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'The Emperor' Is Pretty Groovy

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 15, 2000

   


    'The Emperor's New Groove' Kuzco in his human – not llama – form in "The Emperor's New Groove."
(Walt Disney Pictures)
So, your son just spilled icy Sprite onto your lap. And your daughter's bawling because you didn't get the buttered. I know I said I didn't want the buttered, she tells you. But I changed my mind and told you just before you left. And then there's the psychotic, unmedicated kid behind you, constantly kicking the back of your chair.

But you're smiling – laughing, even – because "The Emperor's New Groove" is making it better.

"The Emperor's New Groove," originally titled "Kingdom of the Sun," was going to be a more traditional Disney story based on pre-Columbian legend. But the project was scrapped for this looser romp.

Whatever the reasons for the change of story, it has really worked. David Spade is hilarious as the voice of the emperor Kuzco, the brattiest of brats that ever ruled a cartoon people. And Patrick Warburton is a scene stealer as a bungling lug named Kronk.

When we first meet Kuzco, he's a llama. When he was a human emperor, you see, he banished his royal adviser, Yzma (a wonderfully dyspeptic Eartha Kitt) from the mythical mountain kingdom he rules. Or used to. Yzma takes control of the kingdom by ordering her slavish assistant, Kronk, to mix a potion that'll turn Kuzco into a walking, talking beast of burden.

But after transforming Kuzco into a llama, Kronk is unable to obey Yzma's second order, to kill the llama. He lets Kuzco escape from the castle. Yzma finds out about this and realizes she can't rule while Kuzco remains alive. She starts a hunt for the fugitive emperor. Meanwhile, Kuzco is alone and helpless in the wilds, surrounded by jaguars and other dangers.

When he orders the good-hearted Pacha (John Goodman) to help him, Pacha makes his own demands. Kuzco must cancel his plans to raze Pacha's home for an emperor's hillside retreat. Hmmm. Tough quandary for a brat who always gets his way.

Spade and Warburton (who many will remember as the self-important Puddy on the "Seinfeld" television series) transform a pretty standard story line into a riot fest. But their humor doesn't fly over children's heads. Kuzco's childish petulance and Kronk's goofiness will get through to any kid.

When Kuzco doesn't want to hear what Pacha's telling him, for instance, he walks away saying "I can't hear you. Lalalalala!" And Kronk's attempts to do things right are wonderfully ill-fated, especially when he's buffeted by conflicting advice from a "shoulder angel" perched on one shoulder, and a corresponding devil on the other. Spade and Warburton might not have made "The Emperor's New Groove" one of the mouse factory's all-time greatest, but they've certainly made it one of the funniest.

"The Emperor's New Groove" (G, 78 minutes) – Contains nothing objectionable except maybe the consumption of squishy bug food.

 

Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company


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