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The Emperor's New Groove & Kronk's New Groove: 2 Movie Collection Blu-ray + DVD Review

The Emperor's New Groove (2000) movie poster The Emperor's New Groove

Theatrical Release: December 15, 2000 / Running Time: 78 Minutes / Rating: G

Director: Mark Dindal / Writers: Chris Williams, Mark Dindal (story); David Reynolds (screenplay); Stephen Anderson, Don Hall, John Norton (additional story material); Roger Allers, Matthew Jacobs (original story)

Voice Cast: David Spade (Emperor Kuzco), John Goodman (Pacha), Eartha Kitt (Yzma), Patrick Warburton (Kronk), Wendie Malick (Chicha), Eli Russell Lintez (Tipo), Kellyann Kelso (Chaca), Bob Bergen (Bucky the Squirrel), Tom Jones (Theme Song Guy), Patti Deutsch (Waitress), John Fiedler (Old Man), Joe Whyte (Official)

Songs: "Perfect World", "Perfect World Reprise", "My Funny Friend and Me"
Kronk's New Groove (2005) original DVD cover art Kronk's New Groove

Video Premiere: December 13, 2005 / Running Time: 75 Minutes / Rating: G

Directors: Elliot M. Bour, Saul Andrew Blinkoff / Writers: Tom Rogers (story & screenplay); Tony Leondis, Michael LaBash (story)

Voice Cast: Patrick Warburton (Kronk), Tracey Ullman (Ms. Birdwell), Eartha Kitt (Yzma), David Spade (Kuzco), John Goodman (Pacha), Wendie Malick (Chicha), John Mahoney (Papi), John Fiedler (Rudy), Jeff Bennett (Skinny Old Man, Stout Old Man, Gollum-Rudy), Bob Bergen (Bucky the Squirrel), Patti Deutsch (Watiress), Jessie Flower (Chaca), Eli Russell Lintez (Tipo), April Winchell (Hildy, Marge, Tina)

Songs: "Be True To Your Groove", "Let's Groove", "Feel Like a Million", "Camp Chippamunka"

Buy The Emperor's New Groove & Kronk's New Groove: 2 Movie Collection Blu-ray + DVD at Amazon.com

Past Releases:
Emperor's: New Groove Edition DVD 2-Disc Ultimate Groove DVD Original Standard DVD Instant Video / Kronk's: DVD Instant Video

After completing the most successful and productive decade in their long, storied history, Walt Disney Animation Studios began the 2000s with three different releases spread out over the course of a year.
Fantasia 2000 opened on New Year's Day in a limited IMAX engagement, which is where it did most of its business despite getting a more traditional theatrical run the following summer. By then, Dinosaur, which blended CGI with live-action backdrops, had opened big but not as big as it needed to. The product of The Secret Lab, a graphics and effects unit Disney closed soon after, the costly, ambitious one-off production was retroactively added to the studio's official canon a few years ago.

Then, December 2000 brought what might have been a more conventional animated film in the tradition of Hercules, Mulan, Tarzan, etc. While it was conceived that way, The Emperor's New Groove ended up being a bold and distinctive departure from Disney's feature animation formula. That formula of Broadway-style musical comedy adventure had paid off handsomely on sensations like Aladdin and The Lion King, but was starting to yield more earthly returns.

Peasant Pacha and Emperor-turned-llama Kuzco work together to avoid a huge drop into a river full of crocodiles in "The Emperor's New Groove."

Nonetheless, Emperor's began in that mold as Kingdom of the Sun, an epic romantic comedy musical with Lion King's Roger Allers directing a story resembling Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper and Sting functioning as an Elton John-type musical voice. When development meetings and test screenings showed it wasn't working out, the film changed directions. The pauper role intended for Owen Wilson was recast with John Goodman. Mark Dindal, director of Warner's Cats Don't Dance, assumed the helm. And the story moved away from Twain to an original tale, dropping the music and romance for Disney's easily most comedic animated film since Aladdin.

In the age of the Incan Empire, spoiled young emperor Kuzco (voiced by David Spade) has grown very accustomed to getting exactly what he wants. Presently, he wants to build Kuzcotopia, a summer home, on the scenic hilltop where simple peasant Pacha (Goodman) and his family currently live. Meanwhile, Kuzco fires aging advisor Yzma (Eartha Kitt), embittering her so that she has her brawny, dim-witted henchman Kronk (Patrick Warburton) fatally poison him. That's the plan, anyway. In fact, Kronk serves him extract of llama and it turns Kuzco into a llama, who still speaks English and retains his personality.

