Disney indirectly wants to bury Emperor’s New Groove. Despite sequels and TV spin-offs, development of the film was tumultuous, a story of deflated test screenings and exhaustive wasted funds until writer/director Mark Dindal threw everything out. Disney wanted Lion King; Dindal wanted to have fun. To Disney, it seems less of a success than a reminder of their crumbling traditional animation department.
Thus was born a film of manic enthusiasm, vibrant in its kookiness and prescribed to Chuck Jones rabid lunacy of cartoon logic. New Groove is David Spade’s highest credit as an actor, portraying a balmy king Kuzco with a penchant for ruling himself, not people. Charismatic and vibrant, Kuzco’s wretchedness is invested, soaking up the raucous power gifted to this sharply tuned, 78-minute gag fest.
Turned into a Llama by his demeaning (and recently fired) second-in-command Yzma (Eartha Kitt), Kuzco loses his livelihood, living blissfully unaware of his own selfish ambition. Growth in character follows a line of tired parable, almost secondary to the beautifully crafted animation that preys on cliché. Dunked into a raging rapids and tied to a log, Kuzco and often unwilling participant Pacha (John Goodman) prepare for the inevitable conclusion in a dry dialogue exchange: A waterfall with sharp, pointy rocks at the bottom.
New Groove is a compact road trip buddy film, clashing personalities at its heart on both sides of the Llama debate. Kuzco has Pacha, Yzma has affectionately dense Kronk (Patrick Warburton). Pairings slyly slip by one another, revelations of betrayal disallowed to run New Groove into the ground. It is a film that picks its head up and marches forward; there is an encounter with an angered squirrel to be had.
This is not a Disney “art” film, nor does it have the required stylish panache. Instead, it pushes against those stuffy curves of perfectionism, charting a pathway it can readily establish as its own domain. Animation is freeing, wacky and humanized without concerns of accuracy. Kuzco’s Llama form is handled with fluidity, Yzma’s lanky limbs lacking rigidity to poke at the lens or deliver a steely gaze.
New Groove is infinitely better than its parent company will give it credit for, a genuine work of sheer will that never should have come into existence. On a deadline due to corporate contracts with restaurant partners, an animation team assembled for record setting turn-around, crafting a minor comedic classic that becomes buried under the girth of an Aladdin or Lion King. That is a shame.
It cannot be denied: This is modern humor, playing against the safe lines of a timeless, whimsical morphing Genie. New Groove is often dire and snarky, almost biting back at its own creation process. New Groove, at times, seems to hate its own cliched skin, so it has no other retort short of jibbing its script in the ribs. It works, and it is a shame Disney seems oblivious as to admire the tawdry heart that propels an under-appreciated story of success.
How little faith does Disney put in this miniature monolith of comedy? New Groove comes double stamped onto a single Blu-ray with its (much) lesser sequel, Kronk’s New Groove. Oh, and that splendid double disc DVD bursting at the seams of compression with bonuses? None of them made it onto the Blu-ray release. You receive a movie and trailers.
Peering onto video quality, this is a rare lesser effort for one of the studios known for consistency in the realm of HD. Unsightly ringing mars the animation present at contrast, evident against the richness of blue skies or the rapid-fire kitchen sequence; the chef is backed by a backdrop of orange that lends itself to digitization remnants.
Despite giving bitrates, New Groove is held back by insufficient compression, baking in mosquito noise and blocks doubly prevalent on Pacha’s green Alpaca clothing. No other Disney animated Blu-ray release holds to such grievous faults. These elements come across as lackadaisical and uncaring.
Prevailing in the end is sharpness, gracing the disc with nutritious lines that delve into pencil strokes of immense quality. Each drawing is delivered with sublime care for the attributes of traditional animation. Mosquito noise and ringing be damned; New Groove has a mission of artistic preservation in 1080p. It gets there, and the wonder of the painted, layered backdrops is also found to be graceful.
Capping materials is a winding color palette of various designs, greenery in rolling hilltops to the creaky purples of Yzma’s… well, everything. All are designed for pop and brilliance, hard locked to peak without traveling into over saturation. Things do tempt lines, Kronk’s shoulder devil a feisty red, yet still working to stay within confines. A troublesome encode with enough positives to work through the qualms.
New Groove is fitted with a new groove (sorry) DTS-HD 5.1 mix, certainly fancy in its effortless use of split fronts for dialogue. Chatter travels naturally through the front soundfield, naturally planted in the center where needed. Open halls pull up a freeing echo effect too.
Ambient effects work into the jungle as Kuzco first encounters leopards, birds chirping to fill in space. The waterfall ride has a ton of fun spilling water into the rears. LFE is treated infrequently, a few jolts of a hammer and small bubbling for wide bodies of water sustained, if only a pittance. The mix works within a realm of tight precision, and will suffice if lacking the energy of the material itself.
Trailers! A second movie! Forget the other bonuses from years ago!