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‘Emperor’s New Groove’: Disney Puff

December 12, 2000

First dinosaurs, now a llama. Disney is putting words in the mouths of many unlikely animated creations this year.

For better or worse, depending on your smarm tolerance, the llama in the comic cartoon ``The Emperor’s New Groove″ talks in the voice of the ever snide David Spade.

If those last two words elicit a groan, feel free to stop reading now and hunt for some other family flick to catch. If you’re still here, understand that this movie drips from beginning to end with bratty, sometimes annoying attitude.

But it’s also a reasonably diverting bit of animated puffery that children will like for its goofiness and adults can tolerate for its occasional wit (and, at 80 minutes, its brevity).

Spade provides the voice of Kuzco, ruler of a grand pre-Columbian kingdom, a leader so self-absorbed he has subjects hurled from the palace walls for throwing off his ``groove.″

Kuzco angers big-hearted peasant Pacha (John Goodman) by informing him that his village will be razed to build the emperor’s summer home, Kuzcotopia. The two wind up as uneasy buddies after Kuzco’s vengeful aide Yzma (Eartha Kitt) and her dimwitted manservant Kronk (Patrick Warburton) turn the emperor into a llama and he escapes to the jungle.

Thinking a lesson in selflessness and goodwill might soften the emperor and spare his village, Pacha agrees to help Kuzco return home and reverse Yzma’s spell. So llama and peasant set off on a slapstick journey of perils that include jaguars, scorpions, monster waterfalls and the sorcery of Yzma.

Their adventures and the byplay between the two characters are fairly amusing, and some decent humor arises from the animation itself, including a restaurant’s no-llamas-allowed sign and its Mesoamerican take on the Big Boy logo.

For Pacha, Goodman’s voice is serviceable, if muted, as is Wendie Malick’s for the peasant’s wife, Chicha. Kitt’s vocals ooze with venom, and Warburton’s resonant, deadpan utterances help make the hulking Kronk the most consistently funny character in the movie.

Then there’s Spade, whose king-of-the-smart-alecks meanness sets the tone for the whole movie and at times nearly overwhelms it. He also provides voice-overs for the first half of the flick, narration that almost suffocates the story.

About the time viewers might be thinking about suffocating a certain talking llama, that same beast calls out to the narrator, ``Hey, give it a rest up there, will ya?″, and the voice-overs thankfully cease. Good timing.

For all its excess, Spade’s delivery still offers some genuinely funny moments, such as his sarcastic scolding of himself with the words, ``Ba-a-ad llama.″ And of course, this is a slaphappy Disney fable, so there will be comeuppances and changes of heart for the principals.

The movie started out as quite a different animal. Disney began developing it as a dramatic epic to feature a musical score by Sting. After four years, the studio scrapped the idea and salvaged some of the comedic characters for this little romp. The film retains a couple of fairly pedestrian Sting tunes, one performed by the songwriter and one by Tom Jones.

``The Emperor’s New Groove,″ directed by Mark Dindal, is rated G.


Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:

G _ General audiences. All ages admitted.

PG _ Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

PG-13 _ Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.

R _ Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

NC-17 _ No one under 17 admitted.

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