Like the Royal Shakespeare Company doing sketch comedy at a cast party, a classy troupe trained in traditional Disney animation aesthetics ditches the regulation Disney animated-musical formula in The Emperor’s New Groove. And — freed from the rules of the Alan Mencken Conservatory of Music — everyone has a great time.
Although originally conceived as an epic drama with traditional Big Old Disney Songs, only two (both written by Sting in collaboration with David Hartley) make it into this hip, funny, mostly nonmusical, decidedly non-epic family picture, which turns out to be less of a hero’s journey than a meeting of sitcom minds. David Spade voices the smug, insufferably self-centered Kuzco, yuppie-emperor of a mythical, Inca-lite pre-Columbian kingdom, who is inconveniently turned into a llama by his power- hungry advisor, Yzma (Eartha Kitt). (Most men — except her big-muscled, small-brained boy toy, nailed by Seinfeld’s deadpan Patrick Warburton — agree Yzma is ”scary beyond all reason.”) John Goodman’s personality enlarges the decent peasant Pacha, who is unfazed by Kuzco’s llamahood. Kids will like this simple story (directed by Disney veteran Mark Dindal). But adults will appreciate the colorful embroidery, including an always welcome Riverdance send-up and an Eartha Kitt parody delivered by the feline Kitt herself.