Pacha winds up with the llama and offers his help, while still encouraging Kuzco to reconsider displacing Pacha, his pregnant wife, and their two young kids. When Yzma learns that Kuzco is still alive, she and Kronk try to track him down and finish the job. They supply just one additional layer of peril, adding to jaguars, cliffs, waterfalls, and crocodiles.

Kronk and Yzma's poisoning of Kuzco does not go as planned.

There is clear evidence that The Emperor's New Groove has been reworked. It briefly starts in the middle, then returns to the beginning, always proceeding with voiceover narration (some of it wall-breaking) by Spade as Kuzco.
Ordinarily, you can't completely save a troubled film with editing and other post-production tricks. That's the case with live-action, so you can imagine the challenges of reshaping an animated film, whose medium demands considerable time, effort, and money. Somehow, though, this film pulled off that miraculous feat and stands as Disney's most enjoyable animated film of the early 2000s.

On paper, it sounds routine: a buddy comedy with a transformation, a journey, and just four principal characters. But it really, really works. For one thing, it's genuinely funny, perhaps even more so for adults than the young viewers the G rating attracts. The film has a Looney Tunes pace and sensibility to it, though they are attached to a worthwhile, investable story as most Disney animated films are. Entertainment is always the film's top priority, but there's artistry to the cartoony visuals and substance to the plot and arcs. The lead characters are driven by their voice actors' personalities and physicalities, which is unusual for a Disney film. The presentation has a contemporary feel and relies on modern vernacular (there are two exclamations of "Booyah", for instance). That should already begin dating this, but it hasn't. Perhaps there are enough timeless elements and features of the ancient setting to protect this from aging. In reality, there is little to tie this film to 2000; it doesn't closely resemble the studio's animated films that came before or the less confident ones that followed. It was around this time that John Goodman and Patrick Warburton were starting to do a lot of Disney voiceover work. But thirteen years later, they're still very much in demand by animation and famous enough to snag lead roles in it.

Those who only want fairy tale magic from Disney may not be so thoroughly charmed by this comic, irreverent adventure. Others may be turned off by the large personalities and sly, postmodern vibe that sees everything unfold with a nod and a wink. Nonetheless, this short, sweet reworking of a doomed production embodies the same characteristics of Disney's greatest films. It is a fun and colorful ride that succeeds far better than its facts should make possible.

As for Sting, his contributions to the film were reduced to two original songs, an opening Tom Jones number and the end credits song that is distant in tone but quite agreeable and the subject of the film's only Grammy, Golden Globe, and Academy Award nominations.

Although it failed to recoup its substantial $100 million production budget in theaters, The Emperor's New Groove's $89.3 million domestic gross seemed respectable then and even more so in the years of disappointing returns that followed. In the thirteen years since, only Lilo & Stitch, The Simpsons Movie, and The Princess and the Frog have earned more domestically among traditional 2D animation.

Watch a clip from The Emperor's New Groove:


Appropriately enough, the unconventional Emperor's begot an unconventional direct-to-video sequel in 2005's Kronk's New Groove. As the title suggests, a supporting character (and ostensible villain) has been promoted to hero. That's not a clear recipe for success (see Cars 2), but lovable lug Kronk lends to the premise quite well.

Following the original film's structure somewhat, it opens in the middle with Kronk narrating a shot of his dejected self (covered in cheese, not drenched by rain). He explains how he came to be down in the dumps with three distinct episodes. When that design has been used in the past, it has been in Disney taking shorts intended to be episodes of a TV series and patching them into a faux feature film. While "The Emperor's New School" would debut just a month after this film, that isn't what is done here.

In a diminished role, Kuzco gives Kronk the spotlight while holding something resembling the actual cover art for "Kronk's New Groove." Kronk's shoulder angel and devil are back to help him distinguish good from evil.

The first story finds Kronk reconnecting with Yzma, who has returned to her human form (save for a cat tail). She gets a lot of attention from the senior demographic with her youth potion, which Kronk sells for her. It's not legit, naturally, causing the old folks to become broke but learn something in the process.

The second outing finds Kronk working at Camp Chippamunka, where his young lot of campers is determined to win a competition. Rival troop leader Ms. Birdwell (Tracy Ullman) is too, but she emerges as a love interest to Kronk, though one he loses in taking the blame for one of his camper's prank.

