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Have an animated time with 'Emperor's New Groove'
Royally raucous, giddily goofy, definitely Disney
(CNN) -- Disney's surprisingly hip "The Emperor's New Groove" isn't likely to put holiday filmgoers' imaginations in a hammer lock, though parts of it are hilarious. It seems intended as a goofy time-filler until the big guns are loaded with another glittery offering on the order of "Beauty and the Beast" (1991) or "The Lion King" (1994).
In a way, this movie's relatively minor charms are a testament to Disney's stable of talented writers and animators. They don't have to set up a full assault to get the job done with real pizzazz.
David Reynolds' sarcastic script follows the misadventures of Kuzco ("Just Shoot Me"'s David Spade), a lying, selfish, egotistical young emperor.
Power and intrigue
Kuzco isn't too concerned with the well-being of his kingdom's inhabitants, but he sure loves his power. The terrific opening number, which includes a very funny takeoff on "Riverdance," shows him wallowing in it. Kuzco and a collection of muscle-bound servants clog their way through a bouncy little ditty by Sting and David Hartley. In another surprise move, it's the only musical interlude.
The emperor's recently fired royal adviser, a formerly graceful old hag named Yzma, is voiced by Eartha Kitt, and she steals the movie. Adults may very well get more out of this picture than kids do, the main reason being Kitt's frantic performance. She's always had a distinctive, purring voice, and she's got a self-deprecating sense of humor. Yzma's emaciated reaction shots and piercing vocals are priceless.
Her pampered facade frequently explodes into childish hissy fits. Even the way she walks, a sort of low-slung slink, elicits belly laughs.
She's like a cross between Dalmatian-chaser Cruella De Vil and -- at the risk of being mean -- Eartha Kitt. Kitt surely recognizes this; you have to give her credit for whooping it up with such abandon. She seems to relish finally being unleashed on the kiddies.
Poison and ineptitude
Yzma and her manservant, Kronk (Patrick Warburton, who played Elaine's boyfriend, Puddy, on "Seinfeld"), set out to poison Kuzco. But Kronk is an idiot, and he ends up dosing the emperor with a potion that turns him into a llama. (You just know the guys at Disney were busting a gut over the ludicrous plot points in this one.)
Soon, llama Kuzco is being cared for by a peasant (John Goodman) whom he previously mistreated up at the palace. Spade makes a better llama than Goodman does a kind-hearted peasant, and this portion of the story drags a little bit. Since everything is so relentlessly flip, you don't care what's going on.
However, the peasant's two young children are a riot. Real-world kids will will definitely enjoy their bickering. There's also a cute little squirrel who blathers on like a walking dose of Disney saccharine.
The animators are obviously poking fun at Uncle Walt's legacy. A little good-humored ribbing never hurt anybody, especially someone who's been dead for over 30 years.
There's no new groundbreaking animation in "The Emperor's New Groove." It's just a silly little movie that's smarter than most of the self-important features that came out this year. You'll get more out of it than you will from a viewing of "The Contender," that's for sure.
Sit back, shovel in some popcorn, and enjoy the groove.
There's nothing scary in "The Emperor's New Groove." No forests burn down, and mama isn't carted off to the butcher shop the way she is in most Disney cartoons. Rated G. 85 minutes.
The Emperor's New Groove
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