Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2000) PASS
The Emperor’s New Groove (2000) PICK
Lilo & Stitch (2002) PICK
New Blu-rays from Disney include two delightful post-Disney Renaissance hand-drawn features with solid moral themes, as well as a more problematic, less successful entry.
The Emperor’s New Groove is a rollicking, anarchic morality tale — set in an anachronistically modern pre-Columbian Mesoamerica — about an egocentric emperor named Kuzco (David Spade) who’s forced to re-examine his priorities when, in a metamorphosis reminiscent of Pinocchio and C.S. Lewis’ Prince Rabadash, he finds himself transformed into a llama.
Instead of tired anti-family stereotypes, there’s a refreshingly affectionate portrait of family life. Pacha (John Goodman), the salt-of-the-earth peasant who spends most of the movie helping the llama-emperor, is married to ChiCha (Wendie Malick), an attractive, very competent, very pregnant, stay-at-home mother of two; and their kids are adorable — and funny.
Eartha Kitt is hilarious as a Cruella-like villainess, and Patrick Warburton as henchman Kronk nearly steals the show. (Not worth watching, on the other hand, is the direct-to-video sequel Kronk’s New Groove, which comes bundled with the theatrical film as a bonus feature.)
Lilo & Stitch, from the makers of the later How to Train Your Dragon, is a bittersweet comic tale about a genetically engineered monster, a troubled little girl and a friendship borne of mutual need.
Here is a Disney cartoon about an orphaned heroine that doesn’t gloss over the emotional consequences of growing up parentless. Lilo is high-spirited and imaginative, but also needy, antisocial and violent. When she meets Stitch, a vicious little space alien, he is what she needs and wants him to be: a friendly pet whose sometimes unsettling behavior suggests to her that he too is troubled and looking for love.
Set in Hawaii, the film has a unique look and feel genuinely inspired by its cultural milieu. The human figures are also a departure from the Disney norm; willowy Barbie-doll female figures are nowhere to be seen.
Then there’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire, a blatantly Miyazaki-influenced adventure on an epic scale, but without Miyazaki’s humanism or gentleness. It is marred by overtly New Age motifs in place of Miyazaki’s occasional animist themes. Skip it.
Content Advisory: The Emperor’s New Groove: Cartoon slapstick violence and comic menace; brief gross-out humor involving eating giant bugs. Lilo & Stitch: Cartoon sci-fi violence; some mild menace and intense sequences that could be frightening to some children.