The Emperor’s New Groove



US 2000
dir Mark Dindal
scr David Reynolds (story Dindal, Chris Williams, original story Roger Allers, Matthew Jacobs)
animated – production designer Paul Felix, art director Colin Simpson
stars (voices) David Spade, John Goodman, Eartha Kitt, Patrick Warburton
79 minutes

A bracing return to the adult-friendly post-modernism Disney last tried in Hercules, the energetically economic Groove makes most current live-action comedies seem comparatively doughy. A long-in-the-making project, it started life as a po-faced eco-fable based around Sting tunes – until a miraculous stroke of corporate genius consigned the Wallsend warbler to the end credits and turned Groove into a frantic blast of surreal slapstick.

Brattish Inca teenage god-king Kuzco (Spade) is turned into a llama by Izma (Kitt), who’s a witchy cross between Bette Davis and Iron Maiden mascot Eddie. Only noble shepherd Pacha (Goodman) can help the ex-emperor regain his human form and his throne – but will the spoiled teenager have learned any humility?

Thankfully, Groove isn’t especially bothered about answering these kinds of questions – it’s happiest lampooning the usual Disney traditions of talking animals, fast-food tie-ins and goody-baddy confrontations. The script’s as sharp as anything in the Toy Story series, but the cartoon techniques are strictly – and refreshingly – old school, as the staggeringly huge list of credited animators testifies. The visuals are equally impressive on the vastest of scales – Kuzco’s gargantuan ego-trip of a palace – to the tiniest, just as the pace shifts nimbly from full-tilt shenanigans to scenes which are no less comic for being virtually static. Groove is one of those daft-sounding projects that shouldn’t work but somehow does – even if Junior might noisily disagree.

February 28th, 2001