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Emperor's New Groove / Kronk's New Groove, The

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment // G // June 11, 2013 // Region 0
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted June 8, 2013 | E-mail the Author
Geez! Disney sure has been on a tear recently. With this latest stack of stuff, every theatrically released Disney animated feature since the turn of the century has gotten a Blu-ray spin-'n'-polish. Heck, by the time the year's out, we'll be a few titles shy of having high-def releases for every Disney animated feature from the past four decades.

I know I just spent a whole paragraph chanting "Disney! Disney! Disney!", but the thing about The Emperor's New Groove is that it owes less to Walt and company and way more to Chuck Jones and Tex Avery. I
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mean, when you get right down to it, most Disney movies are about family an' love an' big, sweeping emotions, and the moral message you're supposed to take away goes something like "You're special! Be proud of who you are!" The Emperor's New Groove shrugs off every last bit of that.

C'mon, it has to! We're talking about a movie where the central character is a self-obsessed Incan emperor who fires people all willy-nilly, has an old dude chucked out a window for breaking his groove, and wants to level an entire village 'cause it's the perfect spot for an epic swimming pool. That's who Kuzco is, and that ain't nothin' to be proud of. Kuzco hands a pink slip to the wrong enchantress, there are some confusingly labeled poisons, and bing, bang, boom, the emperor's been transformed into a talking llama. Ugh. A minor inconvenience, though, right? Yzma can change him back in a jiffy. It's just that Kuzco is blissfully unaware that the only person who can turn him back wants the guy dead and has seized his throne and all that. Whatever Kuzco winds up doing, he's gonna have to do it back at the palace, and the journey there is long and fraught with danger. I think that's how you spell "fraught" anyway. The newly-llamaed emperor can't possibly survive that trek on his own, but thankfully he has a peasant named Pacha to help shepherd him there. Oh! ...but Pacha is the same guy whose village Kuzco wants to destroy, and the emperor's ego winds up being nearly as deadly a threat as all the crocodiles, bats, scorpions, eight hojillion foot cliffs, waterfalls, and vengeful badniks they bump into along the way.

There was a decade-long stretch where Disney was suffering from a heck of an identity crisis, and most of what they made once the calendar flipped over to 2000 ranged from the forgettable to ::visibly shudders:: Home on the Range. Earlier iterations of The Emperor's New Groove came close to falling into the "big! epic! dramatic! but not very good!" trap as about half of the decade's Disney releases. As troubled a production as it was, the best move it could've made was blowing a raspberry at the whole epic grandeur deal. Forget heartwarming! The Emperor's New Groove is a buddy comedy. A fast, frenetic action/adventure-flavored comedy with a
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Gatling gun sense of humor, firing off 40 rounds of gags a minute. No slowly soaring strings in the score, no boo-boo lip emotions... Heck, even though Kuzco does learn some lessons about responsibility and empathy and stuff, he doesn't want to admit it. Oooooh, I just love it. The voicework is terrific across the board, including turns by David Spade, John Goodman, Patrick Warburton, and a show-stopping Eartha Kitt. I can't get enough of its freewheeling sense of humor: clever, barbed, hyper-meta, and, from a floor waxer to a popped balloon doggie, everything you love about the very best Looney Tunes shorts. The movie has a real knack for that Rube Goldberg complexity to its gags, and like the best action/adventure stuff, it thinks one threat is boring and usually strings together five or six different ones at a time. The visuals aren't anywhere near as awe-inspiring as Disney's films so often are, but the very expressive animation and breakneck camera movements more than make up for it. Oh, and no musical numbers in the middle! The Emperor's New Groove underperformed at the box office, maybe in part because Disney didn't know what to do with a not-particularly-Disney-esque movie like this, but it's definitely worth discovering on Blu-ray.

The other half of this double feature is the direct-to-video cheapquel Kronk's New Groove. This time, the spotlight's aimed squarely at...well, I just typed out the title, so you know I'm talking about Kronk, the double-digit IQ henchman of Yzma's from the first flick. Voiced by Patrick Warburton, Kronk was one of the greatest weapons in The Emperor New Groove's comedic arsenal, and if you've gotta hammer out a completely unnecessary sequel, Kronk's probably your best bet. Anyway, he's given up the kinda-sorta-evil henchman lifestyle and has settled into a gig as the Incan empire's greatest fry cook. That's not gonna be enough to impress Kronk's not-so-easily-impressed pop who's strolling into town for a rare visit. Kronk has a checklist! Get a big, super-cool house on a hill. Land a classy lady love. He ticks off all those boxes too, but...well,
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Kronk can't hold onto 'em, so what's he gonna do when Papi's wagon comes bounding down the hill?

