The Emperor's New Groove (G) ★★★

Review Date: April 24th, 2001

An energetic and surprisingly solid non-musical animated

film, Disney's delightful ''Groove'' reigns near the top of this year's

animated offerings.


Originally planned

as a dramatic musical with an ambitious score by Sting, the Disney brass

monkeys decided to tinker with their ''Kingdom of the Sun'' script, drop

the show tunes and detour in an entirely different direction. The result

is a lighter and probably much more successful approach. Ruling over his

pre-Columbian kingdom, the obnoxious and self-centered Kuzco's (David

Spade) reign is threatened when his evil advisor Yzma (Eartha Kitt) and

her dopey henchman Kronk (Patrick Warburton) try to poison him. But nothing

goes according to plan with these things, and instead of doing away with

the emperor, the wrong poison turns him into a llama. Dropped into the

middle of the forbidding jungle, Kuzco begrudgingly enlists the aid of

a good-hearted peasant, Pacha (John Goodman), to help him return to his

kingdom and, well, de-llamafy himself.


A plum role to showcase the comic talents of Spade, the Disney animators

capture the former ''Saturday Night Live'' performer's facetious, cynical

distance perfectly. On the flip side, those who find Spade's humor one-note

and grating may be advised to sidestep this venture. As the steadfast Pacha,

good-natured lug Goodman is fine but an obvious choice. As the villainously

wicked Yzma, it's refreshing to hear Kitt (a grand, underused talent) work

her magical voice once again. And as Yzma's thick and distracted henchman

Kronk, Warburton's thug-like delivery is a nice comic choice, but his monotone

mumbling is sometimes hard to understand.


Breezily paced and not above poking fun at Disney stereotypes, director Mark Dindal

(Warner Brothers' animated ''Cats Don't Dance'') and his animation team's

contemporary approach, clever art direction and attention to detail make

for an entertaining and memorable 80-minute diversion. Arguably the funniest

product spun from the Mouse Factory since ''Aladdin,'' ''Groove'' may appeal

more to parental units by eschewing the standard formula momentum-stopping

songs for Dindal's zanier, more insightful comic moments.

Bottom line

Great for kids young and old, ''Groove'' is the freshest Disney cartoon to moonwalk

out of the studio in some time. 'Course if you hate David Spade, you'll

want to take a tazer gun to this sucker.