When you've been reviewing movies for a little while, you start to develop a few verbal symptoms, one of them is to adopt a sort of historian pose. I'll refrain from my usual impulses but just for a bit of contextualization, let's drop some information you're probably aware of. We know the "Disney Renaissance" is said to have started in 1989 with "Little Mermaid" and ended ten years later with "Tarzan". 1999 was also the year of the last Pixar acclaimed movie: "Toy Story 2" before Disney would strike again in 2003 with "Finding Nemo".
What we've got in between is a forgettable trend of direct-to-VHS (or DVD) sequels that spoiled the 'classic' status of movies we tended for classics, and a few movies that have sunk into oblivion in the sense that they are not as celebrated as others involving a cute clown-fish, a cooking rat and a flying house. Speaking for myself, I started to be a student in 2000 and I didn't really care about the new Disney movies, I didn't care for "Dinosaurs", "Atlantis" and I certainly didn't care for "Emperor's New Groove" and it's not like the film didn't have publicity. After 17 years, I can only say "Mea Culpa". I was misinformed.
I finally saw the film and I must say I've never laughed as much as I did since I saw the "South Park" movie, the movie made me laugh to tears, and I mean tears. "Kuzco" is one hilarious movie that should be more known on the sole basis of this achievement. But that's why I needed to contextualize the film, it was perhaps made at the worst possible timing, where a new generation of animators was still trying to find the right path, a revolutionary time that saw the change from VHS to DVD, from hand-drawn to computer-generated imagery. More than that, it was a time where Disney had probably used up all the classic fairy tale material, that forged its legend for seventy decades.
And in "Kuzco", there's no room for grandstanding themes, underdog heroes and heroines, Aesopian arcs and honorable quests, the hero or let's just call him a protagonist is a wise-cracking emperor so wrapped up in the confidence over his power that he ends up being transformed into a llama. But even that pitch might give you the wrong idea, I could also tell you that the Incan emperor has an ego the size of his gigantic palace and would never tolerate anyone ruining his projects and that his journey will allow him to discover the 'good' side of his personality, but even that would be too moralizing for a movie that is mostly made for laughs, and that's why I loved it.
I won't spoil the gags but this is a guy who throws an old man from the window because he "ruined his groove" or is about to kick a man with two kids and a pregnant village just to build a residential home, named Kuzcotopia. He's not even good by 'antiheroic' standards. And when the "evil" counselor Izma is fired because she's abusing from her position, you're still wondering why you should deem her as the villain. But you know what, let's take all these trademark concepts, these "hero", "villain", "quest", "journey", "sidekick" and throw them in the trashcan of our preconceived notions. This is a bowl of fresh air, finally an animated Disney movie designed as nothing else but a cartoon, it's exactly like "Aladdin" and "Hercules" without the fancy looking, sappy and romantic elements.
To tell you how much I enjoyed the film, let's say that I had the feeling I was watching my good old Cartoon Network programs, "Cow and Chicken", "Johnny Bravo", even the old Looney Tunes and Tex Avery cartoons. In fact, there are even moments where the film channel some Chuck Jones vibes and the sights remind of the Road Runner. By being the less Disney-esque of all the Disney films, "Kuzco" is an oddity that elevates itself above all the other movies, and that might include the classics. Indirectly, it even mirrors the boring pompousness of other well-polished, well- designed, well-crafted movies, that made it at the Top 10 box office at the the end of the year. "Kuzco" didn't ("Dinosaurs" did) but it makes its discovery all the more enjoyable.
And I liked it, I loved it. It's a harmless, lighthearted, fun movie, I could say "little" but no, it's a masterpiece of laughs. And it's full of great and fun characters, four were enough to make the film, Kuzco the Emperor turned-llama and wise-ass-turned-good- guy, voiced by David Spade, the big and good-hearted Pacha who helps him in exchange of his promise to spare the village, but who actually can't prevent himself from doing a good thing, he's a Good Man played by the namesake John, and by the size, it was guessable. There's finally Yzma who's like a zanier version of Cruella De Vil (EarthaKitt) and her sidekick Kronk (Patrick Warburton) a mountain of a man but with a soft side, I mean can you make more gentle than someone who cooking and can speak the squirrel?
I love a movie where you don't expect a villain to fall to death (well, there's a falling but it's an excuse for a hilarious twist), where action is more than an excuse for a succession of gags and laughs, where the 'serious' moments don't last too long, the film is a package of gags with the right running time, less than eighty minutes, but enough to leave you with a smile in your face. This is a film I would recommend to anybody, it's great and deserves more recognition.
And take it from someone who hates to use the word "underrated' but to call it underrated is an overstatement. It's groovy, but more than anything, it's funny.