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Delightfully Shticky Kid Stuff

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 15, 2000


    'The Emperor's New Groove' Kuzco keeps his subjects at arm's length – before being turned into a llama in "The Emperor's New Groove." (Walt Disney Pictures)
"The Emperor's New Groove," a hip, hilarious new animated feature from Disney, signals a departure from the Broadway-style musicals that have been the studio's mainstay since "The Little Mermaid."

The movie was originally envisioned as a romantic pre-Columbian Prince-and-Pauper saga, but Disney changed course, cut most of the Sting-penned songs and converted it into a bouncy buddy comedy, though it's still set in the 15th-century Inca Empire. It's become a more contemporary story with spare animation, antic pacing and snappy shtick worthy of early Mel Brooks.

Director Mark Dindal ("Cats Don't Dance") and writer David Reynolds ("The Conan O'Brien Show") seem to have taken their cues from Warner Bros.' zanier, more irreverent "Looney Tunes." The smart-alecky young Emperor Kuzco, voiced by David Spade, has more in common with Bugs Bunny than Prince Charming, and how cool is that?

The royal adviser, Yzma (maniacally cackled by Eartha Kitt), draws inspiration from Disney's legendary Cruella de Vil. And in keeping with the studio's other animated features, there's a moral to the story.

Kuzco, a spoiled brat, is unworthy of the throne but really loves his job. In "Perfect World," one of two remaining songs, he celebrates the joys of his office – something along the lines of "I'm the king, I'm the king, look at me, I'm the king."

He can do whatever he wants whenever he wants, as long as he leaves the heavy lifting to the ambitious Yzma, a sorceress who sets the scene for Kuzco's comeuppance when she and her vegetarian boy toy (Patrick Warburton, a perfect deadpan foil) turn the emperor into a talking llama and stage a successful coup.

Later Kuzco is taken under the wing of Pacha (guilelessly voiced by John Goodman), a simple shepherd who helps the unfortunate llama back to the palace in an effort to have his throne restored. He does this even though Kuzco remains unrepentant about his past arrogance and plans to bulldoze Pacha's quaint Andean village to make room for Kuzcotopia, a palatial summer home complete with a water slide.

Grown-ups will get into the groove, although some of the humor will go over the young ones' heads. And there are extended chase scenes, chatty squirrels and a pair of heroic children to keep the kiddies entertained.

"The Emperor's New Groove" (79 minutes, at area theaters) is rated G.


Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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