Saturday, 5 January 2013

The Emperor's New Groove (2000)

We made it to the 3rd of January before my sister plucked out the first of the pile of DVDs I got her for Christmas. We had a free hour or two after I returned from Edinburgh, having been to see Ang Lee's Life of Pi, and it was Karen who suggested an undiluted shot of nostalgia in the form of the 2000 Disney animation, The Emperor's New Groove.

As you might have guessed, me and my sister must have watched this film hundreds of times from when I was about four to the age of nine or so. It was the dawn of the DVD that eventually killed it, as our only copy was a funky dark blue videotape. When I saw the DVD sitting in HMV during my Christmas shopping, and knowing how my sister values nostalgia above much else, it was just asking to be picked up and purchased. I imagine that most people have a Disney film from their childhood, one that takes you back to those years surprisingly vividly if you watch it again. This was ours.

Watching it back was quite a strange experience. It's rare to have so many things you had completely forgotten about streamed directly to you in the space of just over two hours. It's wonderful. Small things like the way the villain, an old crone called Yzma, pronounces the word 'lever', and the moment when the arrogant emperor antihero Kuzco notices an unidentifiable green plant between her teeth. We are a strange species, so fascinated by our immediate past for so little reason. I think we just want to be reminded what we felt like as a child, when we all seemed to be at our happiest. No other creature dwells so much on what happened to them so long ago.

It's quite a marvellous film as well, a good one to be exposed to that many times. There is an important moral message underneath it, as is the case with most Disney films. Kuzco learns the error of his ways from Pacha, a humble local whose village he is planning to destroy to make room for a new summer palace for him, and who he ends up relying on to look after him when he is turned into, of all things, a llama by one of Yzma's potions. The chase caper that follows is funnier than your average Disney film.

It has enough jokes to satisfy me, even now that I'm probably out of the target audience. Maybe it's just that I remember laughing my arse off when I was younger, but I found myself laughing out loud quite often, particularly at Kronk, Yzma's hapless bodyguard, who is such a cliche of a character but still manages to be hilarious. Maybe the film moves along a bit quickly, but what does a child care about that? It's 127 minutes of wonderful comic sketches, based around what is essentially quite a simple story, which come together to result in a great children's film with a clever message.

Having said that, there is a single bad point. That is the most extreme contrast between the music in the actual film and the song in the end credits. Tom Jones sings the fantastic opening number, and there are big band sounds thoughout the film that have a great rhythm and tune. Sting sings the bleak, drab and piano driven end credits ballad called 'My Funny Friend And Me', which was Oscar nominated for reasons I can't fathom. Perhaps the committee listened to it out of context. But children don't watch the end credits. They just appreciate good, fun, well written films such as this. This is the seven-year-old me's favourite film.

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