Finally, Kronk's old man Papi (John Mahoney) visits. Throughout his life, Kronk has hungered for his father's sign of approval, a thumb up, and never gotten it. In an effort to earn it and make Papi proud, he has Pacha's family pose as his. Of course, the plan backfires, but not without everybody becoming the wiser.

In "Kronk's New Groove", Kronk and Ms. Birdwell groove tonight to the sound of Earth, Wind & Fire.

Kronk's New Groove features TV cartoon quality writing and visuals, which were then on the rise near the end of the DisneyToon Studios' DTV sequel boom. While Emperor's is supremely entertaining, it was only five years old when this sequel came, so there's no real danger of sacrilege. Kronk's isn't as good as I remember it being, but its light, breezy tone and appealing lead cushion the blows of its somewhat crude storytelling. This production at least deserves credit for neither recreating its predecessor beat by beat nor opting for something predictable like a simple plot reversal or making characters young.

It helps, of course, that the original film's voice actors reprise their roles, no matter how limited. Kuzco does little more than the occasional interruption, but Spade is back for it. Even John Fiedler (most recognizable as the voice of Piglet) returns to voice an old citizen who gets the name Rudy. Warburton can make anything entertaining, even if he's simply asked to recreate the many endearing sides of Kronk shown in the first film, from speaking squirrel to having his shoulder angel and devil weigh in on major decisions.

On Tuesday, Emperor's and Kronk's make their Blu-ray debuts together in a 2 Movie Collection consisting of one Blu-ray and two DVDs. If you think you know exactly what to expect from the rest of this review, read on and you may be surprised.

The Emperor's New Groove & Kronk's New Groove: 3-Disc Special Edition 2 Movie Collection Blu-ray + DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

1.66:1 & 1.78:1 Widescreen (DVDs Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Surround 2.0 (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish, Russian); DVDs: DTS 5.1 (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French); Kronk's: Dolby Digital 5.1 (Spanish)
BD Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, English, French, Spanish, Russian
DVD Subtitles: English SDH; DVD Films Closed Captioned
Release Date: June 11, 2013 / Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Three single-sided, dual-layered discs (1 BD-50 & 2 DVD-9s)
Blue Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Emperor's still available as New Groove Edition DVD (October 18, 2005) and Amazon Instant Video; Previously released as standard DVD and 2-Disc Ultimate Groove Collector's Edition DVD (May 1, 2001)
Kronk's still available on DVD (December 13, 2005) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Unsurprisingly, each film gets a practically flawless 1080p presentation. Though easily overlooked, the original film (whose 1.66:1 CAPS aspect ratio upheld) offers picturesque scenery, which its sharp, spotless, vibrant transfer nicely shows off. The 1.78:1 sequel has the less elaborate, more sterile appearance of a noughties DisneyToon Studios effort, but it too gains detail and clarity in the leap to high definition.

In an attempt to at least win his Papi's thumb up, Kronk passes Pacha's family off as his own in the finale of "Kronk's New Groove."

Furthermore, both movies show off environment-appropriate dialogue, directionality, and suitably enveloping sound in their default 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtracks, while also being treated to Dolby Surround 2.0 English mixes and French, Spanish, and Russian dubs in Dolby Digital 5.1.

BONUS FEATURES

In addition to being a "2 Movie Collection", this set is branded a "3-Disc Special Edition",
though you're about to find out it isn't that special at all.

The usual trajectory of a Disney animated film is that it starts small and gains additional bonus features over time. This is just another way that The Emperor's New Groove has bucked tradition. In May 2001, it made its DVD debut simultaneously in a single-disc edition and "The Ultimate Groove", a pricey 2-Disc Collector's Edition. In the fall of 2005, with its sequel approaching, Disney deemed it worthy of a reissue, though it would be one of the studio's least attractive reissues to date. Dubiously dubbed "The New Groove Edition", the single-disc release updated trailers but lost a lot of material from the Collector's Edition.

Bizarrely, that isn't the end of Emperor's downgrades. This Blu-ray elevates the loss of DVD bonus features to an art form as it sheds every one of the film's bonus features from all three of its DVD editions. That's right, there isn't a single item you'd consider a bonus feature for either film. Disney fans and yours truly have taken the studio to task when they drop or exclude valuable bonus features for no apparent reason. But not since their original Limited Issue experiment first venturing into DVD have they done something so drastic as to release a barebones platter of a popular, marketable film. You can make the argument that this isn't barebones; it includes the original movie and a sequel. But not every customer is crazy about that practice and you'd be hard-pressed to find a single one celebrating the complete omission of extras, especially on a platter with room to supplement its two short movies. (At least the Blu-ray approaches dual-layered capacity.)

