Saturday, March 9, 2013

2000 - The Emperor's New Groove

2000 - Kingdom in the Sun

Well, with a few different and experimental works under their belt, the studio decided to get back to animated epic fairy tales with this one, Kingdom in the Sun. Using a story inspired by The Prince and the Pauper, this was the simple and classic story of a spoiled prince who meets a peasant who looks just like him and switches places with him. And then an evil witch turns him into a llama so he can’t reclaim his throne, and plots to kill the peasant so she can take over the kingdom and use its magic to block out the sun which she blames for her aging. And the llama escapes and joins forces with a beautiful peasant woman who falls in love with him as she helps him get back into the castle. And Sting was doing the songs. Feeling complex? So am I. So get yourself some guinea pig and quinoa and let’s talk about Kingdom in the Sun.

They canceled it. Yeah, after a big chunk of it was already finished, they realized it was a convoluted and bloated mess, so they yanked it, massively retooled it, and turned it into a wacky slapstick comedy. Did it work? Were they able to pull gold from this mess, or did they just get a smaller, cheaper mess? Needing a change? So am I. So rework that guinea pig into some sort of party dip, and let’s talk about The Emperor’s New Groove.

All right, let’s get to the big question first: Yes, it’s good. It’s actually excellent. One might be worried that this would turn into a too-many-cooks situation, that it would bear the telltale marks of executive meddling, that it would feel like a quickie rushed out so all the development money wasn’t wasted. No in all cases. It does, however, have a very different feel than any other Disney movie to date. The jokes come fast and furious, and anachronisms abound. But rather than being a random distraction, or the province of one magic character, they’re part of the structure of the entire world, so they don’t bother me at all. It’s a lot like Hercules in that regard, in that they’ve created a world that works for a blatantly humorous story, so the characters can work in the way a wacky comedy requires without seeming inconsistent.

What’s really impressive, though, is that the movie still trusts itself with serious moments. Unlike Hunchback, which was constantly undercutting its own drama with those damn gargoyles, or Hercules, which placed such a divide between the comedy and drama that it could come off as bipolar, this movie lets drama happen. There’s several quiet moments between our main peasant character and his wife, or moments where the friendship between the prince - well, now an emperor - and him is allowed to grow naturally. And, yes, the peasant is now married.


In the reworked story, there is no prince-and-pauper switch and no beautiful peasant love interest. The former witch, Yzma, now a mad scientist, turns emperor Kuzco into a llama by accident. She intended to kill him, but her idiot manservant Kronk accidentally slipped essence of llama into his drink rather than the poison. The poison for Kuzco. The poison intended specially to kill Kuzco. Kuzco’s poison. That poison. (Trust me, that was very funny if you’ve seen the movie.) After Kronk takes the llama out of the city, he winds up on the farm of Pacha, a peasant whose home he is planning on destroying to build a summer palace. Pacha agrees to guide the llama-emperor through the jungle to his palace in hopes that the spoiled jerk will have a change of heart. So it’s a buddy comedy now, and a very well-made one at that. Kuzco’s change of heart, though inevitable, is hard-won and seems genuine.

It’s a real sign of the strength of the reworked script that the characters are so well realized. There’s no inconsistency in anyone, and there’s real growth and development throughout. Kronk is particularly good, as a henchman who’s not particularly evil, just reeeeeeally dumb. It’s blatantly stated that he was hired for his looks, and that Yzma gets a new muscle boy every few years. He’s considerate and caring, and speaks fluent squirrel, albeit with a heavy human accent. Yzma is good, too, though she tries to usurp the emperor’s throne, it’s hardly her main motivation.


The voices are of the usual high quality we’ve come to expect. David Spade plays Kuzco, and it turns out the magic formula for making me like David Spade is to stop me from looking at him. The whiny man-child character that’s been growing more and more impractical and irritating as the actor ages really does fit him like a glove. John Goodman plays Pacha with all the warmth, passion, and bullheadedness he’s known for. Eartha Kitt is Yzma, and with her rasping voice and excellent comedic timing she totally earns my forgiveness for foisting “Santa Baby” on the world. As for Kronk, he’s a tall, handsome, well-built moron. How could he be anyone other than Patrick Warburton? Wendie Malick, John Fiedler, and Tom Jones turn in good supporting performances. And that’s pretty much it. The movie goes almost entirely on the four main characters.

This is going to be a short review because what works, which is almost everything, works in a very simple manner, and what doesn’t isn’t even worth mentioning. There’s a couple of bits that go on a hair too long, and the lower budget resulted in the occasional wonky background, but those things are basically irrelevant. The movie works because of its gags, and they are legion, they are hilarious, and they are delivered by very talented actors. This movie is fantastic, it’s hilarious, and if you haven’t seen it, you should. I don’t know what Kingdom in the Sun (or Kingdom of the Sun, as many sources put it) would have been like. Honestly, probably pretty lousy. There’s a lot of junk around the corner, and without this inspired fit of lunacy, that crap might have come sooner. Stay tuned for Dinosaur! Yeah! Remember that movie?

Yeah, next few weeks are going to be fun.


* Speaking of Dinosaur, that technically came out a few months before this, and was way more expensive AND way more successful. But I haven’t watched it yet. And I like this movie. So I’m doing 2000 out of order.

* There's a documentary called The Sweatbox about the making of this movie. Sting's wife, a documentarian, was granted permission to do a making-of feature on Kingdom in the/of the Sun, but instead of the fun "Here's  how a cartoon gets made" movie the Disney suits expected, the production process dictated its transformation into a "Here's how the executives overproduce and ruin movies" movie. Apparently it's very good, but Disney owns it, and for obvious reasons, aren't letting anyone see it.

* I do find myself wondering if my opinion would change if I were to see The Sweatbox. Probably not, because this movie is still funny. I had to delete most of the original Additional Thoughts section because I realized it was basically just a list of gags I liked. And half of those were just Kronk quotes.

* If you regret the loss of the Prince and the Pauper subplot, Disney did make one of those, a short released with The Rescuers Down Under. I haven’t seen it, but it’s got Mickey in it, so it’s probably lousy. Instead, try the movie Dave, or Garfield 2 if you’re a masochist.

* The German title of this seems to be “The Emperor is a Llama.” I love that.

* Yes, Incans actually ate guinea pigs. Deal with it.

And they drank foamy pink stuff.

1 comment:

  1. Walt Disney Pictures presents "Kingdom in the Sun", Coming to Theatres December 2000.