Monday, September 7, 2020

The Emperor's New Groove: The Ultimate Groove

Llama-Rama, Part 2 of 2

Disney's 39th animated feature The Emperor's New Groove is now available on Disney DVD in two versions: the standard one disc DVD (reviewed in Part 1 last week) and a deluxe two disc collector's edition set titled The Ultimate Groove, reviewed below.

What's the Difference?:
Disc 1 of The Ultimate Groove set is the same as the standard DVD release, without the Behind the Scenes featurettes, Deleted Scene and the Sting Music Video, which are included on Disc 2 of the set instead. Disc 1 features the full-length film, with optional audio commentary from the filmmakers, the Rascal Flats Music Video and the set-top game, "The Emperor's Got Game." Also included on Disc 1 are special DVD-ROM features, including a demo of "The Emperor's Groove Center" (QuickTime required) and exclusive on-line content only accessible through the DVD.

Disc 2 features an exhaustive collection of supplemental material that will be a treat for animation fans in general and The Emperor's New Groove fans in particular. The extras can be navigated in one of two ways: you can choose to view one of two "Get Into the Groove" features (The Studio Groove or The Animation Groove), or explore each section on your own. My recommendation is to watch the two "Groove" sections first. That way you will get a good overview of the animation process as told through the making of The Emperor's New Groove by producer Randy Fullmer and director Mark Dindal. Then you are free to roam about and check out the incidental features and galleries at your leisure. Plus, the two "Groove" sections are set up as a continuous narrative that is best viewed from beginning to end. Sections of the two "Grooves" do reappear in the individual sections, so they can be skipped at that time to go on to the new stuff.

Get Into the Groove - The Studio Groove:
In the spirit of the film it depicts, this "making of" feature is fast-paced and not without it's own degree of laughs, mostly supplied by the clips from the movie interspersed throughout as if reacting to the commentary by Fullmer and Dindal. One can also see a parallel between the two filmmakers and their two main characters. Dindal is the wild and crazy one, teasing and joking with Fullmer, who is relegated to the 'straight man' role in their little comic bits. This is typical Disney 'behind-the-scenes' goofiness, aimed more at younger children who probably wouldn't sit through this type of thing anyway. Thankfully, this silliness is brief, and mostly palatable to those who are watching this who actually want to learn how an animated film is created in this day and age. Which it accomplishes very well.

By using the making of The Emperor's New Groove, Disney here is able to depict the complete gestation of a contemporary animated film, from the first idea of the story down to the completed feature. If you have ever seen any of the earlier documentaries on the Disney animation process (such as in the film The Reluctant Dragon or on old episodes of Disneyland/The Wonderful World of Disney), you have seen how they did it back in Walt's time. While there has been more updated attempts of explaining the newer, more technologically advanced Disney 'way' (The Magic of Disney Animation tours at the Disney-MGM Studios and Disney's California Adventure theme parks, those inane Movie Surfer specials on The Disney Channel), this disc offers a very complete and comprehensive video tour of how Walt Disney Feature Animation makes films today.

Fullmer and Dindal take you through development, story meetings, the creation of layouts and backgrounds, the entire animation process, the adding of sound and music... generally how they make it all work. Again, these all have their own sections so that you can delve even deeper into how each step is performed.

The Animation Groove:
In this briefer featurette, you can watch how a particular scene (in this case, the dinner scene where Yzma and Kronk try to poison Kuzco) is created throughout the animation process with split screen comparisons, from storyboard to rough animation to clean-up animation to the final full-color product. Once you are done with these two, you can go onto the other sections of "The Secret Lab" for even more extras, such as...

Development - The Development Process:
Included in The Studio Groove, this explains how the concept for The Emperor's New Groove was developed and how it was decided that it would 'break the mold' of previous Disney animated features and be a screwball buddy comedy. We also learn that animated films are developed on two parallel paths, the story itself and the visual look of the movie.

The Research Trip: Included on the standard DVD (see Part 1).

Story Treatment:
An all text description of the story for the film. A complete waste of space as A) if you have already seen the movie, this is redundant, and B) if you haven't seen the movie, it gives away the whole plot.

Visual Development Gallery:
Includes the concept art to help the artist grasp the feel of the film, depicting the various locals featured, including Kuzco's palace, Pacha's village and Mudka's Meat Hut.

Original concept art for Kingdom of the Sun

Kingdom of the Sun:
The most disappointing aspect of this disc is that it virtually ignores the original concept of this movie, originally titled Kingdom of the Sun. If you are looking for Disney to come clean on the tumultuous early production of this film, which included defecting animators and a scrapped song score, you ain't gonna find it here. All that is left is a gallery of early concept art in which we can only attempt to glean what this film was originally going to be like.

Story and Editorial - The Story Process:
Focuses on the story department, which consists of storyboard artists and writers, who work together to create the characters and how they will tell the story.

The Pitch: See three different story pitches for the opening number, "Perfect World". We learn in the second pitch that in Kingdom of the Sun, as it was then called, Kuzco sang this song. A fascinating peek at how they 'choreograph' a Disney song and also how they will constantly re-work a scene to get it right.

Putting It Up On Reels:
Another interesting revelation: the editorial department takes the individual storyboard frames and creates a story reel, with dialogue, sound effects and music tracks added. This is done to get a feel for how the scenes are working and to get an idea of how long each scene will be before they go on to the next step of actually being animated.