It seems safe to assume that Disney isn't going to pull this on one of their crown jewels, like the best-selling titles that comprise their Diamond Edition line. It also doesn't seem to be an across-the-board measure, as the concurrent Atlantis: The Lost Empire 2 Movie Collection, which I unfortunately and absurdly am not getting for review, apparently includes some extras. But it does set a troubling precedent for other films they haven't yet released to Blu-ray, like Tarzan, Hercules, and, Aladdin.

The Blu-ray opens with trailers for The Little Mermaid: Diamond Edition, Monsters University, Super Buddies, and Iron Man & Hulk: Heroes United. The Sneak Peeks listing plays promos for Disney Movie Rewards, Disney Infinity, Radio Disney, and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh before repeating the others.

Joined by a different-looking Kuzco, Pacha finds his village destroyed in this fully-animated deleted scene. Sting works on "My Funny Friend and Me", his Oscar-nominated end credits song. Rascal Flatts, onscreen lyrics, and a demonstrator help you learn to "Walk the Llama Llama."

At least the DVDs included here are straightforward recyclings of the most recent ones of each film (released in late 2005), a fact that equips this set with a number of unadvertised bonus features.

The original film's DVD extras begin with three deleted scenes, introduced by producer Randy Fullmer and director Mark Dindal. The fully-animated "Destruction of Pacha's Village" (2:16) shows us a sequence from a clearly darker early version of the film. Edited from storyboards, "Pacha's Family" (7:03) introduces such wacky characters as a thick-headed Grandpa and a stoner dude neighbor, while "Original Kuzcotopia Ending" (3:26) was cut over Sting's objections of social irresponsibility.

Under Music & More, we get the music video for Sting's Oscar-nominated end credits theme "My Funny Friend and Me" (2:54), which fits making-of material into lulls of the song. We also get "Learn to 'Walk the Llama Llama'", a dance-instructional music video for a corny Rascal Flatts song (1:32) not actually in the film.

In "The Emperor's Got Game", you try to get Kuzco back to the Emperor's Palace before Yzma. A real llama is observed as part of the animators' research trip. John Goodman talks Pacha in "The Character Voices."

The set-top game "The Emperor's Got Game" has you try to get llama Kuzco back to the palace to be turned human again. Warburton and Kitt narrate this two-level adventure, which asks you to answer five trivia questions about the film and then figure out the right order to mix three potions. It's short but fun enough.

Under Backstage Disney, a Behind the Scenes section holds three short videos. "The Research Trip" (1:26) documents the animators' visit to Machu Picchu, Peru for inspiration. "The Character Voices" (5:12) pays notice to the film's four famous lead actors with comments and recording clips. "Creating Computer-Generated Images" (2:21), a.k.a. "CGI Props", shows us how the film seamlessly incorporated three-dimensional elements into the 2D visuals.

Finally, an audio commentary assembles producer Randy Fullmer, director Mark Dindal, art director Colin Stimpson, character designer Joseph C. Moshier, head of story Stephen Anderson, and supervising animators Nik Ranieri (Kuzco) and Bruce W. Smith (Pacha). A compelling discussion, it sheds some light on the whole Kingdom of the Sun phase and shares amusing production anecdotes, and various little revealing tidbits (like the briefly-seen llama cactus and Disney's first on-screen pregnancy), all of which is bound to enhance anyone's appreciation for the film.

Sneak peeks include a Lady and the Tramp Platinum Edition DVD ad, a Disney's Movie Surfers promo for The Wild and The Shaggy Dog, and trailers for Kronk's New Groove, Tarzan: 2-Disc (really 1 disc) Special Edition, Toy Story 2 Special Edition, and Valiant.

"Kronk's Brain Game" gives you Kronk's view of the world. In "Pyramid Scheme", you've got to answer enough questions correctly to get at least 7 coins. Directors Elliot Bour and Saul Blinkoff teach Patrick Warburton "How to Cook a Movie."

On DVD, Kronk's New Groove is joined by two games and a featurette.

"Kronk's Brain Game" lets you see through the eyes of the movie's star (voiced by Warburton) as he must achieve a number of tasks in preparation for Papi's arrival. You select one of five icons you think will be most useful to him (and you). It seems like the right one is always in the same place and the banter and humor are never too exciting.

