Saturday, October 6, 2012

D52 - Week 40 - The Emperor's New Groove

Kevin's Groove
The best thing The Emperor's New Groove has going for it is that it's not Dinosaur. It is kind of funny, isn't it - both films were released in the same year, so there must've been a long overlap during which both were being made at the same time. One a "realistically" styled computer-animated story told straightly, the other a very VERY very cartoony hand-drawn feature-length Saturday morning cartoon done with only scant traces of seriousness at all. If I had to pick one over the other, I'd easily pick TENG, but it would be rather like choosing a handful of rock candy over a bowl of wilted lettuce.
It certainly looks a lot nicer. There are some fascinating character designs and animations, including the awkward way newbie llama Kuzco tries to walk. It's funnier, in the sense that there are some bits worth laughing at, and Dinosaur had none.
But there's this thing that they both have in common. I'll warn you. I'm going to ramble yet again!
Again, we get a character who is presented as a Bad Guy because...well, because she's the antagonist of the title character.  She does try to have Kuzco killed, and that does make her a bad person. However, to have a good reason to root for Kuzco to triumph over Yzma, you would have to ignore that one scene in which Kuzco himself has a guy killed. Yeah, when Little Adorable Piglet-voice Man is thrown from a tower window, it's played for laughs in a toon slapstick fashion, so you assume he'll be okay, but what bothers me is that you have to be consistent about this sort of thing. Because not too much later on, Kronk is seen being legitimately concerned when Kuzco is close to... also falling from a great height. There's no precision to the comparison since it's not clear just how high both of those heights are, but ... come on. If the frail old man was able to survive his collision from the sky onto the ground, I'm sure the young, healthy emperor will be fine when he hits the water. Or maybe this all makes more sense if you try the notion that Kronk is too stupid to realize you can't kill a cartoon character that way?
But even so, I actually don't see why Yzma is more evil than Kuzco is. Plotting to kill a guy isn't "worse" than casually having a guy killed, is it (Well, we'll let the Incan justice system sort out the degrees of murder involved)? Yzma is ... not the nicest person, personality-wise, but then again Kuzco was also a jerk. Really the only important difference is that we later find out that Kuzco is... not a complete jerk. But who's to say Yzma wouldn't have changed her ways had she not met Pacha herself and had to undergo a coming-of-age-new-buddies road trip, complete with cliché waterfall (I'll admit I do at least like that a joke acknowledges it being a cliché) and unreliable rope-bridge (there was something awfully familiar about that guy trying to cross a dangerously high broken rope-bridge with a llama... intentional homage, yes or no?)? And the lead-up to the climax of the movie suggested that there was something at stake for Kuzco to reach Yzma and reclaim his rightful place on the throne, but was there really? Maybe I missed it, but was there any indication of what would be different with Yzma in the emperor's place, other than the egotistical cosmetic changes

We also get an animal-transformation sequence that probably could've had a lot of potential for creativity and fun, but isn't played out anywhere near as well as the Merlin-Mim duel from The Sword in the Stone.

Anyway, I'm running out of time and might add to this later but Amanda has plenty to say anyway., so let me end mine for now with....
Favorite character: If you can't get Vincent Price for your comically weird "villain," get another 60s Batman series villain portrayer: Eartha Kitt!
Least necessary character:
Overall: A movie that tries too hard to be funny too often and occasionally succeeds is at least better than a movie that tries to be too seriously and emotional and fails completely.

Amanda's Groove

I'm so glad TENG became a Saturday morning cartoon series because that was clearly its calling.  The slapstick, the breaking of the fourth wall, the comic "villian" without a backstory,  the heavily stylized characters.  It just all fits so perfectly.

Now here I have to reference Kevin's post and voice my disagreement through the use of hoity toity theatrical blabbity.  There are a small handful of traditional conflicts that are recognized in classical theater and a few of them are as follows: Man vs. man, Man vs. Self, Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Beast, etc.
I think the folly that Kevin has fallen under is the idea that this movie has a Man vs. Man plot in which Kuzco as the protagonist is pitted against Yzma as the antagonist.  To this I say nay-nay.  In reality, I think this falls somewhere in between Man vs. Self and Society vs. Man.  Kuzco's main problem isn't Yzma, because for three quarters of the movie he doesn't even know she's out to get him, his main problem is his own bad attitude as pointed out by Pacha (Society). Yzma is merely one of the plot devices providing convenient turning points for Kuzco's self discovery.

Turning points of course are any points within a story that change the situation or condition of the main character.  Turning points that Yzma and Kronk provide:  Turning Kuzco into a llama (changing his physical being); accidentally tossing him onto a cart so that he ends up with Pacha (changing his physical location and societal group); being overheard plotting his death (changing his emotional state); and so forth.

