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The Emperor's New Groove review

Hmmm, talking llama saves primary coloured Aztec kingdom? What drug-fuelled brainstorm meeting dreamed that one up? And - more to the point - why doesn't Disney hold them more often? Because, input from recreational pharmaceuticals or not, The Emperor's New Groove is one of the best things to come out of Mousedom's non CG-department for an age.

A side-slicingly sharp, bruisingly funny buddy movie, The Emperor's New Groove is slick anitainment that couldn't feel less like a normal Disney film. For all their undoubted class, its animated features usually reek of corporate effort, but TENG has been scrubbed of all of that. Where are the McDonald's Happy Meal-friendly sidekicks? The Oscar-nomination guaranteed love songs? The girl-power heavy female lead? This month's technological innovation that will revolutionise cartoons forever?

Eschewing all that, The Emperor's New Groove harks back to another studio's cartoons: vintage Warner Bros. The unlikeable main character, the buckets of sarcasm, the wilful anachronisms, the high cliffs people keep falling off... Throw in Wile E Coyote or Daffy Duck and it'd be a top-rank Looney Toon. Paring the characters down to two teams of two - Kuzco and Pacha versus baddies Yzma and her beefcake sidekick Kronk - and restricting the plot to little more than a protracted chase (a running joke - yuk, yuk!) provides a fast and simple frame for some great gags and top-notch voicing.

David Spade's brand of whiney sarcasm fits Kuzco perfectly. Bickering, battling and bonding, he and straight-man John Goodman make a fine Hope and Crosby-style teaming. But the real casting coup here must be Eartha Kitt as evil sorceress Yzma. With her scratchy-voiced, gargles-a-dozen-razorblades- a-day tones, the one-time Catwoman is tailormade for dippy cartoon voice work like this.

What's truly gob-slapping about it all is that until fairly late in the day the whole thing was going to be a standard-issue epic romance named Kingdom Of The Sun (complete with songs by Sting). DreamWorks' release of its own animated Aztec adventure The Road To El Dorado, along with Disney's growing realisation that it was heading down an inspiration cul de sac, helped goose it into rethinking the project.

So, before you could say "vast Disney profits" the House Of Mouse had ditched some characters, streamlined the plot and - phew! - axed almost all of Sting's crooning. And in the process, what could have been a competent bit of animation turns into a real joy.

The finest and funniest Disney for ages won't launch a thousand lunchboxes, but fer gawd's sake don't let that stop you seeing it. Sharp, streamlined nonsense that bristles with wit and energy, the Emperor's New Groove lifts Disney out of a very old rut.

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