"Pyramid Scheme" is a three-round trivia challenge in which you must choose from questions worth 1-5 points to add up to 7 in three tries or less. Zeros get added in each round (so that in Round 2, you're choosing from 10-50), but the basic idea and process is the same. The questions deal with both the movie (obviously) and less obviously, Incan culture. The latter may lead some to merely guess, and may require a couple of tries to win. The game is hosted by J.P. Manoux as Kuzco, the role he held on "Emperor's New School."

The featurette, "How to Cook a Movie" (7:55), is hosted by Warburton and directors Saul Blinkoff and Elliot M. Bour,

who in a kitchen set talk us through an animated movie's creation in culinary terms, aided by behind-the-scenes clips and more crew comments.

Sneak peeks on the FastPlay-enhanced Kronk's include Lady, the Movie Surfers spot, Bambi II, Leroy & Stitch, The Fox and the Hound 2, Valiant, Pooh's Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin, and "The Emperor's New School."

WHAT'S MISSING?

If all you've known is Emperor's New Groove Edition, then nothing is missing because that single-disc DVD is recycled absolutely. But the modest platter is merely the tip of the supplemental iceberg when compared to the 2-disc Ultimate Groove Collector's Edition.

Missing from the original standard disc/Disc 1 of the two-disc set are DVD-ROM extras, which in a rare twist, offered more than weblinks and printable junk. While the official website link now merely redirects you to Disney's boring DVD information page, you also got demos of two Emperor's New Groove software titles, the Action Game and the Groove Center, both of which provide greater and longer fun than the set-top game that was ported over.

Disc 2 of the Collector's Edition took you on an all-access tour of Disney's animation studio, hosted by producer Fullmer and director Dindal with a witty and irreverent style seemingly inspired by both their movie and Pixar's bonus DVDs. There were lots of great supplements to be found on that set, including featurettes on various stages of animation and production, split-screen comparisons, a sound mixing demo, trailers, TV ads, and publicity and concept art galleries.

As the one and only Kronk's New Groove DVD is reproduced here (minus label art), it doesn't lose any of its three extras.

First used in 2001, "The Emperor's New Groove"'s DVD main menu still finds Kuzco dancing among cool variations on standard menu listings. The "Kronk's New Groove" DVD main menu includes unmarked listings which when selected trigger brief animated gags.

MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray gives each movie its own scored, static menu screen. As always, Disney doesn't let you set bookmarks or instantly resume playback. The 8-year-old DVDs, meanwhile, show more imagination, utilizing animation, slang, and even Easter egg gags.

Topped by an embossed slipcover, the blue keepcase holds a Disney Movie Rewards code and a Disney Movie Club ad alongside the plain blue Blu-ray and gray DVDs.

Kuzco and Pacha have a 50% chance of picking the right potion to restore Kuzco's humanity.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The Emperor's New Groove is one of Disney's most enjoyable animated films of modern times. Kronk's New Groove is among the more tolerable of the studio's direct-to-video sequels. Each film is presented on Blu-ray with outstanding picture and sound. That should make this a no-brainer recommendation for animation fans, Disney collectors, and plain old movie buffs. Alas, the staggering void of bonus features is sure to give some prospective buyers pause.

Did Disney think people savvy enough to buy Emperor's New Groove on Blu-ray wouldn't notice or care that the format that usually boasts more bonus features gives this esteemed film nothing more than its sequel? It was probably unrealistic to hope that this release might finally unearth The Sweatbox, Sting's wife's tell-all documentary on the dramatic production, which Disney has kept invisible to the general public. Or to expect getting an "Emperor's New School" episode. But to not put the long out-of-print Collector's Edition extras back in circulation and not even retain the basic old DVD features is a worst case scenario few could have imagined.

It's true this will set you back a few dollars less than the studio's other recent 2 Movie combo packs and that the old extras weren't going to be upgraded to high definition for better picture or sound. The recycled DVDs also do somewhat excuse the studio's shockingly minimal effort. Still, this set is far from bargain bin pricing and is less satisfying a release than a film as good as Emperor's deserves.

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Past Releases:
Emperor's: New Groove DVD 2-Disc Ultimate Groove DVD Standard DVD Instant Video
Kronk's New Groove: DVD Instant Video

Related Reviews:
New: Lilo & Stitch (2 Movie Collection) Escape from Planet Earth Howl's Moving Castle Shanghai Noon & Shanghai Knights Identity Thief
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The Fox and the Hound The Lion King Pocahontas The Hunchback of Notre Dame Mulan
Written and Directed by Mark Dindal: Chicken Little | Written by Chris Williams: Bolt Prep & Landing

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Reviewed June 8, 2013.



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