Thursday, May 13, 2010

Review: The Emperor's New Groove (2000)

This is a really funny movie. Or, at least, I think it is. It is so difficult to tell, because whenever I watch it I find myself repeating all of the lines along with the characters. A film that I have watched as many times as this, and that I first saw when I was, what, eleven? is very difficult to judge. It's the same with Billy Maddison, 10 Things I Hate About You and The Lion King. I've seen all these films so many times critical judgement is impossible. I know that most respectable critics panned the shit out of Billy Maddison, and thought 10 Things I Hate About You and The Lion King were alright, but not great, but I am totally incapable of looking at these films objectively.

Well, that's not true. I am incapable of looking at the jokes in The Emperor's New Groove objectively, but I am not incapable of criticising anything else.

For example - ugh the ending sucks so hard. For a movie that spent its whole time trying damn hard not to slip into mawkish sentimentality, this film sure does just dive right in it at the end. Not the big chase sequence or anything, I'm just talking about the bit where they learn to work together and go back-to-back up the wall of the castle. This scene made me so infuriated as an eleven year old, and it has not stopped annoying me for the last ten years. I suppose you could argue that the stuff with Pacha's family was sort of mawkish and sentimental as well, and you'd be kind of right, but that stuff has two things going for it that the ending doesn't. Firstly, that stuff is legitimately funny (even if the comedy there is slightly more gentle than in the rest of the film), so it is forgiven. Secondly, well, I mean, they're breaking new ground for Disney films. First pregnant lady, anyone? That's gotta be worth some points.

But, yeah, apart from that dreadful thirty seconds, I honestly can't critique this film. I love the look of it, the pacing, the voice acting (even David Spade, who I normally want to kick in the face), and, above all, the fact that it is a goddamn cartoon. It's like a feature length Looney Tunes cartoon, and that kicks ass.

One reason I suspect that this film isn't actually as good as I think it is, is because it was directed by Mark Dindal, who went on to direct the not-very-funny-at-all Chicken Little, which tries for a similar tone. There are legitimate differences between the two films that make Chicken Little worse - it's more sentimental, the soundtrack is really obvious (and relies almost entirely on mediocre Barenaked Ladies songs for its emotional impact - I love the Barenaked Ladies and all, but it's a bit much), the plot is less straight-forward, the character called 'The Ugly Duckling' isn't really that ugly at all, she just has glasses and was filmed at odd angles, Chicken Little is a male. But the main problem I had with Chicken Little was that the jokes weren't funny, despite the fact that they were quite similar in tone and execution to the jokes in Emperor's New Groove. I don't know - maybe they just fit in with the cartoonier world of Groove a lot better. Or maybe I was stupider as a child than I was an adult. I suspect not, though. After all, Roger Ebert gave Groove three stars, but Chicken Little only 2 and a half.

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