The Emperor's New Groove Review
"A spoilt and greedy Emperor named Kuzco, is accidentaly turned into a llama, by the evil Royal Adviser, called Yzma. Kuzco befriends Pacha, the head of a local village that Kuzco plans to destroy and build a mansion over. Pacha agrees to help the Emperor if he promises to leave his village alone. Only while Kuzco is a llama does he learn how to be a human being."
The Emperor's New Groove did good business at the box-office, but not in the same league as The Lion King or Aladdin. The way Groove differs from these animated features is that there is no love story, no epic, there are no musical numbers, and it features a completely different style and movment of animation that echos back to the cartoons of Mel Blanc and Tex Avery.
Disney rarely make animated features that aren't based on traditional tales, such as Cinderella, Tarzan, Snow White and many more. So it's refreshing when they decide to break convention and go with lesser known fables, and give it the Disney touch. The Emperor's New Groove isn't a completely original concept, it's a familiar one where a character is turned into something else, and their personality arcs, due to this change. There are many, many examples. But I don't think i've ever seen it done in such a wacky and fun way.
The 'groove' in question, is the carefree way that the Emperor lives his life by. As seen in the film's only musical number at the start, the Emperor doesn't like it when his groove is thrown off. So imagine how he feels when he is turned into a worthless llama, then kicked out of his precious empire, and is officially classed as dead. Yes... he feels pretty darn bad about it, I know I would.
The Emperor is played by David Spade, the Saturday Night Live star and former comedic partner of the late Chris Farley. When it comes to animation, the dialogue is recorded before the actual process of animation begins. This way, actors aren't restricted, and to some extent are able to make the dialogue their own, and make it feel more natural. Spade has taken this to full advantage, and his great ad-libs are noticable throughout. Whether his comedic style is something you appreciate, will really come down to personal taste, I for one am a fan of his, so loved hearing him voice this character. John Goodman and Eartha Kitt also contribute their voice talents to the roles of Pacha and the evil Yzma respectively. Kitt in particular is fantastic. But i'm keeping my favourite character for last, Yzma's dim-witted, but good natured henchman, Krunk. Voiced by Patrick Warburton, he is great, and is responsible for making me laugh the most during the film. From Krunk's theme tune to talking to his Devil and Angel, I just couldn't help but fall into a fit of dizzy giggles.
Next to the Toy Story films, The Emperor's New Groove must be one of the funniest Disney features around. It may not be a laugh riot like the adult-orientated South Park, Bigger, Longer & Uncut, but it will have your tongue firmly in cheek for the enitre duration. I think the writers have done an excellent job of making this film appealing to all ages. There are great visuals, bright and vibrant colours, and enough sight jokes for the very young, and in true Disney sense, anyone will grasp the story. Also, there are aspects of the film that only older people will enjoy, such as the humour in general.
I first watched The Emperor's New Groove in the cinema, and it's the kind of film I hate watching at the cinema, becuase i'm usually the only one laughing, and that makes me feel disheartenend. I left the cinema quite disappointed with the film actually. But as usual a second viewing, in the privacy of my own house, where I can laugh at my heart's content, made me enjoy it much more. in fact I loved it so much, I watched it again a few days after, and that's something I rarely do! I love the animation, it's fantastic, (as amazing as computer animation is, there is a charm to hand drawn that just can't be beaten). I love the characters, I love the story, I love the offbeat humour... in short, I love this movie.
At a running time of 75 minutes, 'New Groove' never gets a chance to be dull, the pace is kept lively throughout, and leads up to an exciting and satisfying finale. This movie will have you in a childlike state for an hour or so, and in my books that can't be a bad thing.
What I love about DVD is how great animation looks on it. If you want to compare VHS to DVD, then using an animation is a must. When done well, animation can look absolutely fantastic, and when done poorly, it really shows. So when you see the THX-Certification on a Disney disc, then you know you're in for a real treat. Having watched other hand-drawn animations that come with the THX badge, namely Tarzan and Fantasia 2000, I have simply been amazed at the image on offer, they are without a doubt, flawless. What makes them even better, is that they come straight from a digital source. So just like A Bug's Life and Toy Story, these transfers are as faithful to the original as could possibly be on any present day format.
The 1.66:1 or 1.77:1 ratios are the common ratios for Disney, which is in-between 1.85:1 and Fullscreen (1.33:1) and depending on your display system, you may notice thin black bars on the sides, this is perfectly normal. Don't worry if you don't see them either, as like me, your display would most likely be a 4:3 TV.
