A cavalcade of cartoon characters — mutated from American pop culture, inexplicably, as Mayans — plays out a failed version of Disney’s routine tale of adventurous, comic redemption in the studio’s latest animated feature, The Emperor’s New Groove. On the verge of his 18th birthday, Emperor Kuzco (the voice of David Spade from TV’s “Just Shoot Me”) is still a spoiled brat. It’s gala business as usual as he diverts himself with the Las Vegas-style extravaganza of his court — until a clumsy court official commits the grave crime of throwing off the Emperor’s groove.
A brief audience with a bashful giant, llama herder Pacha (the voice of John Goodman, What Planet Are You From?), does little to restore the emperor’s groove, but his cadaverous court advisoress, Yzma (the voice of Eartha Kitt) blows it completely. Kuzco “downsizes” Yzma’s position: He fires her. Then Yzma’s boy-toy assistant, the Herculean Kronk (the voice of Patrick Warburton from “Seinfeld”), bungles her plan to poison their ex-boss, turning Kuzco instead into a llama on the lam. It’s humble Pacha to the rescue. As the odd couple of royal llama and peasant make an adventure-filled journey back to the palace, Kuzco learns hard lessons in teamwork and friendship in spite of himself.
The Emperor’s New Groove presents a motley view of mostly stock characters. Pacha is a kinder, gentler Ralph Kramden to his wife’s Alice. Kronk is like a handsome, but good-naturedly dim college football hero. Yzma is every Disney witch from Snow White’s evil stepmother to Cruella De Vil shriveled down to the point of walking mummification. Kuzco is David Spade’s persona: a tragically hip poster child of the smug and the snide. But why put these all-American pop icons in Mayan brownface, making an absurd suburbia of the Meso-American jungle? Is Disney’s world that small after all?
A Disney movie should tickle our funny bones, spectacularly surprise us and tug at our heartstrings. This one rarely does. In the fairy tale “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” the clothes were actually no clothes at all. The Emperor’s New Groove follows suit: no groove, no soul at all.
E-mail James Keith La Croix at firstname.lastname@example.org.