Disney’s latest animated action/comedy revolves around an adolescent emperor named Kuzco. In fact, the world revolves around Kuzco. And he likes it that way. He’s impatient, selfish, intolerant and vain. Voiced by David Spade with all of the arrogant sarcasm one might expect from the actor/comedian (with rude remarks akin to his Saturday Night Live “Hollywood Minute” sketches and even a few buh-bye’s), Kuzco doesn’t have many friends. The closest person to him is his royal advisor, Yzma, whom he fires when she appears to be usurping power. Like any good Disney villainess, she refuses to accept the demotion graciously and plots to kill Kuzco. Her scheme to poison him falls short, however, and Kuzco is simply turned into a llama.
After being knocked out cold and tossed on the back of an ox cart, Kuzco wakes up in the very mountain village he intends to raze so that he can build Kuzcotopia, a recreational wonderland dedicated to himself. He must rely on the kindness of Pacha, the peasant he’d recently evicted, in order to navigate the dangerous mountainous jungles and get back home. They get off to a rocky start. During the journey, the pair slowly develop a trusting friendship and in the end manage to retake control from the power-hungry Yzma.
positive elements: Pacha is convinced that there’s good in everyone. He’s a devoted husband and father of two (with one on the way) who shows the transmogrified emperor undeserved kindness and forgiveness. By contrast, Kuzco’s selfishness is clearly inappropriate. Pacha warns him, “Someday you’re gonna wind up all alone and you’ll have no one to blame but yourself.” The film puts them in circumstances that demand trust and cooperation. There’s even a pivotal moment in which the royal llama must choose between rescuing Pacha or the potion that will return him to human form (he chooses wisely). There’s also a scene that will bring to mind Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son as a dejected Kuzco reaps the consequences of his antisocial behavior and is shown eating grass alongside the other llamas. Yzma’s “henchman,” Kronk, is really just a dim bulb with a good heart, and questions his loyalties deep into the film. Also, kudos to the writers who not only made Pacha’s family a functional, two-parent environment, but also allude to a multigenerational bond and empower his wife and kids within the story.
spiritual content: An opening musical number describes the spoiled Kuzco as “alpha and omega” (which sort of treads on holy ground since that term is reserved in the book of Revelation for the Godhead). When faced with moral dilemmas, Kronk is visited with an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. At one point the angel says, “From above the wicked shall receive their just reward” (it turns out that Yzma is standing beneath a chandelier which promptly falls).
sexual content: None, though it is suggested that every decade or so, Yzma trades in one young hunk for another to serve as her personal assistant. Kuzco has a pretty lineup of prospective wives paraded before him.
violent content: Frequent, but it is cartoonish and not offensive. Lots of long falls. Kuzco is knocked cold with a platter. A man is tossed from a high window, but is shown shortly thereafter unscathed. Very young children may be a bit frightened when a spider devours a hapless fly (doing its best David Hedison impression).
crude or profane language: None.
drug and alcohol content: None.
other negative elements: One hopes that children will recognize Kuzco’s rudeness and heartlessness for what it is and not choose to imitate it (the film clearly treats it as undesirable). Dark potions are used to transform Kuzco from one type of animal to another, but spells and chants are not part of the equation.
conclusion: This movie promises to be a lot of fun for school-aged children and adults. Shrewd casting and some inspired humor (with Aladdin-esque cultural references) make it an above-average morality tale. The message is clear: Treat others with kindness and respect, and don’t think too highly of yourself. Top it all off with a warm family relationship and families can feel comfortable with The Emperor’s New Groove.