Deleted and Unused Scenes:
The first deleted scene, "Practice Destruction of Pacha's Village", is included on the standard DVD (see Part 1).

"Pacha's Family": Interesting to note that Pacha's family was originally a lot bigger, with a scrappy grandpa and a surfer dude next-door-neighbor who, in typical sitcom fashion, bursts into the room unannounced and at the worst possible moments. Upon discovering the talking llama, the village throws him a welcoming party. This scene was too long, unfunny and unoriginal and didn't make it past the storyboarding phase.

"Original Kuzcotopia Ending": The original ending for the film had Kuzco building his full-size summer pad on the mountaintop neighboring Pacha's village. In the big grand opening party of Kuzcotopia, we see all the characters joining in for the fun, including the guards that were turned into animals in the final battle. The final gag has Kronk in his apron coming out of the kitchen wanting a "head count for dessert." His shoulder angel and devil pop in, with their own aprons on, and say "We got you covered!" This ending was nixed when Sting, an avid environmentalist, noted that to have Kuzco still build Kuzcotopia showed that he didn't learn anything from what had happened to him through the course of the film. It was still "socially irresponsible" and "ecologically unfriendly" for him to do so, and the scene was altered to what you see in the final film. While I can see why they made the change, it still would have been fun to see that octopus playing volleyball…

Layouts and Backgrounds - Layout and Background Departments: The layout artists are very important to animated films, as they are basically the film's art director and cinematographer combined. They prepare the work for the animators and background artists, who "create the stages where the animated characters will play."

Inside Scene Planning: This department is where all the initial drawings are first put into the computer to create the timing sheets used by the director and the animators. These sheets allow the animators to get the exact timing right for each line of dialogue, gesture, et cetera.

The Workbook Gallery:
Thumbnail sketches of the dinner scene, showing the preliminary creation of the scene, focusing on composition and camera angles.

Layout, Color Key and Background Galleries:
Examples of the best layout artwork, color keys (used to establish the color scheme for each scene) and background paintings for The Emperor's New Groove.

Animation - The Animation Process:
Learn about the three kinds of animation needed to produce a completed film: Character, or rough, animation is handled by the character lead and his/her team. They are the actors behind the pencils who draw the characters. Clean-up animators take the rough pencil drawings and, as their job title states, clean them up into a uniform look for the final product. Special effects animators handle everything that moves in the film that is not a character. For example: rain, smoke, fire, shadows and props.

Character Animation - Character Voices:
Included on the standard DVD (see Part 1).

Character Design:
Each character has there own section, with Animation Tests for the four main characters. See early rough animation for Kuzco that shows a more realistic look for him in llama form (albeit wearing a crown) and with buck teeth and spiky hair in human form.

Character Design Galleries:
See early concept drawings and sketches showing the evolution of all the characters, from the Emperor down to his lowly servants. See how at one point Pacha looked like Marlon Brando in a muumuu and how Kronk, at different stages of development, vaguely resembled Fabio and The Rock.

The most illuminating section is for the miscellaneous characters, where one can see characters that never made it to the final film, including the intriguing "Naked Guy and the Peacock." Also note what one of Mudka's Meat Hut waitresses has on her platter ... grilled flounder must be today's special. You can also see the progression of these designs through the ever changing title on the production sheets: Kingdom of the Sun, Kingdom in the Sun, The New Kingdom and finally The Emperor's New Groove.

Character Model Sheets:
Yet another gallery, this one displaying the final character model sheets for the four main characters. Model sheets are used by the clean-up animators to retain continuity for the characters, so that they look the same throughout the entire film.

CGI Props:
Included in the standard DVD (see Part 1).

Animation Production Progression: Again using the dinner scene as an example, viewers can use the 'angle' button on their remotes to toggle through the progression of the animation, from story reel to rough animation to clean-up animation to the final scene and back again. This is a nifty way to see how all the different stages of animation come together.

Putting It All Together - Ink and Paint Compositing:
The Ink and Paint Department used to actually use ink and paint to hand color each individual animation cel. Now it is done on computers as explained here.

Color Models: Yes, another gallery, this one includes five color models showing the final color schemes for Kuzco, Kuzco Llama, Pacha, Yzma and Kronk. Again, uniformity is the objective here.

Music and Sound - Creating the Music and Sound Effects:
This is the final step: after all the cleaned-up animation has been colored and combined with the background paintings and is all composited in the computer, a 35 mm print of the film is made and is ready to have the dialogue, music and sound effects added. This is done in the sound studio where it is all orchestrated to create the best mix of the three sound elements.

Sting Music Video: "My Funny Friend and Me":
Included on the standard DVD (see Part 1).

Mixing Demonstration: Using a scene from the movie (no, not the dinner scene again ... this time it's the rope bridge scene), you can isolate the dialogue, sound effect and music tracks or combine them in any way you choose by using your remote.

Publicity - Trailers and TV Spots: Includes the two theatrical trailers and three TV commercials for The Emperor's New Groove.

Posters/Ad Campaign: A gallery of the poster art and newspaper ads for the initial theatrical release of The Emperor's New Groove.

Note: The first retail shipments of both the standard and deluxe DVD editions of The Emperor's New Groove come packaged with the free CD-ROM game "Search for the Journal," based on the upcoming Walt Disney Picture Atlantis: The Lost Empire.

All in all, The Ultimate Groove is a fine, although at times overwhelming, presentation of the creation of a Disney animated film.

Toon Talk Grade: B+

Originally posted May 9, 2001