‘The Emperor’s New Groove’ gets ‘special’ treatment on DVD

Pacha (left) and Kuzco are back-to-back in 'The Emperor’s New Groove'
Pacha (left) and Kuzco are back-to-back in ‘The Emperor’s New Groove’

The Emperor’s New Groove was one of those handful of Disney movies in recent years that I’ve seen in the theaters. I wasn’t really expecting much from it, because it’s been a while since I was all that impressed by Disney’s animated films. I was actually pleasantly surprised, because the film was pretty funny, with some outstanding animation work and memorable characters.

The story has a spoiled young emperor named Kuzco (David Spade), and a peasant named Pacha (John Goodman) in whose care Kuzco winds up after a failed assassination attempt turns him into a llama. This brat of an emperor must then rely on the kind-hearted Pacha to regain power, and ultimately save Pacha’s village from destruction.

I honestly laughed quite a lot at this film. It’s funny, entertaining, and Spade and Goodman work well off each other — even though they only provided the voices and didn’t actually do so in the same room or at the same time. But the performers brought a lot to their characters, thanks to the animators, and somehow it fit together neatly. Of course, I’m a Goodman fan, so I end up liking just about every character he plays.

Another element that makes The Emperor’s New Groove so entertaining is the back-and-forth between the two villains, Kronk (Patrick Warburton) and Yzma (Eartha Kitt). It’s easily one of the most entertaining bad guy pairings I’ve seen in a Disney film in a long time.

These great and fun characters are brought alive through Disney’s outstanding animation, and we get an eyeful of beautiful work here. The fluid style and colorful pallet are just a joy to watch. And as much as I love traditional animation, there is something about the small elements of CGI that really enhance it. Something in the way it creates a more natural sense of motion that can’t be done quite the same using traditional two-dimensional methods.

I think there was a time when Disney releasing an animated film was an event within itself. It hit its peak in the mid 1990s, with films like Lion King andPocahontas, where these releases were grand events with a lot of fanfare and presentation. No other studios were actively producing animated films then, leaving Disney all alone and without much if any competition. Then came Dreamworks Animation, and Warner Bros. established an animation division (which later folded after the underappreciated Iron Giant).

Suddenly, all that competition meant that Disney needed to start churning out more and more films. As a result, the Disney annual releases were no longer events. That’s about the time that The Emperor’s New Groove was released, and it probably didn’t get as much praise as it would have had it come out a little earlier. It followed in the mold of Mulan in that it features an ethnic cast of characters — in this case, South Americans. But it was also very entertaining, and perhaps as the years go by it’ll gain more appreciation.

This “special edition” DVD is nothing like the grand editions Disney has been putting out for its classics like Bambi and Cinderella, but it does the job just fine (and helps boost word for the upcoming sequel, Kronk’s New Groove, hitting DVD shelves in December). It’s basically a slimmed-down version of the “Ultimate Groove” two-disc DVD Disney released last year.

This new edition has three behind-the-scenes featurettes, which really don’t reveal much about the film’s production (like how it was originally supposed to be a completely different film based upon The Prince and the Pauper that was to be dramatic and titled “Kingdom of the Sun” and had been overhauled into a wackier film). The audio commentary mentions it a bit, but focuses mostly on the production of the film. There are also three deleted scenes (which were from the “ultimate” edition), a pair of music videos, and some games for the kiddies.

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