Director: Don Paul, Eric Bergeron
Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Kevin Kline, Rosie Perez, Armand Assante, Edward James Olmos, Jim Cummings
Plot: Two conmen (Branagh, Kline) stumble across the mythical El Dorado, a city filled with gold, and are mistaken for Gods by the natives.
I always thought that The Road to El Dorado was a Disney film. Upon a re-watch, I have decided it is more than an easy mistake to make. Dreamworks’ early animated piece, The Road to El Dorado, does have more than a Disney vibe to it. Taking a moral-affirming story and taking it to a different culture, here the mythical Mayan city of El Dorado, this film has its fair share of lively characters, animal sidekicks with oodles of personality and even a soundtrack from Elton John that gives the Road to El Dorado a very Lion King atmosphere.
If The Road to El Dorado can be accused of being slightly below par when it comes to its Disney counterparts, it cannot be denied that it is more than a little good fun. It helps that the two heroes of the piece, Miguel, energetic and excitable, and Tulio, cunning and nervous, are hilarious to spend time with. Tulio is well cast with Kevin Kline, who is more than adept at portraying the kind of stammering oddball that this character needs, but it is nice to see Kenneth Branagh get in on the action here, delivering a fantastic voice performance as Miguel. The pair of them are the kind of cheeky rogues that follows in the footsteps of all the best male heroes in animated movies, from Aladdin to Flynn Rider. They are introduced illegally gambling, and cheating at it, before getting caught up in a chase across Spain from angry guards and an over-zealous bull. For a large part of the movie, this is simply a film about these two troublesome miscreants getting from one problem to another. And that could be enough to give us an enjoyable experience at the cinema. However, the film really finds its formula, when the two heroes wash up on an island off the beaten track and accidentally find El Dorado. Being the first white men the locals have laid eyes upon, tied with a few convenient natural disasters, they are mistaken to be Gods. Then the plot really finds its stride. Miguel and Tulio decide to play along with the mistake, until the villagers give them a large tribute of gold, allowing them to buy their immunity in Spain. That is easier said than done however, with their lack of knowledge of the culture and the fanatical high priest who is determined the correct way to appease them is with human sacrifice. It makes for good viewing with hilarious bickering between the two leads and some fun cases of identity mix-ups. When the movie isn’t poking fun at the amusing scenario it has crafted for itself, it is delivering some impressive action sequences. While the best action scene is perhaps used too early, it is a great piece of animation with a giant Jaguar monster coming for our heroes and a visually appealing battle on a lava plateau. And then there is of course some great songs to keep the movie ticking over. Elton John gives the characters some memorable tunes to belt out that gives the middle of the film flavour. When the movie drifts to a close, the feet-tapping of ‘It’s Tough To Be A God’, will be what stays with you.
That being said, when the song finally leaves your skull, perhaps the thing that impresses you the most about The Road to El Dorado, is its treatment of this concept of Gods. The antagonist of the film believes that the Gods are appeased by violence and blood sacrifices. In order to impress the Gods, he is determined to murder innocents, believing that is the correct way to worship. Later on in the film, Miguel, tired of playing as a supreme being that enjoys being high and mighty, wanders down to the village and introduces himself to the village, playing the guitar and playing sports with the children. He gains true respect by being outward and friendly, greeting his ‘worshippers’ with open arms. This movie essentially asks the viewer what they think a God worshipping should be and what kind of person is worth worship? It adds a touching note to a fun adventure movie, proving that Dreamworks can create just as thought-provoking stories as their competition with Walt Disney.
Final Verdict: The Road to El Dorado is an often over-looked strong animated feature, with great songs, amusing characters and great set-pieces.