The Emperor’s New Groove is a different breed of Disney film. It evokes pure fun, ditches contrived sentimentality and takes the audience on a ride where the sole purpose is to have fun. While other, more popular films were written by serious, academic screenwriters, you can imagine the writers of The Emperor’s New Groove telling silly jokes, standing on their heads and wearing funny looking hats while brainstorming the most ridiculous of ridiculous cartoon scripts. The film started life as a fable, a sentimental epic like Mulan or Pocahontas, and somewhere along the way it got scrapped and handed to the writers at Disney who just want to have a lot of fun. It has a wonderful voice cast, hysterical jokes and an irresistible sense of mindless joy that should spread to children and adults alike.
Following Emperor Kuzco, an arrogant and selfish ruler (fittingly played by David Spade) who gets betrayed by his royal advisor Yzma (Eartha Kitt) and turned into a Llama. He must use the help of kind-hearted peasant Pacha (John Goodman) to get back to his Kingdom and restore his humanity, while Yzma searches him out to finish him off. It’s a wild ride of a plot, willing to take huge risks with comedy to stand out from the animation crowd. It succeeds; the characters occasionally break the fourth wall to point out plot holes, there are subtle sex jokes a plenty and a memorable sequence with somebody’s shoulder angel and devil. It’s a Disney film that takes creative risks in a way that no other has tried before or since, and should be mentioned as one of the studio’s all time greatest efforts. It has a whirlwind pace that grabs the audience, tosses them around and leaves them feeling dizzy but elated at the end of it. Give me this kind of comedy and pace over The Lion King any day; The Emperor’s New Groove openly rejects the need to bog its audience down with sentimentality. It sets out to have a lot of fun, and I can watch it again and again and still laugh at the same stupid, cheesy, risky jokes.
Although it did well commercially and has picked up a cult following, The Emperor’s New Groove was never singled out by critics as a true Disney classic. Of course, it has its flaws; a small minority of the jokes fall a little flat, and if you don’t like the eccentric style of the film then you won’t find much to love. However, for someone like me who is constantly a bit sick of such serious, clichéd morality tales from Disney, then take a look at one of the studios’ efforts which tried something a little different, a little new. It rejects the conventions that made Disney the powerhouse of animation it is, it swims against the current to give us something entirely unique, fresh and exciting. For me, it is the greatest Disney film ever made; not because it is flawless (it isn’t), but because it is the only Disney film I can watch and know, with complete certainty, I will have an absolutely joyous experience. You can’t say that about many films in cinema. It inspires fun.