The only fault I could notice in the transfer, is something that is common to these transfers, and that is compression artefacts can occasionaly be notcied on some areas, mainly those involving the colour Red or Green. As it is, you have to look really hard to notice this, and it only shows up on bigger displays, even then it's hardly a distraction. So I'm still giving this transfer full marks, because it's nothing other than perfect.
As mentioned above, I first saw The Emperor's New Groove at the cinema. From what I could tell, it looked like a fresh print, and with it being the first showing on the opening day of a brand new cinema, I think it's safe to assume I watched the film in as good as condition as possible. I paid close attention while watching, as I knew the DVD would be coming out soon, and that I could do a direct comparison. To cut a long story short, I prefered the DVD.
DD 5.1 or DTS
I watched the film with DTS selected.
It's hard for an animated film to sound better than a Live Action film, as there clearly is no on-set audio avaialable. So 100% of the sounds have to be dubbed. The end result can either be a very natural experience, or something that feels very detached. Disney never seem too responsible for the latter. The soundtrack never reaches the standard of the Pixar films in terms of dynamics and directional effects, and rears are used sparingly and mostly for atmosphere. The front soundstage is used nicely, there are many panning effects, giving a decent natural sound.
It might as well be a 5.0 track really, as I barely felt any low frequencies. Since Tarzan was 5.0, I'm going to hazard a guess here, but I think the dropping of low frequency emissions may be intentional, for the benefit of youngsters who may not appreciate them. I know a lot of parents who use cartoons to help their children get to sleep, and I know many children play cartoons without their parent's 'complete' consent, so the LFE track could be seen as a nuisance sometimes.
Whether i'm talking rubbish or not, the fact remains that the .1 track is very low, and I doubt many of us will miss it. This isn't the type of film that needs it.
Overall this is a nice sounding track, that suits the film very well. Remember the sound is THX certified, so I would think it's safe to assume the Dolby and DTS tracks remain technically faithful to the original master tracks.
The DTS is better than the Dolby, as usual in comparison,Dolby sounds a bit subdued, and the dialogue doesn't come across as sharp. There isn't a vast difference, people witout DTS equipment will still find the Dolby track sounds great. I for one am glad Disney include DTS tracks, because even if the difference isn't leaps and bounds, DTS is still better and does sound more natural. The Dolby track wins in one respect though, the rears are a few decibels louder than the DTS track, so there's no need to raise the rear volume. Other than that, it's DTS all the way.
Anyone who has gone through any decent Disney DVD, will know that they make extra effort to make the added value material accesible for kids, while being very much aimed primarily at adults. Disney aren't stupid, they know that it's the older viewers who will be paying extra for their 2-disc, or Ultimate DVD editions - so while their extra features are still very much adult orientated, Disney also attempt to catch the interest of children who may either just happen to be sitting therewith their parents, or have been dragged in by their over-enthusiastic movie buff of a father.
Ample evidence of this is shown in the introduction to Disc 2. Similar to the intros on the Toy Story box set, but a bit more zany. The director and producer (imagine Jay and Silent Bob after watching far too much VH-1), are overly enthusiastic in trying to explain to the audience what this disc is all about, I think it probably does work in grabbing the attention of younger viewers - so it's not a complete waste of time, but I think some viewers may cringe during some of their little bits. So just remember why you brought this Disney movie in the first place -- to be a kid!
The extras are organised in the same way as almost all other similar Disney DVDs. In other words - very well planned out, and very digestable. It took me about two and half hours to watch the entire Disc 2, and it was time well spent!
OK, take a deep breath...
- Adventure Set-Top Game -- A well executed quiz game, answer 5 questions correctly and save Kuzco from the evil Yzma. It's designed so well, that even if you find the questions mind numbingly simple, you'll still have fun. I must admit, it did take me two attempts to get to the end. Other kids with an IQ above twenty will love it too.
- Rascall Flatts Music Video -- A true blue Disney kid's
pop video, complete with dance moves. Purely for kids. Very good picture and sound quality.
- DVD-ROM Material -- If you realy feel the urge, you can decide to load the DVD into your DVD-ROM, but you'll find it a huge waste of time: links to Disney's web site, a short game demo that honestly isn't worth the loading time, and not much else. Kids will love the flashy intro, but I think even their short-attention spans will hit overload with this stuff. I don't know why studios still include this section, only a few discs are good, notably the New Line discs that include the film's screenplay, and the absolutely excellent Chicken Run DVD-ROM.
