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review added: 10/15/01



The Emperor's New Groove
The Ultimate Groove - 2000 (2001) - Buena Vista

reviews by Dan Kelly of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVsEncoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital Surround
THX-certified

The Emperor's New Groove: The Ultimate Groove

Film Rating: B-

Disc Ratings (Video/Extras): A/B

Audio Ratings (DD/DTS): B+/A-

Specs and Features

Disc One: The Film
77 mins, G, letterboxed widescreen (1.66:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 54:54 in chapter 22), dual keep case packaging, commentary by director Mark Dindal, producer Randy Fullmer, art director Colin Stimpson, character designer Joseph C. Moshier, head of story Stephen Anderson, supervising animators Nik Ranieri and Bruce W. Smith, animated trivia game, music video for Walk the Llama Llama by Rascal Flatts, DVD-ROM content: interactive games (Emperor's Got Game and Emperor's Action Game), on-line content, official website, animated film themed menu screens with audio, scene access (28 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 and DTS 5.1) and French (DD 5.1), subtitles: English for the hearing impaired, Closed Captioned

Disc Two: Supplemental Materials
NR, single-sided, dual layered disc (no layer change), Development - the development process, research trip, story treatment, visual development gallery, concept artwork for Kingdom of the Sun; Story and Editorial - the process, pitching the story, putting it on reels, deleted/unused scenes; Layouts and Backgrounds - the layout and background department, storyboard and background comparison, workbook gallery, layout gallery, color key and background galleries; Animation - the animation process, CGI props, character animation (voices, background and rough animation comparison, character design), production progression (including a multi-angle presentation), clean-up animation; Putting It Together - ink and paint/compositing, color models; Music and Sound - music video for Sting's My Funny Friend and Me, sound mixing demo; Publicity - 2 theatrical trailers, 3 TV spots, poster and ad campaign, animated film-themed menu screens with audio, language: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: none

Everybody hates Emperor Kuzco (voiced by David Spade), and why not? He rules over his kingdom with a fierce sense of self-interest and makes no bones about demolishing the egos of his village people. Humble villager Pacha (John Goodman) makes the long walk to Kuzco's castle to make a final plea to save his hilltop village from becoming Kuzco's water park playground only to be laughed at and ridiculed. His hopes of saving his home are dashed when the emperor shows him the scale model of his theme park. Even Kuzco's wicked, and wickedly funny, assistant Yzma (Eartha Kitt) can't wait to see him meet his demise. In a fit of anger one day, he fires her, and her hopes of taking over rule of the kingdom are dashed. With her faithful and empty-headed companion Krunk (Patrick Warburton), she devises a plan to rid the kingdom of the emperor once and for all. The only problem is her foolproof plan isn't so foolproof in the hands of the bumbling Krunk. Instead of a death potion, he whips up a concoction that turns Kuzco into… a llama. That's right. A big, finger shaking, neck popping, fast talking llama with an attitude.

When the emperor wakes up in Pacha's front yard and finds that he's (gulp!) a lowly llama in a peasant village, the attitude doesn't stop. He's got to make his way back to his castle and re-claim his thrown, and the only one that can get him there is Pacha. Their trip through the jungle and countryside to get back to the emperor's cushy digs will bring them in contact with hungry alligators, hungry panthers and one power hungry exiled hag with a chip on her shoulder. Now, you know that in a Disney film, everyone is going to learn their lesson by the end of the film, and this one is no different. It's a little less blatant about it, but make no bones about it… those who deserve it, will get their comeuppance by the end of the film.

The Emperor's New Groove is a mixed bag of Disney treats. Some of it is very good, and some of it is just okay. According to the liner notes on the DVD packaging, Disney took on the film as a chance to do an out and out comedy. No extended musical numbers. No talking teacups as sidekicks. No beating over the head with heavy-handed moral lessons. Well, two out of three ain't bad. Earthy Kitt's voice lends itself perfectly for her snippy dialogue, and her banter with Krunk as she goes through ways of killing Kuzco is priceless. It's also one of the better-written animated features in the past couple of years and is filled with witty one-liners. We're talking one snappy zinger on top of the other almost from start to finish. And then there's the animation -it's topnotch! It's a seamless blend of hand-drawn animation and traditionally colored CGI animation. It's a brilliantly colorful piece of animation artwork that has more in common with classic Disney and Warner Brothers animation than it does with the standard animated fare over the last 10 years or so.

