The Emperor’s New Groove is one of those pieces of media that I’ve heard labelled “underrated” and “secretly great” so often that, well, it’s neither of those things. We as a culture (at least the millennials I know) collectively seem to remember this movie more fondly than just about any other Disney film.
There’s certainly plenty of good reasons for that. For starters, it’s the funniest Walt Disney Animation Studio movie, and I don’t even really need to think all that hard about that statement. The entire movie is a conveyor belt of postmodern gags and wacky set pieces, always skewering movie logic and hero’s arc tropes, always inventive and hilarious.
Every main character is well-designed and memorable. Kronk and Yzma in particular are a bumbling villain duo for the ages. (Simply scroll through a list of reviews on this site and the majority of them are a copy-pasted Kronk quote.)
On the downside, the plot has a bit of episodic same-ness to it: there are at least three Chuck Jones-esque segments of Pacha and Kuzco trying to survive the violent wilderness, all part of a long middle act of characters treading water. Granted, it’s all really funny stuff, so it hardly matters.
The absence of music is also pretty glaring; even my four year old said “why are there no songs?” But, again, I suppose it’s better to have no songs and a breakneck comic pace than forced, pace-halting interludes.
Lastly, I find myself put off just a little bit by how self-aware everything is. Even the nearly-as-funny-and-cheeky Hercules had some earnestness that could swell your heart at the right moments. (“That’s Phil’s boy!”)
So what it all comes down to, I think, is that The Emperor’s New Groove’s willingness to lean 100% into its strengths and specific ambitions is both why it it such a memorable triumph, but also why it has a lower ceiling, at least for me personally.
Very Good (6/8)
Note: This review was originally published elsewhere. Please excuse brevity or inconsistencies in style. If you have questions or feedback, please leave a comment or contact me.