“A llama?! He’s supposed to be dead!”
If you were to make a list of the best or most celebrated Disney animated classics, you’re list would probably include the likes of Beauty and the Beast (1991), Pinocchio (1940), and The Jungle Book (1967). Rightfully so, because all of those movies are timeless treasures that have their own legions of fans. However, there is one Disney movie that is beautifully animated, hilariously written, and acted to perfection that I feel doesn’t get nearly as much recognition as it deserves: The Emperor’s New Groove (2000). You guys, words are incapable of describing how highly I regard this movie and the level of pure enjoyment it brings to me. It for sure lands a spot on my personal list of top 10 favourite Disney movies. I believe it to be flawless and in fact, the entire time I was re-wathcing it and taking notes, I honestly don’t think I wrote down a single negative thing. Let’s get into it, shall we?
The Emperor’s New Groove follows Kuzco, a young and selfish emperor who couldn’t care less about his kingdom or the people in it. When he is transformed into a llama by the villainous and power-hungry Yzma, he is forced to partner up with Pacha, the village leader, to escort him back to the palace so that he may find a way to become human again.
Did you know that this movie was originally supposed to be an epic musical similar to The Lion King (1994) or Pocahontas (1995) and it was going to be called Kingdom of the Sun? Now, while I would have been down for a grand production that captures the majesty of ancient Incan times, I feel like if this movie ended up exploring more serious themes like the aforementioned movies, it wouldn’t maintain the same sense of nonsensical fun that we all know and love. The Emperor’s New Groove is a one-of-a-kind underrated gem. I just love that the filmmakers were basically like, “y’know what Disney? We’re actually going to go ahead and scrap the Broadway musical idea, and just go ahead and do a feature-length Looney Tunes cartoon. Cool?” I mean, come on. Everything from the absurdist humour, to the breaking of the fourth wall, to the outrageous sight gags, to the squirrel with the balloon, just screams Looney Tunes.
At the heart of this movie is its phenomenal performances, proving that The Emperor’s New Groove is really just a master-class in voice acting. Of all the movies that I’ve reviewed so far (well over 60, check them out here!) this may be the one with the most perfect casting. David Spade, John Goodman, Eartha Kitt, Patrick Warburton, and Wendie Malick are nothing short of brilliant, and I couldn’t imagine any other actors portraying their respective roles of Kuzco, Pacha, Yzma, Kronk, or Chicha. Each actor is perfectly paired to their character so much so that I kind of want each of them to reprise their roles when this movie hopefully gets the live-action remake treatment. Of course, the only problem with that plan is that Eartha Kitt passed away in 2008 and I have a feeling that attempting to recreate her digitally would just be terrifying.
Ok, so we need to talk about Eartha Kitt who is the standout performance in a movie that is filled with standout performances. Eartha motherfucking Kitt knew exactly what movie The Emperor’s New Groove was, what type of comedy it was going for, and just how twisted the character of Yzma was, and totally delivered. A bold statement, but this may be one of my favourite voice performances EVER. I love that that the entire cast, but especially Kitt, gave themselves completely to the absurdity and the silliness of the tone and script, taking it as seriously as one might take a Broadway role. Also, Kitt gave us the most iconic Disney moment ever. Don’t even pretend like you’re not about to read the following picture in Kitt’s trademark raspy voice:
The excellence of tone, dialogue, story and casting have all received my praise over the years, but it wasn’t until this viewing that I realized just how beautiful the movie’s animation and score are. The design of every building, plant, and hillside are incredibly intricate and unique, showcasing an attention to detail and sense of world-building that have become markers of recent Disney movies like Frozen (2013) and Zootopia (2016). The underlying score is surprisingly tender and romantic, elements of the previously scrapped musical and its influence still apparent throughout. Next time you watch this movie, and I encourage you to do so soon, really listen to the music. I guarantee you’ll be swept up in just how gorgeous it truly is. Speaking of memorable music, remember the scene where Kronk hums his own theme music? I. WAS. DYING. Then that scene leads right into Kronk’s debate with his conscience, Kuzco yelling “llama face!,” his and Pacha’s adventure through the jungle…I tell you, it was such a delight to re-watch this movie because I was laughing my head off knowing that another hilarious scene was not far behind.
Maybe it’s because I’m older now, but with this viewing I also took in how well the movie handles Kuzco’s character development. For a large part of this movie, he’s practically a villain. Selfish, dishonest, manipulative, and seemingly heartless, he does little to endear himself to the audience or appear as a hero worth cheering for. However, after embarking on his journey with Pacha and realizing that there are more people in the world that matter than just himself, Kuzco softens and we as viewers get a really touching lesson about being more compassionate to those around us.
So many scenes, such as the chaos of Kuzco and Pacha running into Yzma and Kronk at the diner, or the latter two interrogating Pacha’s family, demonstrate how strong and confident this movie is at sketch comedy. Again, I could imagine any one of these memorable parts of the movie working as a short for a Looney Tunes cartoon. Of course there are still incredible animated movies being made today, but I feel like The Emperor’s New Groove and it’s wonderfully wacky comedy could have only worked in the innocent naiveté of the early 2000s, and I’m thankful that I was able to grow up with a movie as special as this one. Ugh, I am such a grandpa.
I absolutely adore The Emperor’s New Groove. There isn’t a single negative thing I can say about it, and if given the opportunity, I would gladly deliver a TED Talk on why we as a society need to stop sleeping on it and embrace it for the gift that it is. I’ve never done this before, but this movie is so full of quotable lines, that I’m going to finish off this review with a few of my personal favourites. Enjoy!
- “I’m sorry, but you’ve thrown off the emperor’s groove.”
- “Or, to save on postage, I’ll just poison him with this!”
- “Alright, a quick cup of coffee then take him out of town and finish the job!”
- “I’ve never liked your spinach puffs. NEVER!”
- “Hey, I’ve been turned into a cow. Can I go home?”
- “Bring it on.”
Do you love The Emperor’s New Groove as much as I do? What are your favourite lines?
Let me know in the comments or on social media!