Hit The Groove

For a Disney animated movie, "The Emperor's New Groove" arrives on the Christmas scene as quietly as a mouse in padded slippers. Where's the usual brass band, the tie-in merchandise, the Emperor's New King-Size Burger? The lack of hype is refreshing, but will it help or hurt this larkish comic fable? The animation may not have the whirling computer-enhanced movement of a "Tarzan," the rich hues of a "Lion King," the intricate detail work of a "Beauty and the Beast": it's drawn in broad, bold outlines. But the unfussy, tossed-off quality actually helps give this original story zippy irreverence some of Disney's plusher cartoons lack.

The antihero of "The Emperor's New Groove" is a thoroughly obnoxious teenage monarch named Kuzco, a ruler so accustomed to having his every whim catered to that he has no concept of compassion. David Spade does his voice, with a callow petulance that nails the brat perfectly. Unfortunately for Kuzco, his ambitious witch of an adviser, Yzma (Eartha Kitt), hoping to supplant him on the throne, transforms the young emperor into a llama. And a homely llama at that. Cast out in the jungle, where he has zero survival skills, the four-legged Kuzco teams up with Pacha (John Goodman), a good-natured peasant, hoping he can dupe the bumpkin into leading him home. The evil Yzma--a scene-stealing harridan in the grand if somewhat misogynistic Disney tradition--has other ideas. This vain, rail-thin, tropical Cruella De Vil and her musclebound manservant Kronk (Patrick Warburton) want to make sure he never makes it back alive.

Directed by Mark Dindal, with songs by Sting and David Hartley, this is a fleet, funny family entertainment that should tickle parents as well as tykes. Think of it as a palate cleanser after that overstuffed, soporific Thanksgiving family blockbuster that has little else but hype going for it. D.A.

The Emperor's New GrooveDisney
Opens Dec. 15
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