Sneak Peeks -- Non-anamorphic, good picture and sound quality. Either mono or stereo. Snow White, Hunchback Of Notre Dame II, 102 Dalmations, Monsters Inc and Atlantis: Lost Empire.
- Audio Commentary -- Screen Specific. The commentary involves Randy Fullmer the producer, and Mark Dinal, the Director. They are together for most of the track, but every so often another guy involved with the film joins in, namely the art director, and character designer. And sometimes they switch over to another group of guys. The 'other' guys are the Head of Story, and the two supervising animators of the lead characters, Kuzco and Pacha.
This commentary, like most other Disney commentary tracks, are on par with the tracks recorded by Criterion. There are planned out, and the speakers are packed full on interesting information, and the switching and editing of the speakers is done so fluidly, that this track never gets dull. It's lively, honest, full of information and all the guys have good chemistry with each other.
This track comes highly recommended to anyone interested in animation, or even scriptwriting. This film is a completely original story by Disney, and being a Disney film the storyline and characters are at their simplest and truest form, so it's good to be reminded of the basics every once in a while.
I advice listening to this commentary after going through Disc Two, as the speakers do get a bit technical, so if you're new to the field of animation, then you may find yourself a bit lost at times. Also I feel it's nice to be able to place a face to a voice.
A very good track.
- Get Into The Groove -- This segment is new to Disney's Supplement discs. It is the PERFECT
introduction into the world of Animation, if you know next to nothing about animation, then this was made for you! Bascically it's a condensed version of the disc. If you are planning on going through the whole disc, then don't worry you can skip this segment. Trust me, you won't be missing out on anything.
- The Animation Groove (10 mins) Split-Screen Storyboard comparisons of one scene, showing the various layers of production from the first rough sketches of the foreground action and the static backgrounds, right up to the final completed inked image. This is a great introduction to those who know little or nothing about animation - and is also great for animation buffs. Our hosts give us brief intros throughout, to help explain what we're seeing.
- The Studio Groove (25 mins) A really good 'Making Of' documentary, that goes through all the departments and stages involved in making the film. Just the right amount of depth to make this a valuable learning experience, it covers virtually every possible department. It is edited extremely well, and remains interesting throughout.
The rest of the disc is broken down into the following segments. The first section of each segment is taken directly from the "Studio Groove" documentary, and the remaining sections further elaborate on that particular aspect of the animation process. I will discuss some of the segments in detail, to give you a feel of the disc.
- The Development Process (3 mins) -- Taken directly from the "Studio Groove" feature, this briefly explains how the production started, not from a script, but a series of images. As The Emperor's New Groove is an original story, unlike Cinderella or Tarzan, the guys at Disney had to come up with characters from scratch - here we find out how and why they eventually choose the final characters.
- The Research Trip (2 mins) -- A brief look at the field trip that was taken to Machu Pichu, and llama farms to give animators their insiration. Unfortunately it's very brief, and gives you the strong feeling of wanting more.
- Story Treatment -- A few pages of text, giving the outline of the whole story. This was no doubt passed around at some point to all the people involved in making the film. It's like reading a little story book.
- Visual Development Gallery -- I estimate about 300 separate pre-production drawings involving backgrounds, set pieces and objects. Ranging from the wonderfully simple, to jaw-dropping. The great thing about this feature is not just the drawings on offer, but the way it's planned out, navigation is fool proof - Like the Fantasia Disc, every image is given its very own thumbnail, just like 'Scene Selection', and you can browse through them in that manner, clicking the picture you want to see fullscreen - but learning from the mistake of the Fantasia disc, we are given the best of both worlds, and are able to browse through the fullscreen images in the traditional manner, by clicking 'LEFT' and 'RIGHT'. You can click 'MENU' anytime, and will instantly be taken to the correct page.
The same navigation method is used thoughout for all the gallery features, and I must stress how much I love this navigation method. Normally I avoid galleries as I never know when they will finish, and it can become a very tedious chore, but these galleries are dealt with in such a manner, that it's a joy to be able to appreciate the artwork properly.
- "The Kindom Of The Sun" -- A gallery including 22 drawings of concept art that were done for an earlier version of the film. Looking at these images, you can see Disney were planning on an epic type of story, but wisely decided not to. I imagine as to avoid comparisons to the animations of Dreamworks, and to capture the audience of a new generation. A nice addition.
Story and Editorial
- The Story Process -- pre-production meetings of the film-makers discussing storylines etc.
