Let’s begin with a shocker. The Emperor’s New Groove was made in 2000. Before you continue reading, feel free to take a minute to get your head around that!
The film marries fairy tale narrative with late ’90s humour; voice recordings would have started in 1998. This includes the frequent breaking of the fourth wall and the vapid narcissism of the eponymous monarch. In hindsight, it occurs to me that the film should be subtitled ‘Post-Modernism for the Whole Family’. The idea that there is an institute of higher education with a Film Studies course that has this movie listed alongside films like Blue Velvet (1986) tickles me.
Like so many fairy tales the film is a story of comeuppance. Arrogant Emperor Kuzco (David Spade) fires his adviser Yzma (Eartha Kitt) and for this slight she and her slow-witted lackey Kronk (Patrick Warburton) plot to poison the princeling. All does not go to plan when they manage only turn him into a llama. Kronk is ordered to kill him but can’t manage that. Kuzko’s only chance to make it home is with the help of a peasant Pacha (John Goodman). Sounds like an odd fit, but it’s not so simple. Prior to Kuzko acquiring another set of legs, the diva despot tells Pacha that his ancestral village has been scheduled for demolition to make way for the Emperor’s summer home, a project that he has named Kuzcotopia (‘cos that’s the kinda guy he is…).
I first saw this movie with a friend. We saw it as a substitute for bowling. Why the bowling ally was off limits I cannot remember and the friend I have not seen for several years (I wonder, should call them?). Yet somehow the recollection of the film persists. After many years and only an handful of times rewatching it, the memory is still clear – so much for Forgotten Childhood! It must have something to do with the opening. It has Tom Jones who is credited as Theme Song Guy. Not a year before the film was released Jones released an album to relaunch his career aptly titled Reload. I was given a copy for Christmas. Among its titles was a cover of ‘Mama Told Me Not to Come’ featuring Stereophonics which I was known for bopping to in my preadolescence.
The tricks of memory become more apparent with age. These events of receiving a gift and going to the movies seemed not quite distant but remote. To learn think they happen within just 12 months of each other is counter-intuitive but undeniable. The original song was released by Three Dog Night in March 1967. Just over six months later Disney released another treasured film The Jungle Book. Considering my own experience I can’t help hoping that someone had a similar one. The idea that in their formative years someone got the single in March and saw the movie in October only to realise later that those two happenings were closer together than they’d previously imagined.
But now I am getting away from myself.
The Emperor’s New Groove is a fable at heart. There are no prizes for the observation that the title is modeled on the more sartorial story by Hans Christian Andersen. There are also no prizes for guessing that the story plays out is typical Disney fashion. While the naked Emperors remains a figure of fun, Kuzko the quadruped is finishes the film as a well-rounded person no longer pray to his old arrogance. It is preposterous I know, but then looking to cartoons for moral instruction is a mixed bag.
More reliable is the illustration. Whether it’s the capital city or the rolling country, the whole lot looks splendid. As does the smaller scenery. Pacha’s home and Yzma’s lab offer plenty to look at. The movie is set in Inca Empire prior to the colonization by Spain, yet Yzma has a fully functioning lab that would seem of a piece wit the 19th Century. Once a gain animations can be changeable as teaching tools for history.
There is however no doubt that the film is funny. It is a buddy comedy for the young ones. A cinematic gateway drug into Lethal Weapon, Rush Hour, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Die Hard with a Vengeance. And the silliness is still enough to make me smile.