Even at the end when he's facing off against Yzma while trying to get the Essence of Human, it's all down to a conflict against himself as he decides between his personal desire to become human again and the societal correctness of saving his fellow man.

Most unfortunately this has become more of a lesson than a review.  Yet, it feels a bit like a compliment to the film.  While on the surface it's a slap-sticky, nonsense-filled, David-Spade-starring, piece of fluff, there is actually a lot of structure under the surface that gives it some sense and makes it oddly relate-able.  The terribly interesting character design makes it very watchable, and the music might not add a whole lot but it's not detracting either and Tom Jones is always good for a laugh.

Favorite Character: Yzma.  She's voiced by Eartha Kitt with every bit of camp that we loved her for as Catwoman and that take she gives the camera/Kuzco while Kronk talks to his shoulder angel/devil made me laugh out loud.
Least necessary character: Pacha's family.  I just don't think we needed his family at all to understand his plight of feel for him.  Plus those kids were a little bit insufferable.
Overall: Seems like a movie I would have hated, but I actually enjoyed.  But you don't have to take MY word for it!


  1. See, I always assumed that Kuzco would've died not from the long fall, but because water's the sort of thing that can make people drown, especially when they're bound and immobilized and stuffed inside a sack. Cartoon characters still need oxygen to breathe, right?

  2. That is a possibility I didn't consider. But was that what the movie was trying to convey, that Kronk was fretting over Kuzco's impending drowning rather than the impact? I remember a big dramatic shot of the waterfall which I took to mean "this is a dangerously high height," but maybe it was really saying, "this is the point of no return for Kronk's conscience because this waterfall is so high that there's no way that he'd be able to recover Kuzco in time in he does change his mind after the fall?" And if the original murder plan was drowning, why not just...well, drown him? Well, okay, overcomplicated villain logic I guess. But still, maybe...weights tied to keep him underwater? Say, that reminds me of a previous D52 movie with a straight-forward danger-of-drowning scene.
    Or are you saying that, regardless of the intentions of the killing method, what matters is what we the audience figure out would be the most logical reason to worry about the safety of the title character?
    Though I'm actually not sure whether or not I should take your last sentence sarcastically (I'm not even sure how sarcastic I've been being about most of what I've been saying). It could go either way, depending on whether or not you recall and are referencing Jiminy Cricket's bubble diving helmet from many many weeks ago.

    1. Do I seriously have to explain this, too?

      ...well, okay, I will.

      See, Kevin, if you were to murder someone, *especially* an important government figure, like an EMPEROR, you'd want to dispose of the body, naturally. Now, I don't know if dumping bodies in rivers is as common as TV and the movies tell us, and I don't want to check - but it seems to me they're killing two birds with one stone here. He'll drown in the river while unconscious, and the Improbably Precarious Waterfall will carry him far away, taking care of the disposal. Problem solved!

      And it's worth pointing out the obvious and saying that drowning obviously wasn't the *original* murder plan, because they clearly intended for the "poison" to....well, poison him. All of this is stuff they had to improvise after the unforeseen llamifications of their actions.

      It's funny that you mention Aladdin, though, because it also clearly laid out a difference between the harmless slapstick peril of falling (Aladdin proves himself to be particularly adept at it, like a kitty) and the very real mortal peril of drowning. Somehow, palaces and attempted drowning go hand-in-hand in the Disney canon. Anyway, my point is that it's not an inconsistency in the treatment between Kuzco-in-a-Bag and Old Man Piglet, because this line has already been drawn in other, generally more serious-minded Disney films.

      Side note: I can't say I'm not surprised you're a Yzma sympathizer. :)

  3. Now I can't tell whether or not I should take the word "seriously" in that comment seriously!
    Do I seriously need to explain that I wasn't being all that serious?

    I agree that the bag and waterfall-turned-river plan will work, as far as improvised murder plots go. What I was saying was that the movie doesn't make it immediately clear that that's the intended idea. Why is the improbably precarious waterfall improbably precarious if an ordinary flowing river would do the trick?

    And my initial observation wasn't about the general difference between slapstick and "actual" violence being shown in the same feature, but that this one shows two examples of the /same/ potential harm at both ends of the spectrum. In Aladdin, there's, say, the gag where a baddie lands on some guy resting on a bed of nails, causing his presumably only cartoony levels of pain, and you don't need to worry about it because it's just a cartoon gag. But it would've been weird if, later on, we saw Aladdin in that same predicament, resting on a bed of nails and threatened with something heavy about to fall on him. I wouldn't take it as an actual threat because I had seen the same thing happen in the same movie inconsequentially.

    Incidentally it turns out the next D52 movie has a scene with characters holding their breaths underwater, and the one after also has a serious drowning moment (but no palaces, as far as I recall). I don't remember any water in the one after, though it would be interesting if the story was retold as if it took place on the open seas instead of in outer space.


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