Kronk's New Groove is okay. Its heart is in the right place, I guess, and it's cool that...what, every last voice actor, big and small, from the theatrical release returned for this direct-to-video sequel. Its sense of humor is definitely cut from the same cloth as the first one too. Watching these two movies back-to-back, though, this sequel chucks too much stuff from The Emperor's New Groove into the microwave, and by the time it comes out, it's kind of like the same stuff you ate last night, only rubbery and not nearly as good. As you'd probably expect for a cheapquel with a budget that's barely a rounding error of the original movie, there's a steeeeeeeep dropoff in the quality of the animation. There's not nearly as strong a hook this time around. I mean, an emperor gets turned into a llama by a murderous mad scientist vs. a muscle-bound dimwit who wants his dad to think he's a success. This sequel is really vignette-y, divided up into three real chunks: Kronk somewhat inadvertently swindles a bunch of senior citizens out of house and home, he gets way too competitive leading his troops at Camp Chippamunka, and he and his pals come up with a few too many schemes to pull one over on Papi. It moves slowly enough that I thought Kronk's New Groove was just about over when the first segment ended, and the Junior Chipmunks bit takes way too long to get around to being funny. The last act is pretty solid, and the end result is better than a lot of these cheapquels, but...yeah, the movie never really finds its groove. (See what I did there?) I'm not even going to take Kronk's New Groove into account when scoring this sucker.

Whatever, though. Just think of it as you're buying The Emperor's New Groove -- a wise and just decision! -- and you're just scoring a free copy of Kronk's New Groove out of the deal. It's a shame about the extras, but I'll get into all that in a minute. Recommended.

Gorrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgeous, and you know I mean it when I roll my "r"s like that. The Emperor's New Groove is dazzlingly crisp and clean on Blu-ray, easily eclipsing that lousy old DVD. I can't get over how fine the linework
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is in high-def, and its bright, vivid palette is a total knockout. No clunky noise reduction, no hiccups in the compression, no oversharpening: there's a word for all this, and that word is perfect. Or maybe it's "perfection". You get the general idea, though. Kronk's New Groove was made on the cheap and doesn't exactly dazzle, but on the strictly Blu-ray end of things, I'm not left with a whole lot to gripe about there either.

The Emperor's New Groove is presented at an aspect ratio of 1.66:1, while Kronk's New Groove gets to stretch out a little more to 1.78:1. Both movies have been encoded in AVC and are dished out on the same dual-layer platter.

24-bit, six-channel DTD-HD Master Audio soundtracks all around! The Emperor's New Groove sounds pretty terrific on Blu-ray too. The voicework is clean, clear, and flawlessly balanced, dishing out the sort of clarity that immediately sets itself apart from anything a DVD could hope to deliver. Between the playful music in the score, some magical poofs, and a whole lotta pratfalls, there's plenty going on in the lower frequencies too. The movie's littered with silky smooth pans across the front channels. The surrounds are a little neglected, though, generally reserved for atmosphere and reinforcing various bits of music. Kronk's New Groove ekes just a little more out of the surrounds, and you get a nice LFE kick when Papi stomps onto the scene, but there's not a whole lot more to say there. It's exactly what it oughtta be.

Both movies sport the same sets of audio options: Dolby Digital 5.1 dubs in French, Spanish, and Russian alongside a lossly English stereo track. Subtitles are served up in English (traditional and SDH), French, Spanish, and Russian.

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Okay, that's not completely accurate. It is true, though, that the Blu-ray disc has no extras on it whatsoever. Along for the ride is the first disc of the "Ultimate Groove" DVD set, so if you don't mind swapping discs, you do get some deleted scenes and a couple of music videos. You lose all the extras -- look at this long, long list! -- from the second disc of that set, though. Even worse, that Ultimate Groove DVD set is out of print. I want my Disney Blu-ray discs to be definitive releases, and in that sense, The Emperor's New Groove is a failure.

To recap...! One Blu-ray disc with both movies on it. The first half of the "Ultimate Groove" DVD edition of The Emperor's New Groove and a whole bunch of missing everything-else. The Kronk's New Groove DVD with its one and only extra, a cooking tutorial thingie with Patrick Warburton. Oh, and one slipcover 'cause you know you love it.

The Final Word
The annoying thing about reviews of modern Disney movies is that they always compare 'em to films that have stood the test of time for many decades. Forty-six years from now, will The Emperor's New Groove be considered a classic? I don't know. Probably not. Who cares, though? It's fast and witty and funny an' I love it lots. The direct-to-video half of this double feature, meanwhile, is forgettable but passably okay. Losing the metric ton of extras from the Ultimate Groove DVD set is indefensible, and I would've given this Blu-ray release a higher recommendation if Disney had done the right thing there. Still Recommended, tho'.
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