I’m probably heartless for not loving this movie. Yes, yes, I know, it’s very funny, Kronk pulls the wrong lever and so on. Incredibly droll and a sure-fire knee-slapper, but The Emperor’s New Groove isn’t much more than that. On the surface, it feels like most of the other Disney products. That same animation style, the resigned leading characters who trample their way through a relatively well-paced story in just over an hour, it’s what we’ve all come to expect. But this is one of the few outputs from Disney’s animated branch that I did enjoy. Not to the extent I would’ve expected, but wholesome in its content and crafted well enough to display versatility from a company that have otherwise applied the same plot tropes repeatedly for over six decades.
A star-studded cast brings a nicely rounded vocal range to the film. David Spade and John Goodman have undeniable chemistry, hitting all the expected tropes of the plucky adventurers, the heroes that find themselves coming up short in the face of initial danger, but pulling it together at the last minute to vanquish evil. This time, Yzma (Eartha Kitt) and Kronk (Patrick Warburton) attempt to kill Prince Kuzco (David Spade) with poison, but accidentally turn the man into a llama. It’s that Disney whimsy that I struggle to fully get behind, but I do appreciate its importance here. Spade revels in his leading role, his dialogue could use some work, but that charm and whimsy is present in most of his scenes.
Considering director Mark Dindal went on to create Chicken Little, it’s clear that his first 21st-century film is his best. Dindal doesn’t have much to say or offer to his audience, but he leads us through some undeniably strong set-pieces. Most of the humour comes from Kronk, and Kronk alone. The best lines are fed to the gullible, feckless fall-guy, and it does wonders for the narrative. Leaving the comic undertones away from the leading narrative, we’ve got a clear back and forth between plot enhancement and charming, light comedy. Strangely, the two can’t be churned together, but at least there’s more than the average amount of well-written gags.
It’s completely harmless, I didn’t love it, nor did I hate it. Entirely indifferent to this one, I enjoyed it whilst it was on, but I’m not sorry it stopped. Cute animation, far better than most of the other offerings I’ve seen from Disney, but that’s not a high bar to pass. I hate their optimism, and how their plots are just a quick change in scenery and character design change. All the comforts and shortcomings of the standard Disney flick are present within The Emperor’s New Groove, but thanks to some very light performances and even lighter writing, it comes across as a relatively enjoyable time that isn’t without its strong moments.