The Emperor's New Clothes

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
The Emperor's New Clothes Movie Poster Image
Farcical, old-fashioned Hans Christian Andersen tale.
  • G
  • 1987
  • 83 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Educational Value

The movie is intended to entertain rather than educate.

Positive Messages

This story shows how important it is to challenge authority and speak the truth to power. The only person who has the courage to unmask the emperor is a child, a symbol of the uncorruptible. At the same time, the tale illustrates how easy it is to fool people if you play to their fears of looking stupid or inept. Use of physical impairments as comedy is an old-fashioned device that might need some explaining.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The emperor is portrayed as foolish, vain, and spoiled, though he learns a lesson. The general populace, as well as the emperor's staff, are silly and afraid to speak up. The only honest, smart, and resourceful character is the princess.

Violence & Scariness

Some comic action: Soldiers throw two men into the sea; there's a brief fracas between citizens and castle guards in which some people are pushed down; and a very short, cartoonish sword fight has some martial arts.

Sexy Stuff

A kiss between the princess and a tailor.


Occasional name-calling: "idiot," "stupid," etc.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this is a slapstick version of the venerable fairy tale in which old-time comic actors deliver lots of mugging and jokey dialogue. Han Christian Andersen's messages about snobbery, hypocrisy, and dishonesty are intact, if somewhat diluted. In the manner of old school, almost vaudevillian comedy, there are several characters whose humor is derived from a physical impairment: crossed eyes, missing teeth, or a speech impediment. The few action sequences are done for comic effect and are never seriously frightening -- expect a few martial arts kicks and a rough-and-tumble sword fight.

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What's the story?

The emperor (Sid Caesar) is a very foolish man. He's vain, spoiled, and very selfish. In fact, he refuses to wear his royal robes and clothing more than once. When two very clever swindlers (Robert Morse and Jason Carter) get wind of the emperor's desire for something very special to wear for his daughter's wedding -- an arranged marriage that's totally unacceptable to the Princess Gilda (Lysette Anthony) -- they're only too willing to prey on His Highness' gullibility and make him an extravagant jewel-encrusted suit of clothes. But, they warn, this wonderful costume will be invisible to anyone either "stupid or unfit for office." The con artists toil in the "loom room," weaving what everyone pretends to see as magnificent, but in reality, doesn't exist at all. Meanwhile, Princess Gilda is falling head over heels in love with one of the swindlers. The wedding day brings surprises for everyone.

Is it any good?

Turning a familiar, timeless Hans Christian Andersen tale into a slapstick farce with hammy but well-liked comic actors must have seemed like a good idea at the time (1987). The performers seem to be having a wonderful time chewing the scenery. Adding a few unimpressive musical numbers, some lavishly ridiculous costumes, and changing Andersen's ending just a bit sweetened the pot.

But there's no mistaking this shoestring production for anything other than what it was meant to be: a cheap entry into the fairy tale genre with very little thought given to plotting, character, logic, or resolution. For example, rather than come up with anything clever or innovative to reveal the "invisibility" of the emperor's new clothes, the low point of the film is watching Caesar strut through the low-budget crowd in gold satin underwear.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how important it is to be honest even if it might result in negative consequences. Has telling the truth ever made you unpopular? What did you do about that?

  • This movie is based on a Hans Christian Andersen story. Read the original story and see how the filmmakers changed it. How did it improve or diminish the original?

  • Most of the people in this story pretended to see the emperor's clothes just so they didn't seem foolish; that made them even more foolish. Have you ever pretended to agree with someone or gone along with an activity you knew was wrong just so you wouldn't feel different or left out?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fairy tales

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