September 3, 2012

Disney Canon #40: The Emperor’s New Groove (2000)


ADAM I was gonna say it was like a “Looney Tunes,” but it’s actually like a “Tiny Toons.”

BETH It was strikingly unambitious in terms of what it wanted to be, but it was completely successful. I think of Disney movies as all trying to be greater than what this was. It was really silly, and the time went so much more quickly than it had for maybe the past ten. It was really entertaining the entire time.

ADAM As a kid, I would have been in stitches at the “Wait a minute, what you just said doesn’t make sense!” jokes. “Wait a minute, I’m going to spell out a convention here!”

BROOM I am in stitches.

BETH You were smiling the entire movie! Every time I looked at you you had a big smile on your face.

BROOM It makes me smile! And I liked it so much I would even take issue with the idea that this is unambitious. I think it’s ambitious in a totally different direction.

BETH But it will never be a classic. It can’t be a classic, because… it reminded me of watching a cartoon episode of Friends. The types of jokes are the types of jokes that — most of them are not the way people joke now. It was very of its time. And I think if September 11th hadn’t happened, this could have turned into something else. I think that this type of joking ended with September 11th.

ADAM The “Wait a minute, buster!”

BETH The sort of David Spade quality of everything, that the late nineties had. It just ended. There’s something else that took its place.

BROOM I feel like this movie is actually a really interesting landmark on the path of comedy; I don’t think it’s the end of a path, I think it’s transitional. You see David Spade being used as David Spade: “uh-bye-bye,” “no touchee,” and all of that, but there’s also stuff in there that I think is if anything ahead of its time, or at least very astute of them.

BETH There’s some stuff that is still in the landscape of comedy now, but…

BROOM I think there’s a goofball thing here that’s not a Friends thing and not a David Spade thing. I remember when I first saw this, the “I’ll turn him into a flea and then I’ll put that flea in a box and then I’ll put that box in another box and then I’ll mail it to myself…” bit —

BETH That was my favorite joke in the movie.

BROOM It was my favorite joke in the movie too. But watching it now, I feel like that joke looks forward to what the next ten years’ sense of comedy was going to be. And that some of the more Monty Python-style stuff — like where he sticks his head into frame and says “This is about me. Not him.” — the spelling it out, like you’re saying Adam, the meta- “we’re going to joke about the joke,” “Why do we even have that lever?” I think is a later kind of irony. In the nineties, they wouldn’t ordinarily have made the “why do we even have that lever” joke. Whereas now, ten years after this, it feels like, “yeah, we’ve really had that out by now.” I think this was at the point where David Spade and that were both happening. I don’t have a clear sense of how to define that, but I do think there’s another element in this movie.

ADAM When we were in college we had a fake TV show premise called “It’s the Nineties, Mom!”

BETH I’ve heard about “It’s the Nineties, Mom!”

ADAM Actually the humor and the style remind me eerily of “Monkey Island.”

BROOM This is funnier than “Monkey Island.”

ADAM “Monkey Island” has funny bits. Like the waitress in the movie, at the Bob’s Big Boy restaurant. “Oh, we get that all the time, hon.” That’s like a “Monkey Island” joke.

BROOM “Bless you for coming out in public” I thought was pretty funny.

ADAM And the Bob’s Big Boy sign as rendered in, like, South American glyphs was like a “Monkey Island” joke, I thought.

BROOM I think that this needs to be seen as a significant accomplishment, if only because everything that it tries to be is something that so many movies have tried, and continue to try to be, and they rarely get even close to working. It’s usually incredibly tedious. When you asked if you were going to like it, Beth, and I said, “maybe, but I don’t want to get your hopes up,” I really thought that maybe, watching it now — I haven’t seen it in eight years or so — I would feel like it’s just grating, I’ve been Shrekked out and I can’t go back here, it’s not funny. But there’s something real fluid and natural and joyful about this movie that I am very impressed by. It’s exactly what Disney usually sucks at! There’s rarely a joke that I don’t cringe at in other Disney movies.

BETH Yeah, it’s edgier than almost any Disney product ever.

BROOM Because Hercules, it just wanted to be this. What else did it want to be but this, a movie that we thought was charming and silly the whole way through? But Hercules for us was like, “okay, we’re really trying to work with you, please please just don’t be too embarrassing.” This was never embarrassing to me.

ADAM Well…

BROOM Yeah, go ahead, tell us what was embarrassing to you.

