Disney: Looking Back At THE EMPEROR'S NEW GROOVE - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Disney: Looking Back At THE EMPEROR'S NEW GROOVE

Martin Rayburn gets into the groove. Finally.

Full disclosure; I originally only watched the opening 15 or so minutes of The Emperor's New Groove on a rental DVD some twenty years back, or thereabouts, meaning to continue but a family emergency got in the way and the disc was returned (I sometimes miss those days of Blockbuster and video rental. Sometimes) and I never came back to it. As a fan in general of most Disney productions, and having enjoyed films like The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin, the idea of a completely made-up story starring a hit-or-miss David Spade, who I freely admit I never warmed to in anything, didn't appeal too much to me. Perhaps that was why I never rented the film again or watched it in full sooner than I did? Returning now to watch the film on Disney+ it turns out, MUCH to my surprise and delight that, The Emperor's New Groove is one of the most entertaining animated Disney productions I've ever watched. No joke!

The origin of this 2000 Disney film lies in a proposed production titled Kingdom of the Sun. That was to have been a tale of a greedy, selfish emperor (voiced by David Spade) who finds a peasant (voiced by Owen Wilson) who looks just like him; the emperor swaps places with the peasant to escape his boring life and have fun, much as in author Mark Twain's archetypal novel The Prince and the Pauper. Jettisoning nearly everything late in development, apart from Spade, a brand new tale was crafted.
Here, Emperor Kuzco (Spade) is a spoiled-rotten, overgrown brat of a dictator who has everything he could ever want and everyone at his beck and call. But there are those bent on thwarting his lap-o'-luxury lifestyle -- in particular, Yzma (Ertha Kitt) and her no-brain-all-brawn servant, Kronk (Patrick Warburton). Yzma and Kronk conspire to poison Kuzco and take over the empire, but their plan slightly backfires when the diluted poison merely changes Kuzco into a llama. Kuzco is then thrown out of the city, befriends a not-too-trusting peasant named Pacha (John Goodman), who is himself a victim of the former Emperor Kuzco's plans for a summer house (complete with waterslide) where Pacha's home stands, and with a little help, attempts to change himself back into human form and regain his throne.

Watching this now, after binging on many of the Disney animated productions from the vaults, I'm convinced that The Emperor's New Groove is only a Disney movie in name. It comes off, more times than not, like something you'd expect from DreamWorks (who were very new back in 2000 when this was released, Shrek didn't arrive until 2001), but with hindsight this is a good thing.
Spade, drenched with sarcasm, delivers an oft-times hysterical performance; Kitt should have worked more in voice-over as she performs the role in a way that I doubt few could have fulfilled as perfectly as she did; Goodman is much more subdued as Pacha, but this makes for a nice balance with Spade; even Wendie Malick as Pacha's wife, Chicha, gets into the fun with a few good comical lines herself. But... the real star here, in a part absolutely tailor-made for him, is Warburton. In a role that could have been just another henchman, Warburton transforms Kronk into the ultimate object of clueless likeability (clearly playing up his then notability as David Puddy, Elaine's on-again-off-again boyfriend on Seinfeld). Some of the funniest scenes are Kronk's arguments with his alter egos, the classic angel/devil shoulder buddies. Warburton puts a whole new spin on the "act". There's also a great moment for Tom Jones (yes, that Tom Jones) which is icing-on-the-cake in this fast-paced, zip-along production.

This is not a plug for Disney+, but if like me you weren't exactly enamoured or tempted by The Emperor's New Groove twenty years ago then please do make the effort to watch this movie now. There's the old saying that "... adults will love it too." You really will. It's aged incredibly well, and offers a clever, fast-paced, unpretentious and extremely funny 78 minutes of distraction from the humdrum of our current life.

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