The Emperor’s New Groove
by Jonathan S. Walker
Most of us, at some point, fall into a groove. We find a pattern of daily living which has been successful, or proved to be either the most enjoyable or the least painful. Only when something throws off that groove do we have the best opportunity to grow as people. In The Emperor’s New Groove, Kuzco most certainly is thrown off his groove or “the rhythm with which he lives his life”-and it was the best thing for him and the kingdom.
The eighteen year old Emperor Kuzco (David Spade) rules the known universe. He lives a life of carefree selfishness where subordinates grant his every whim and only he matters. When he dismisses his very old advisor Yzma (Eartha Kitt) because of her tendency to usurp his power, she resolves to remove him. In a botched attempt to poison him, Kuzco is instead turned into a llama. Kuzco finds help in the peasant Pacha (John Goodman) even after the emperor has threatened to destroy his village to make room for “Kuzcotopia,” a royal summer retreat.
Mark Dindal, the director, has continued a stylistic tradition that has developed in television animation over the course of the last ten years. Its precursors being Mighty Mouse, Pinky and the Brain, and Animaniacs, among others. It’s playfully self-reflective, liberally anachronistic, and enjoyably reliant on dumb coincidence. The pacing is fast enough to keep children interested and the jokes mature enough for adults.
The voice talent do much to add to the wackiness. David Spade and John Goodman are good, and Eartha Kitt and Patrick Warburton (as Kronk) are spectacular. Spade sounds spoiled and flippant, Goodman sincere. Yzma makes for a fantastically hyperbolic villain without the sense of real threat. Kronk is the nicest henchman in the world with Warburton’s musical inflection and quick delivery.
Without mistake, Kuzco’s hyper-self-centered attitude makes it clear that the theme is about the weakness of selfishness, but the peasant Pacha adds a layer to the discussion. He shows us that one of the first steps to accepting other people and being concerned about them is acknowledging that “there is good in everyone.” Kuzco not only finds that he cannot survive without the give and take of friendship, but that people are worth the trouble.
Kuzco and Pacha’s developing relationship shows that trust, teamwork, and friendship are crucial to wiping selfishness out of one’s life. Each must learn to trust that the other will look after his interests whether it be the placement of Kuzcotopia or the way back to the castle. Additionally, they find that some obstacles can only be overcome through teamwork.
Kuzco’s sorrow comes from his selfishness. He must be the center of attention, he must have the best hill for Kuzcotopia, and others must pander to him. Even Yzma embarks on her evil ways because of her own selfishness and Kronk at one point reprimands her, “It doesn’t always have to be about you.”
In many films, the end is all about the “justifiable” destruction of the villain or the triumph of the hero, but not in New Groove. We see this because of how the villains end up. Yzma is not a good person, but even still she is not eliminated at the end. She is merely defanged. The misguided Kronk frequently shows a conscious and thrives in his new role as a Junior Chipmunk leader. Why? Because the film isn’t about Kuzco overcoming evil. It’s about how he regains his humanity-both literally and figuratively.
Yzma and Kronk are really just surface villains. The true antagonist of the film is the emperor himself. His persistent selfishness causes his own problems. And while his pride encourages him to minimize the change in his attitude, the reality is that by the end of the film he has allowed people into his life. He seeks forgiveness from the old man he defenestrated (I will never again in my entire life be able to use that word), and he finds good friends in the peasants.
The best thing that happens to the Emperor is to be thrown off his groove because it allows him to learn what it means to care about other people. Indeed, Kuzco’s new groove proves to be a major step in the right direction. Even the lyrics at the end of the movie make the point, “If you ain’t got friends, nothing’s worth the fuss. A perfect world begins and ends with us.”
(Incidently, defenestration is the act of throwing someone or a thing out a window.)
2001 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.