ADAM This was the first time in a Disney movie where they had, like, a “no homo” joke. And they had multiple ones.

BROOM How do you feel about that?

ADAM Well, I don’t know. It’s sort of like fart jokes. I’m used to it, certainly.

BROOM You take fart jokes just as personally? Because I know I do. That’s why I don’t go to Chick-Fil-A.

ADAM It was basically the same joke as in Planes, Trains and Automobiles. You know, the “those aren’t pillows” joke. I mean, I don’t know — you didn’t wince at all at the hyper-knowingness? You don’t think that’s, like, a blind alley? You don’t feel like there was no… well, I was going to say there’s no emotional sentiment here, but I guess the kids and the mom were supposed to seem genuinely warm in a kooky way.

BROOM I think they had taken some care to make it clear that joking is a warm family thing in that setting. The joking is going to continue, but here it’s going to signify that this is a happy home. It seemed not meaningless, to me.

ADAM I liked that Yzma wore that cloche hat and that flapper-skeleton outfit.

BETH She was a good villain.

BROOM She was great.

ADAM It would have been lacking without her. Kronk is also a pretty funny character, for being the stupid sidekick.

BETH I liked that he was a foodie. Ten years ahead of his time.

BROOM That, again, is I think a joke that was… to come. The absurd specificity of the spinach puffs. And that he can talk to squirrels.

ADAM Didn’t you think it was ugly to look at?

BETH Yeah, but it didn’t bother me that much.

BROOM I didn’t, I thought it was pretty to look at. What didn’t you like?

BETH I thought some of the backgrounds were nice.

BROOM I thought the designs were all good.

BETH It felt Saturday-morning-esque, a little bit.

ADAM Yeah, it felt Hanna Barbera.

BROOM To me, the fluidity and the style of the animation was really top-notch.

BETH It’s true, the animation is good, but I feel like the character design had a sort of lumpier look.

ADAM It just didn’t look like anything Disney.

BETH It felt the least Disney of all of them. But that was a fine thing!

ADAM Well, they disagree with you, because they’re never doing this again.

BROOM They made an Emperor’s New Groove 2: Kronk’s New Groove, or whatever.

BETH What was the reception to this?

BROOM I think it was well-received because I think that was why I sought it out to watch it. I didn’t see it in the theater, I saw it on video. And for some reason I think I watched it, like, five times in one month in college. It seemed very familiar now, even though I haven’t seen it in many years. I just think it’s well designed and well executed.

BETH It’s a good script all-around. It’s really tight.

BROOM It’s just so rare that in these things the jokes are funny. I’m willing to say that this is a very special thing, because I can’t think of another cartoon I feel that way about.

BETH I had two or three full laughs.

BROOM And it’s funny in an animation-y way, which usually runs the risk of being, like, just animation nerds getting off on their little moments. But those moments were made to land, when they were the point. Like at the end when she’s a kitten and she’s being evil, and the person animating that kitten clearly enjoyed it, it actually gets a laugh because it’s actually fun to watch!

BETH It was self-aware in that nineties way, but… there’s nothing wrong with that.

BROOM It makes me happy to see that this has actually aged well. I don’t think you need to go into retro mode to understand this.


BROOM I don’t think it’s necessarily going to make it another ten years.

BETH Yeah, I think that soon it will feel dated, and we just happen to be —

BROOM But, you know, old fast-talk movies, The Philadelphia Story or whatever, they’re “dated,” and yet they explain to you how the comedy works by being so confident about how the comedy works. I could imagine this being a movie that becomes more and more, like, “they sure don’t make ’em like this anymore!” but while you’re watching it, it works. The Marx Brothers is both dated and not dated at all. For them to be going down a river and he says “We’re about to go over a big waterfall, aren’t we? Bring it on.” — I don’t think that’ll ever seem less relevant, because a scene where people go over a big waterfall is perennial. It’ll always be there. It’s not like we can snark our way out of the reference point even existing for future generations.

ADAM I don’t know. He has a sort of bro-y snarkiness that is very of its time. I hope.

BROOM But the whole point of the movie is that this is a terrible way to be. The moral of the movie is, “Do not be David Spade.”

BETH It is anti-David Spade.

BROOM Which is why it’s so bearable.

ADAM John Goodman was a little earnest for me. It was hard to take watching him save the llama so many times.

BETH I was fine with that.