My main problem with The Emperor's New Groove is the voice work of its principal character. If you don't like David Spade, this ain't gonna make you a fan. His sense of humor just isn't my cup of tea. Jokes aimed at belittling others are funny for a short period of time, but it gets a bit tedious to hear it for seventy-five minutes, even in animated form. Everyone here essentially plays themselves, but Spade is the most obvious. Eartha Kitt is the bitchy diva and John Goodman, though I love him as an actor, once again plays the lovable lunkhead that he has played so often in his career. And talk about brief! Including the credits, the film barely passes the 75-minute mark. It's almost as if Disney forgot that if you cut out the musical numbers, you can add other stuff back into the film to make it feature length. The short running time isn't an immediate detriment, but it could have used a little more beef to turn it into a traditionally tasty Disney burger… or something like that. Still, the film's sharp sense of humor, genuine sense of playfulness and groovy animation make it a fun flick that (per Disney tradition) is fun for all ages.

Now, on to the disc itself. As is the case with most of Disney's recent animation releases, The Emperor's New Groove looks fantastic. The picture is shown in its original theatrical format of 1.66:1 and is anamorphically encoded to give more resolution to the overall quality of the image. You'd be hard pressed to find anything wrong with this picture. Colors are always stable, and the richness and vibrancy in them are absolutely breathtaking. There's a lot of color in this picture and they all come across quite nicely with no over-saturation. Blacks are solid and impenetrable, and shadow detailing is superb. There's a lot of depth to this picture. Edge enhancement, artifacting and other transfer-related problem areas are nowhere to be found. The source material used for the transfer to DVD is without flaw, and the digital-to-digital transfer process makes for one outstanding picture. The only nit-pick is that there is the slightest hint of grain in a few scenes, but otherwise, this is definitely one of Disney's finest recent efforts.

The audio powers-that-be have offered up two separate six-channel mixes: one in Dolby Digital and the other in DTS. I'd give the slight edge to the DTS track, but truth be told, neither one of these mixes are all that powerful. The sound field here is relatively low-key and more subdued than your average action film. That's not to say they're not effective tracks, because the opposite is true. Disney marketed this as a comedy, and the track definitely feels more like an audio mixed more attuned to a film of that genre. You'll feel some rumbling from the .1 LFE channel when necessary to add a little juice to the mix. Rear channel separation also comes into play to create a sense of space (check out the scene where Yzma and Krunk are making their way down the waterfall), but you'll feel most of the movement in the mix in the front end of the soundfield. The dialogue track is one of the strong points of the mix. It's never overcome by an overly aggressive music or effects track, and it's appropriately maintained to the center speaker. There's not a whole lot of difference between the DD and the DTS track, but the DTS track feels a bit more aggressive, and on the whole a bit louder than the DD track. Either one should suit you just fine.

As far as strict numbers go, there are a lot of features here. First off, I should mention the menus. Both of the discs have animated menus, and they're just as vibrant and exciting as the animation in the film. It makes for a nice introduction to the disc. If you sit through all the features at once, it's going to take you a few hours to go through them. The downside to that is, they're not all that exciting. There's a lot of repetitiveness here, and by the end of it all, you'll be sick to death of the dinner scene with Kuzco, Yzma and Kronk. Let's start with the first disc. The main attraction here is the audio commentary by no less than seven people involved with the making of New Groove. It's a good track that touches on all the bases of making the film, from the genesis of the product to the final product. Fillmer and Dindal do most of the talking, but encourage the rest of the gang to pop in when needed. Most of the time is spent discussing the animation process. If you're a big animation fan who wants to know the ins and outs of animated features, it's a good listen. Forget about the Rascal Flatts music video. It's a boring waste of time, even for the kiddie crowd. The trivia game (duplicated in the ROM features) is charming if you play it once and only once. It repeats the same questions each time, so you're not going to get anything out of repeated viewing, but the animation is quite nice.

The ROM content is simply okay, nothing too special. There are two additional games on here, both of them basic in nature. Relatively speaking, The Emperor's Action Game is the more exciting of the two and is similar in nature to a Mario Brothers game. You go around collecting coins on hilltops. I didn't hang around to see if it led anywhere beyond that, but it amused me for the five minutes I tried it out. The online content will also only be good for a one-time visit. There's downloads aplenty at the official website, including sound bites, screensavers, a dancing Kuzco (doesn't everyone want one?), reviews of the film, the standard Disney merchandise offerings and more.

You'll find the bulk of the extra goodies on the second disc. The packaging, and even the main menu screen, will lead you to believe that the Animation Groove and Studio Groove are two separate ways to enjoy the disc. Don't be fooled into thinking that, as they're both just brief pieces that are already covered in the extended material. The Studio Groove is a 24-minute featurette hosted by producer Randy Fullmer and director Mark Dindal that covers, in brief, material that is covered in depth throughout the rest of the disc. If you're looking for a quick tour of the animation process, choose this option. The Animation Groove is a five-minute, split-screen sequence that walks you through various stages of production for one scene - the dreaded dinner scene. I'd suggest skipping it here if you're going to watch the rest of the extras. Trust me, you won't regret it. Again, it's a quick walk-through of information that's covered to a greater extent elsewhere on the disc. If you want your animation information fix fast and furious, this is the way to go. If you wanna fill your head with more detailed Disney animation information than you could ever dream of, move along.

