prepares to return to his village while Yzma seeks revenge with poison. While hosting dinner for her former employer, Yzma’s assistant gets her concoction mixed up with some others in his drink and rather than kill Kuzco it turns him into a Llama.
She orders the kind-hearted yet incompetent Kronk to kill Kuzco, but through a series of humorous events the young emperor instead winds up unconscious and lying on the cart towed by Pacha back to his village. Once at the village Kuzco wakes up and Pacha discovers that his leader cannot get home without his help. But Yzma and Kronk are quickly on the trail of Kuzco to finish the job so they can take over the kingdom without resistance.
The overall lesson espoused by the filmmakers from Kuzco’s point of view is that self-centeredness and pride can get a person in a lot of trouble as time and again we see the emperor falling victim to his own narcissism. Also, his self-absorbed jealousy over Pacha’s beautiful village causes him to make decisions that are harsh and divisive.
Aside from lessons regarding malevolence, the qualities of promise-keeping, family unity and honesty are championed by Pacha’s honorable character though he is not immediately rewarded for his integrity. Things might seem gloomy for Pacha initially when the young ruler pledges to wipe out his village, but the strong family man (who deeply loves his protective wife and two joyful children) is eventually victorious for keeping his word, following through with his promises and considering of the needs of others before himself—even the needs of a young, egocentric ruler.
Kuzco’s hard lesson on humility and the sin of pride is classic Biblical instruction, whether the filmmakers know it or not. Kuzco’s pride is a result of Earthly wisdom, power and luxury and his life decisions are based solely on his own needs and wants regardless of who might be disrupted.
James 3:13-16 addresses this issue when it says, “Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is Earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.”
Aside from its strong moral messages, “Emperor’s” exploits a minimal amount of the relentlessly flamboyant, dazzling and over-the-top pandemonium that’s frequently found in Disney animation. The dizzying, hyperactive pace of some Disney features like “Aladdin”, or “Hercules” seem to have dumbed audiences down to the expectation of mindless eye candy rather than substantive shows that manage to speak to an important social or moral issue. It’s refreshing to see a quality, deliberately-paced Disney feature rather than another rock-em sock-em, we’re-going-to-wear-you-out animation extravaganza.
“Emperor’s” almost hearkens back to the way Disney animated features used to be before short attention spans and video games became so popular. It’s not a perfect film, however. The animation is solid, but not remarkable, the title is incomprehensible and many of the characters seem to slip by unnoticed. But, as mentioned before, this may be due to the bombardment of overt visual stimuli in prior animated features.
Whether the kids go for it is a much different question, but “…Emperor…” is a good enough story to offer a quality alternative to the crude double-entendres or frantic pace we’ve been forced to endure in some past films.