BROOM They’re trying to balance these elements, like, David Spade has to be totally unlikable, but we have to like him, and, you know, the movie has to be a total joke, but it has to have a serious thing in it.

BETH Isn’t that David Spade’s thing? You hate him but you think it’s cute?

BROOM But on SNL when he would do the same thing, you know, “uh… Dan Rather… you’re an asshole… anal rape…” I would find it unwatchable because I didn’t sympathize with his perspective, and the context was not “this is an asshole talking.” But here it was introduced as “this is what a horrible person sounds like.” We can laugh at that. His attitude was the subject, not the point of sympathy. So I was going to say, it’s one of these balancing acts that people never pull off — and yes, maybe there was one too many rescues or one too many betrayals — but they basically pull it off!

BETH Yeah.

[we read the New York Times review]

ADAM That came down a little heavier on the mindlessness than you are. But I liked it. Will you remember any of those jokes three days from now?

BETH I’ll remember the atmosphere.

BROOM I remember quite a bit of it.

BETH Because you watched it five times.

BROOM It’s just very inviting, to me. I find it delightful.

ADAM The joke of having characters in a non-Jewish setting playing Jews is also a very “Tiny Toons” joke.

BROOM You’ll have to tell me when that happened.

ADAM The waitress!

BROOM Saying “mazel tov”?

ADAM Yeah, and being like an old Jew. That would have struck me as hysterically funny, when I was ten.

BETH And that’s how “Tiny Toons” was?

ADAM It was exactly like this. They were like cute bunny rabbits, and they would always lapse into vaudeville jokes. Or sort of Billy Crystal stuff. I just thought that was super-funny when I was a kid. I’m sure if I had seen this when I was ten, I would have been transported.

BROOM There’s so much more to it than that! When it pulls back and back dramatically and then pulls back further to a bug on a branch, that’s my thing.

ADAM Yes, knowingness was really funny to me when I was a kid!

BROOM It can still be funny.

ADAM I’m just saying, it was particularly funny to me when I was ten. That’s all I got.

BETH I’m debating giving it four stars on Netflix, which is a big deal for me.

BROOM Congratulations.

BETH Thanks. When most things get twos, Disney-wise…

BROOM Yeah, I think this may be their best film of the past fifteen years. That’s how I feel.

ADAM Tangled is pretty good.

BROOM All right. I look forward to the ones I haven’t seen. Coming up next, however: Atlantis: The Lost Empire.

BETH It looks great to me from the preview.

BROOM Atlantis starts out and you feel like it might be comic book fun, but then it has to take its own story seriously, and you think, “this story doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously. I no longer care about this.”

BETH Well, that’s the problem with most Disney, and that’s why this one succeeded. It did not take itself seriously.

BROOM Exactly.

BETH The end.

ADAM The end.

[we turn off the recording but then:]

ADAM We just noticed from looking at the Wikipedia entry that there is no love story in this movie. And that is very satisfying because it avoids a lot of stupid treacliness. Also no songs.

BETH I was going to say, the lack of songs was great.

BROOM There was the opening and closing number. Which is lively and pleasant. But it doesn’t happen during the story.

BETH It’s not a musical.

BROOM Right.

[we turn it off again but then:]

BROOM Say it again.

BETH This was a precursor to the “bro-mance,” about ten years ahead of its time.

BROOM Uh-huh. Except it was called the “buddy movie” prior to being called the “bro-mance.”

BETH But it felt like a “bro-mance” because it had the homophobic rescue kiss scene.

BROOM That’s true.

BETH The end again.

[this time it really is]



  1. So glad you got to this one! This is one of my favorite Disney Movies (if not my very favorite.) I have seen in many many times, and still love it. (So glad to find out you all mostly agree with me!)

    A few things:
    – “Why do we even have that lever?” is one of my favorite lines.
    As is “a LLAMA? he’s supposed to be dead!” (I just like the bizarre-ness of that line.)

    I have to admit, I never understood the line “Bless you for coming out in public.” I never got if she meant “coming out” as in being gay? Or “being outside” because they’re so weird/ugly? Or what? What makes that line funny?

    One tiny thing that bothers me every time I watch it: When Kuzko and John Goodman are trapped in the ravine and have to walk up against the wall, back to back, to get out, there’s a quick joke about “right foot first” — “whose right? My right?” “Fine, YOUR right” or whatever — The foot they DECIDE to start on… is not the foot they actually end up starting with (animation-wise.) GRRR.

    Posted by Em on |

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