Starring: Kevin Kline, Kenneth Branagh, Rosie Perez, Armand Assante, Edward James Olmos
Director: Don Paul, Eric “Bibo” Bergeron
Distributed by: Dreamworks Pictures
“They came for the gold… they stayed for the adventure”
Tulio and Miguel are two con men who are constantly chasing gold. During a game of dice (using loaded dice of course) they get their hands on a map to the fabled city of gold El Dorado. Through some misadventure, they eventually end up in El Dorado and are regarded as gods. They use this con to stockpile a large amount of gold and plan a trip back to their home in Spain. Through their time in the city, they meet a girl in El Dorado who helps them with their con, a kind-hearted chief of the city, and a priest who believes their arrival signals a deadly cleansing of the people of El Dorado and relishes in the prediction. As they wait for a boat to be built to take them back to Spain, Miguel finds that he likes living in El Dorado more than he wants the gold. Tulio falls for their native con partner. These new developments drive a wedge between the friends, but they have to stand together to defeat the evil priest and the soon to be invading Spanish explorer Cortez.
The artwork in The Road to El Dorado is very well done. The colors range from bright and vibrant to dark and brooding when appropriate. A particularly good example of the variance of color used is during the It’s Tough to be a God song section. While the segment is happening at night, we get a different range of colors based on where the characters are in relation to the lit area of the celebration. The coloring then transforms as the segment turns more into expressionism of the event versus the actual location. We see a dark coloring when there are large men with machetes poised to strike and then the colors change to warmer colors when we discover they are only cutting watermelons to serve everyone and the section gives many more examples. The scenery work when Tulio and Miguel are traveling through the jungle is gorgeous and really brings the audience into the environment. The animation is also very smooth with the characters’ movements being very fluid and full of expression. During the sword fight, the characters have expressions, gestures, and combat moves that all come together effortlessly.
The dialogue between the main characters is engaging and witty. This type of humor attempts to mimic the chemistry of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby from the films this movie is based on. To help achieve this, the voice actors of Tulio (Kevin Kline: Beauty and the Beast, Silverado) and Miguel (Kenneth Branagh: Wild, Wild West, Dunkirk) recorded their lines in the same room, which is unusual for animation. They do a great job with the banter and it definitely brings the repartee of Hope and Crosby to mind. However, not much will compare to Hope and Crosby so I won’t say it is as good as they were. For some young children, the conversations may move too fast for them to pick up all the nuances of the comedy. Even some adults may miss things unless they have multiple viewings. Unfortunately, while the dialogue does have some solid laugh moments — “You fight like my sister!” “I’ve fought your sister. That is a compliment.” — most of the time it is simply clever and less outward funny.
To counter this, the film does have some genuinely funny situational comedy moments. Tulio and Miguel’s moment of realization when they hit solid land after being adrift in the ocean for a time, and when monkeys steal their clothes while they were enjoying a hot spring soak give the audience a chance to just sit and watch the movie without having to keep up with the dialogue.
This film does have a little bit more provocativeness than other family-friendly films. There is a moment of nude butts of the main characters as they chase after their clothes. The character Chel (Rosie Perez: White Men Can’t Jump, Pineapple Express) is possibly overdrawn to be an attractive character for the protagonists. She definitely uses heavy flirting when she is trying (and succeeds) to entice Tulio. This situation ends with a disheveled Tulio and Chel almost being caught in an awkward situation by the evil priest Tzekel-Kan (Armand Assante: Fatal Instinct, American Gangster). When Chel asks, “What will he think if he sees us like this?” Tulio responds through a haze, “Lucky God?”. These few moments of sensuality and provocative humor of the film do not overwhelm the plot or even distract from it, nor are they so apparent that young children will grasp the entirety of the moment. Their parents will probably get a few laughs at these scenes though.
The cast is small with only a few secondary characters (and two of those are animals), but the world that the film creates doesn’t feel empty. There is life and action throughout the movie and the dialogue between the few characters is meaningful to the plot or the humor of the film. Important dialogue is shared between the kind Chief Tannabok (Edward James Olmos: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Blade Runner) and Miguel that progresses the film forward into the climax. The antagonist is mainly Tzekel-Kan who doesn’t like the way Tulio and Miguel are ignoring the prophecy he claims will bring in a new era for El Dorado, and occasionally ends up at the end of their wit. There is also the approaching presence of Cortez (Jim Cummings: Aladdin, Balto) whose expedition is making its way to El Dorado. These few characters plus the animals Altivo (the horse) and Bibo (the armadillo) give the movie enough depth that additional characters are not needed.
Most of the music of the film was written and composed by Tim Rice and Elton John respectively with other artists contributing including John Powell and Hans Zimmer. The music is catchy but is not as spirited as some other animated films of the time including another film that Elton John was involved in, The Lion King. However, you may find yourself humming It’s Tough to be a God (as I have since my viewing).
All in all, this movie a good to sit with your family and watch. It doesn’t rank as high as other feature animations like Shrek, Toy Story, or Tarzan, but it definitely succeeds in being entertaining. If you are a fan of the old “Road To” films (like I am), then you absolutely should see this keeping in mind that it is an homage to those movies. The actors do a great job with their lines, the animation is solid, and while the music is nothing special, you won’t want to tear off your ears after hearing it more than a dozen times. I would say it is worth a watch and if you can get a copy cheap, adding it to your film library. So sit back in the comfort of your couch, enjoy the movie and save me some popcorn!
A fun adventure animation with some good comedy moments. With a few tweaks, this may have been able to have the series of sequels it was rumored to get. I was able to grab a screenshot of the map to El Dorado so if you will excuse me, I have a trip to plan…