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The Emperor’s New Groove was an extremely troubled production, with a fascinating road to the big screen. Beginning life as a traditionally animated Disney epic that would be titled Kingdom of the Sun, the story went through massive changes in story and tone, with a great deal of negative behind-the-scenes activity. I’m not saying that they should have any sort of documentary or behind-the-scenes footage chronicling the drama in the Disney offices, but this backstory led to the production of a significant amount of artwork and story that the public has never seen. A great deal of this artwork is on the original DVD release, but now it appears to be swept under the rug, lost to the Disney vaults.
Again, I understand their attempts to shy away from a relatively dark period in the Disney studios (one which led to the original director quitting the film mid-production), but it’s depressing to see such a bare-bones release. As expected, the film looks and sounds great. In a way, it feels as if the finished product was slightly ahead of it’s time, with a style of humor that relies on sight-gags, cutaways, and random non-sequiturs that would be right at home in an episode of Family Guy. It’s very funny material, with terrific voice acting and highly stylized animation that demands attention.
Unfortunately, everything that goes right with Emperor’s New Groove is undercut by the sheer blandness of the direct-to-video sequel, Kronk’s New Groove. Everything from the generic title to the humor-by-committee style of writing feels designed as nothing more than an attempt to capitalize on the limited popularity of the original film. The animation feels like a Saturday morning cartoon, and they manage to take Kronk, the funniest character from the first film, and make him relatively unbearable. In small doses, the character is hysterical, but centering an entire film around him proved a huge mistake. There is a reason this sequel went direct-to-video, and I have no desire to ever watch it again.
While I did love the original, the sequel just seemed to negate my enthusiasm for the entire universe of the film. With no extras for either film, this 3-Disc set contains the Blu-Ray with both films, and then separate DVD’s for the films individually. The DVD’s themselves aren’t even redone for this set, containing previews for films that are supposedly coming soon to a theater near me, but have been on DVD for years. Overall, this is a massive disappointment of a set, and if you are an animation fan, you owe it to yourself to track down the original DVD box set. Even on DVD, that is the version I will always watch when I want to revisit this very funny film.