Now onto the big stuff. Disney has allowed Fullmer and Dindal to give you a tour of the animation studio (apparently this is a big deal), and you'll see it all in these features. It's split up into seven different sections that detail different aspects of the process of bringing New Groove to the screen. First up is Development. It's here that you'll learn how the filmmakers develop the idea for the film. It starts off with some basic drawings and then the story outline is developed from there. The process involves a research trip to Machu Picchu to get a root idea for what the town, people and geography of the film will look like. This is also the stage where the story treatment is proposed in non-script format. Look for a gallery of hundreds (!) of photos in this section from the various stages of development. There's also some decent artwork in various stages of completion from Kingdom of the Sun, an early version of the story that was scrapped. Next up is the Story and Editorial section. There's a 3 or 4-minute piece on the generalities of completing the story for an animated feature. You'll see how animators pitch their product to the producers with examples of the animation, script and character voices. This DVD includes three of these pitches. Any one of them is worth a look, but three seems like overkill. The deleted and unused scenes are interesting but the film was not hurt in their absence. The deleted ending is of note as being scrapped because Sting objected, ecologically, to its presence in the film. Now that's power! The Layout and Background portion of the extras is composed mainly of a few image galleries (layout, background and workbook) and a short visit to the layout and background department at the Disney animation studios. You'll also see a split screen comparison of the storyboard to background comparison.

As you'd expect, the Animation section is the most detailed. I also found it to be the most enjoyable section of the extras, if only because it was the most informative. After the obligatory 5-minute preparatory short on the animation process, you'll get into more specifics about the animation work that went into New Groove. First up, are CGI props. It's here that you'll find out the details of incorporating some of the computer-animated work into the final product. More often than not, you'll not be able to tell what's CGI and what isn't. After that is the character animation section. There are also a few interviews with each of the primary voices, and they're all quite thrilled to be doing voice work. The animators took characteristics from each of the actors and incorporated some of them into the character artwork. But wait, there's more! You'll get yet another split screen of the dinner scene. This time, it's a comparison of the background and rough animation artwork. And the multi-angle presentation, while a good idea, is yet ANOTHER dissection of the dinner scene. Use the multi-angle feature to flip back and forth between the story, rough animation, cleanup animation and final animation. If it weren't for the fact that it was a scene we'd scene taken apart from the inside out half a dozen times already, this would be a good feature.

Putting It Together shows you, interestingly enough, how they pull together the final animated feature. Adding color is certainly much easier than it used to be. Point, click, and add color. It's that easy. Okay, it's still not very easy, but it's incredibly detailed and the fruits of the colorist's labor are evident in every shot on screen. You'll also find yet another gallery in this section. This go-around, its color models, which (from my understanding) help determine the final coloring of each of the characters. Music and Sound is a relatively brief section. The featurette (again trimmed from the Studio Groove feature) gives a short overview of the work that went into the making sure the soundtrack pops and cracks in all the right places. There's a fun little mixing demonstration that allows you to add or subtract the dialogue, effects or music track or any combination of the three. For the post-Police juvenile Sting fans, there's also his video for My Funny Friend and Me. It's not a great video or song, but there ya have it. The Publicity section is just that: trailers, TV spots and a poster work and ad campaign gallery. Believe it or not… that's it! Phew!

As I said before, if you're talking pure numbers, this DVD packs a wallop. But I have to say; it left me kind of scratching my head. All this material and this is all they could come up with? How many different ways do I have to see them animating one scene? The scene breakdown was descriptive and, at first, interesting, but on the whole it would have been more engaging had I not been subjected to the same scene again and again. The potential for good information is here on the disc, but it's wasted on repetition and misguided intentions. There are literally hundreds of pictures in the galleries, but I have a feeling even the most fanatical animation enthusiast will tire of them after seeing about 20 of them. It's all too much. Still, if you can pick and choose your way through the repetitiveness, you're bound to find some good stuff.

If you just like the film, you'll want to skip this Ultimate Groove edition and stick with the single disc edition. It's got its own fair share of extras, but isn't this extensive. If you like the film and can never get enough of Disney animation, you'll probably wanna give this 2-disc set a whirl. Either way, you won't be disappointed with the sound and audio. The picture is near reference quality, and the audio is solid. It's a funny movie, and if you've grown tired of the by the numbers Disney song and dance numbers lately, this one will seem like a fresh start.

Dan Kelly
dankelly@thedigitalbits.com




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