The Emperor's New Groove was a curious anomaly for Disney; released in December, outside of the studio's regular blockbuster-per-summer schedule, without much fanfare or marketing muscle. It wasn't a very kid-friendly sell, almost totally lacking in cute animals and songs, and it stars a supercilious, bratty emperor (voiced by David Spade, natch) who repents his awful behavior far more gradually than your average reformed cartoon character. These characteristics undoubtedly contribute to its refreshing, adult-oriented charm, but what really distinguishes the film is not its story or dialogue, which are only mid-level clever. The grooviest thing is its angular, impressionistic animation, which is reminiscent of the studio's version of Hercules, but on acid. From the bat-like sorceress cackled by Eartha Kitt to the square-jawed numbskull voiced innocently by square-jawed Patrick Warburton, the animators delve deeply into their twisted side, using wild brush strokes to match drawings to character traits. The never-named setting and its landscapes are also replete with gnarled, jutting beauty. The film moves along quickly on a loopy succession of set pieces more than a developing story, and it doesn't need songs to bridge them, although Sting had written some that were mostly scrapped to his great displeasure when Disney decided to take the film in another direction. Despite a troubled production that featured periods when it might have been given a hip-hop edge, The Emperor's New Groove emerges as a sophisticated achievement in animation and one of Disney's more original films.