Blu-ray Review: The Emperor's New Groove and Kronk's New Groove

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Thirteen years after its initial release in 2000, Disney’s animated feature The Emperor’s New Groove debuts on Blu-ray. It’s a curiously disjointed comedy, almost unworthy of the theatrical release it received. That’s not to say it’s without minor pleasures. The story of a self-centered young Incan emperor, Kuzco (voiced by David Spade), who winds up stuck in the body of a llama, delivers a few laughs. It probably helps a bit if you’re already a fan of Spade’s sarcastic style. While not a major league Disney animated feature by any means, there are a lot of cute sight gags and some witty one-liners.

Emperor Kuzco is a supremely self-absorbed ruler who wants to build a new summer vacation home in a neighboring village. Unfortunately for the peasant Pacha (John Goodman), the proposed home—dubbed Kuzcotopia—will displace his family. His protests are basically ignored by Kuzco, who couldn’t care less about the consequences of his plan. Meanwhile, Kuzco’s advisor, Yzma (legendary vocalist Eartha Kitt), is fuming over having been callously fired. Yzma and her assistant Kronk (Patrick Warburton) plot to murder Kuzco via poison. Unfortunately, the potion they give him improbably transforms him into a llama.

Emeperor's featured (350x189).jpgThe llama incarnation of Kuzco must team with Pacha, who agrees to help the troubled emperor only if he finds an alternate location for Kuzcotopia. Kuzco is desperate to become human again, but Yzma and Kronk are equally desperate to finish what they started. The idea with New Groove was to turn the standard Disney formula upside-down in order to create something hipper than their traditional animated features. Imagine Aladdin’s scene-stealing genie, voiced by Robin Williams in what was a groundbreaking approach for Disney at the time, not in a supporting role but as the lead character. That kind of captures the route taken here.

Apparently the making of New Groove was fraught with trouble. The movie underwent a major overhaul after all sorts of creative differences. The result is a movie that lacks the heart of the best Disney animated films, but maintains a fresh sense of humor. Again, liking David Spade’s persona going in really makes Kuzco’s smarminess more tolerable. John Goodman really nails the sympathetic underdog role as Kuzco’s unlikely sidekick. The focus is on frantic, breathless comedy, reportedly an entirely different “groove” than the original Kingdom of the Sun concept. There were even more Sting songs (his tune “My Funny Friend and Me,” sung by Tom Jones, was nominated for an Oscar) but they were cut during the reworking.

Emperor's again (350x197).jpgKronk’s New Groove pushes Kronk Pepikrankenitz to the fore for a direct-to-video sequel, first issued in 2005. If Emperor’s was B-level Disney at best, certainly Kronk never rises above C-level. But it scores points for bringing back the original voice cast. Even David Spade shows up (for a much-reduced role) even though the story isn’t about Kuzco. Warburton (the indelible David Puddy, Elaine’s on-again, off-again boyfriend in Seinfeld) was very effective in a supporting capacity in the first film. Neither he nor the Kronk character are cut out for carrying a feature. The story finds Kronk prepping for a visit from his father (John Mahoney), worried due to the sorry state of his life. He gets a love interest in the form of camp counselor Miss Birdwell (Tracey Ullman). Kronk’s is far from unwatchable but more suited as a babysitting tool for young viewers.

Solid technical specs make this double feature a great upgrade for fans of the film. Emperor’s looks better only because of its bigger budget and more intricate animation. Both it and Kronk’s look really sharp. Colors appear vivid, especially so in the case of Emperor’s. Each film has a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless track. Predictably, Emperor’s has the more complex mix, with effective directional effects and music that fills out the entire spectrum. But Kronk’s sounds good too, if simpler, with dialogue just as clear as the earlier film.

Here’s the rub when it comes to upgrading. The Blu-ray contains both feature films… and nothing else. The package includes each film on its own standard DVD. On those discs, we find several features. Emperor’s has a group audio commentary, deleted scenes, music videos, games, and a making-of featurette. Unfortunately there’s a whole slew of material from the previous Ultimate Groove two-disc DVD set that didn’t carry over. Collectors will be frustrated by the need to hold onto the previous version. But for those less concerned about having every special feature, this Blu-ray—offering solid presentations of The Emperor’s New Groove and Kronk’s New Groove—will make a nice addition to their Disney library.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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