The Road to El Dorado

The Road to El Dorado is the second foray into animation by Dreamworks Studios, after the mildly successful Prince of Egypt. This time, Dreamworks has nothing to prove. With Prince, audiences discovered that indeed, a studio besides Disney could release an animated film. Plus, El Dorado makes no illusions about having the same level of historical accuracy as Prince. This is just a simple buddy movie and nothing more. The movie ends up being mediocre at best, and nothing more.

The production for El Dorado was supposedly rocky. Dreamworks focused most of its attention on Prince, reportedly taking away precious labor resources from animation. The story kept changing, from kid-friendly movie to older-oriented fare and back, with plot sequences also morphing. The end result is a schizophrenic story, trying to be too many things at once. Miguel (Kenneth Branagh, Theory of Flight, Wild Wild West) and Tulio (Kevin Kline, Wild Wild West, A Midsummer Night's Dream) are the two con men from Spain who happen upon a map to the legendary city of Gold. They stow away on the ship of Hernando Cortes, and end up in the New World. The actual search for El Dorado is anticlimactic; it only takes the length of a song. Once in the city, the natives welcome Tulio and Miguel as gods. Another local woman, Chel (Rosie Perez, A Brother's Kiss, The 24 Hours Woman) is in on their scam. Meanwhile, the high priest Tzekel-Kan (Armand Assante, Kidnapped, The Odyssey) plots to use the gods to bring about more power for himself, and the Chief (Edward James Olmos, Selena, Caught) merely wants to honor Miguel and Tulio.

For one and a half-hours, nothing much really happens. Tzekel-Kan slowly emerges as the main bad guy, and Miguel and Tulio must save the city from his evil machinations. The songs by Elton John and Tim Rice (the team behind The Lion King) provide bland, radio friendly songs that pop up suddenly within the movie. None stick out as particularly memorable. John is a great singer, but just seems out of place in this movie. El Dorado is basically Disney-lite, with direction by Don Paul and Eric Bergeron, and writing by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio (Small Soldiers, The Mask of Zorro, and Aladdin). The fact that two of the principals from Wild Wild West star in the film should be a large warning signal to anyone. Despite all of these things, The Road to El Dorado is mildly amusing, although instantly forgettable. Kline and Branagh to have a good rapport, and play off each other nicely. For once, Perez sounds like an actual human being. For the most part, the film is upbeat, and enjoyable at face value.

Some of the animation is spectacular. Most of these sequences are possible because of computers. The sequences on the Atlantic Ocean and El Dorado and its surrounding forests are impressive. Character animation is again Disney-like. If the "reamworks" was replaced by "isney", no one would notice anything especially different. As with many Disney movies, historical accuracy is conveniently downplayed. El Dorado is a mix between Inca, Mayan, and other cultures. The precise location of the city is never mentioned in the film, only that it is in the New World. Special care is taken to portray the citizens of El Dorado as peaceful. Tzekel-Kan is the only one who advocates cannibalism. Cortes is also obviously the bad guy, and many of the acts committed by him and other explorers are only alluded to. But again, one can argue that this is essentially a children's movie, and a buddy movie. Overall, The Road to El Dorado is nothing special, only filler.

Haro Rates It: Okay
1 hour, 29 minutes, Rated PG for mild thematic material and language.

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