- The Pitch -- Shows an animator pitching the credit sequence to a Disney exec. 3 stages, from him pointing to storyboards and making his own voices, up to a rough storyboard animation where the voices have been pre-recorded by actors.
- Putting It Up On Reels (4 mins) -- Demonstrates how animators do a very rough pre-edit story reel, to help test the timing of sequences.
- Deleted Scenes -- 3 deleted scenes. Including the original ending, and I bet you'd never guess who discouraged this ending. A very wise choice if you ask me.
Layouts and Backgrounds
- The Layout And Background Departments (4 mins)
- Inside Scene Planning (3 mins) -- Demonstates how computers are used for complex camera movements. Storyboard and Background split-screen comparisons, and a Workbook Gallery of 32 images from the "Poisoning" Scene.
- Layouts -- A gallery of the best artwork relating to Layouts.
- Backgrounds -- 150 glorious color key paintings of the whole film, including characters. This is Animation's version of a Shooting Script, called a Colour Script - and is well worth checking out. A seperate gallery is also available purely for the backgrounds. Pre-production art of this standard never ceases to amazes me.
This Segment is my personal favourite.
- The Animation Process (5 mins) -- We get the chance to meet the animators and actually see how they create the moving image, frame by frame. We also learn how the animation maintains the same look, even though there may be multiple animators for just one character. The animation effects, such as rain, smoke etc. are also demonstrated.
- CGI Props -- Not everything is hand drawn you know, but you wouldn't always guess that.
- Character Animation -- I really love this feature. Each major character is given their own section, which is broken into 2 parts. 'Animation Tests' + 'Character Design'. The tests are pencil sketch animations, played along to music, and are very interesting to watch. The next part, 'Character Design' are galleries showing various drawings depicting the metamorphosis of the chacters though the development process. Being an animation lover, this feature is a personal favourite for me. And what makes it even better is DVD's ability for Still Frame Advance!
- Production Process -- Using the Angle feature we are able to switch between the various layers of a scene. 1) Story Reel -- 2) Rough animation -- 3) Clean-Up -- 4) Final Scene. You are also given the option to watch each layer seperately. Marvellous.
- Clean-Up -- includes a storyboard comparison, and an extensive gallery demonstrating the fine touches and nuances added to characters and their movements.
You still with me? Nearly finished!
Music and Sound
- Creating The Music and Sound FX (4 mins)
- Sting: Making The Music Video -- This isn't a proper music video, more of a promotional interview with Sting.
- Mixing Demo -- In the same way as seeing the visual layers, here we can play with the components of sound -- voices, music & effects. It's presented in a neat way, it's as if you're at the mixing desk of a recording studio. Similar to the Orchestra feature in the Fantasia box set. Don't get excited - it's not as interactive as you think, more of a demonstration.
- Trailers & TV Spots
- Posters/Ad Campaign
As self explanatory as it gets! Mono, and Fullscreen.
... That's it! phew...
- 28 Chapters
- Double Keep case
- Leaflet Insert, including Chapter Titles, brief production notes and an overview of the DVD by the President of Disney Feature Animation. Also includes a flow chart for the Supplement Disc.
- Animated 16x9 menus. Fluid, very well planned out, and are guaranteed to bring a smile to your face.
I really must let you know how much I loved the intagible features of this DVD, the cover sleeve and spine look good enough to eat, the leaflet is a mini piece of art, and is as good as inserts come. The menus are fun, and are a joy to navigate. Quite simply this is one excellent DVD.
Disney have yet again made a really good Animated Feature film, that I'm sure will be loved by many, and by people of many ages, it has the visuals, it has the jokes, and it has one heck of a fun story. But no matter how good or bad you think the actual movie is, there is no denying that the DVD presentation is second to none. Disney have stuck to the same formula as their previous successes, namely the Fantasia and Toy Story box sets and the Dinosaur and Tarzan special editions, but have tweaked the formula to their advantage, becuase the end product is now near perfection.
R2 vs R1 - is it worth waiting? Obviously as there are no official details as yet, I'm just giving an educated guess, and going by past examples. The only differences between the R1 and R2 seem to be the dropping of DTS tracks, and the packaging isn't always as good. Apart from that, the extra features are exactly the same, plus the added benefit of PAL's higher resolution. But the transfer is already so good, that if you have multi-region player and DTS capabilities then I personally would go for the R1 -- also the packaging is so nice, that I doubt the R2 will match it.
This is yet another flagship addition to Disney's already impressive catalogue. It gets my complete recommendation.