DreamWorks, Reviews, Studios

DreamWorks Animation Countdown 3:’The Road to El Dorado’

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The road to El Dorado, as it turns out, isn’t that long after all. It may be the film’s title, but it only takes protagonists Miguel (Kenneth Branagh) and Tulio (Kevin Kline) the span of a song to find the fabled city. Washed up on the shore of an island, they open a map that’s said to lead them to El Dorado ― a place where the greedy men think they may find treasure. You’d be forgiven for assuming that the rest of the film would follow them on their trek along the map’s marking ― but no. The Road to El Dorado is not about the road after all. At least, not literally.

Miguel and Tulio are con-men. We are thrust into their lives amidst a complicated scam that ends in a street race. Their characters are not built in quieter moments; instead, we get to know them on the job. It’s the perfect way in: we learn who they are through action, because that is how they live their lives ― in perpetual motion. At the start of the film, they are shallow and self-centered, attached to nothing except each other and what little riches they might possess.

In that opening sequence, we learn everything we need to know. We understand how long they’ve been partners in crime because of how smoothly they operate: their plan (mostly) goes off like clockwork, and Miguel and Tulio don’t even need to exchange a single knowing glance to anticipate each others’ moves. They’ve got this down. They know each other better than they know themselves. Branagh and Kline’s rapport is witty and uncommonly quick for an animated film, giving the impression that their scenes may have been recorded in collaboration rather than the typical method of recording voices in separate studios. There’s too much connection between the characters here; you can feel the actors feeding off of each others’ energy.

The bulk of The Road to El Dorado takes place in the eponymous city, where Miguel and Tulio are mistaken for the gods that the native people worship. This pivotal plot point teeters dangerous close to condescension, and never completely lays that issue to rest.

There is someone who doesn’t fall for it though: a local thief Chel (Rosie Perez) becomes their source of information and an object of romantic desire. The film never quite gives her the life that is afforded to Miguel and Tulio, although she does nicely counterbalance their amiable arrogance.

The Road to El Dorado is a musical, but you’d hardly know it. There are a few songs peppered throughout, and while none are bad, none are memorable. Perhaps the film’s biggest issue is that it doesn’t commit to its status as a musical. Stylistically, those elements do not fit in with the rest of the film, so the musical numbers feel like an afterthought.

However, The Road to El Dorado ultimately succeeds at many things. Its animation is lively, and intelligently uses visual comedy.  While not detailed, the animation is active and constantly engaging, particularly in action sequences that see the camera swooping around with energy to spare.

Narrative turns are often unexpected and startlingly creative. Above all else, the film lives and dies on Miguel and Tulio’s appeal. Luckily, they strike a nice balance, being clearly arrogant, but never so much so that they become completely unlikeable. Kline and Branagh’s voice work deserves much of the credit for why the film works as well as it does. Their friendship is the heart of the film, and despite the bumps along the way, you’re happy to go with them to wherever they wind up together in the end.

 

Edited by: Kajsa Rain Forden

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  • I don’t know…….. while I have been a bit more positive about this film over the years, I still don’t think it is anything really special, or…… a good film. It just seems kind of hollow from the plot, to the characters. I mean, there is a lot of humour, and I see where things were going, but the execution was overtly simplistic and a bit sloppy.

  • Manuel Orozco

    I agree that the animation is lively! Elton John singing most of the songs wasn’t an issue to me. Probably was gong for a similar musical narrative to Tarzan. I didn’t watch this movie in full until I was 16 eight years ago.

  • Dan Siciliano

    Ah yes, “The Road to El Dorado”….one of my top 20 favorite movies ever. Why do I love this movie? Because of the relationship between Miguel and Tulio (kudos to Kenneth Branagh and Kevin Kline), the music by Elton John and Tim Rice and the one ingredient that “Prince of Egypt” tried but failed altogether: all this comedy. The one-liners, the sight gags and everything in between. I don’t understand why Jeffrey Katzenberg disowned this movie.

  • Alex Beezley

    In my opinion, this movie is average, which places it among DreamWorks Animation’s weaker films. The animation is probably my favorite aspect, followed closely by the music, although I don’t think that the soundtrack comes close to the heights that Elton John and Tim Rice achieved on The Lion King. I also agree that the visual humor can be funny, but the rest of the comedy tends not to work for me. I hesitate to call this film bad, but it is disappointing considering that DreamWorks had just come off of The Prince of Egypt.

    • Manuel Orozco

      I find Road to El Dorado on par with Prince of Egypt

      • Mack

        If nothing else, they’re both visually stunning. I think Prince of Egypt is a little better though, as far as telling a story and integrating songs. It’s dry as dust, but then again, most of the story itself is pretty dark. Thank goodness they cut that talking camel, as I can’t imagine it cracking jokes during the slaves being overworked, the water turning to blood, the plagues, etc.

        • Manuel Orozco

          Well I said on par truthfully but El Dorado was more my taste

  • JMB

    This film’s enjoyable enough. I like the sharp and witty banter between the main duo, and I’m glad the film never tripped up and fell into the cliche that often befalls films revolving around a big con brought about by the main character(s).

    I like the songs, but I do find that some fall into “obvious commercialization” territory rather than feeling like they naturally belong. “Without You” in particular sounds as if it was originally written for a completely different scenario, and there wasn’t enough time to establish a new number for Miguel’s exploration of the city. On the album, there’s a litter of unused songs made for the film, with one or two surviving through short references within the movie’s score, further suggesting the film going through a bit of a revision late in the production.

    Still, that doesn’t hurt the movie too much, and at least they aren’t bad to listen to either.

  • Eli Sanza

    This is one of those movies that I loved as a kid, but the more I watch it, the more flaws I notice. Still enjoyable, flaws and all. I like the interplay between the characters. Plus it’s one of the most beautiful looking Dreamworks films.

  • Oh, man. I love this movie. It’s my favorite DreamWorks film in fact! All from the beautiful animation and entertaining story. The inconsistent musical element never bothered me, since many Disney movies fall to the same flaw (Oh hey Brother Bear!)

    • Manuel Orozco

      I like Brother Bear as well

  • I remember watching this in theaters. I was too young to appreciate its humor but I sure do now.

  • I was so entranced with this movie as a kid for some reason….but even still I really like this movie years now just for the leads and the beautiful visuals! I am just a sucker for this kind of really fun duo type idk!! It does have flaws, but I admire the fun it had nonetheless!! 🙂

  • Amber Dvorak

    I agree that Miguel and Tulio’s appeal is the key to this movie. Their chemistry and fast-paced humor take what could have been a very “eh” film and make it something worthy of repeat viewings.

  • Marielle

    I loved this movie as a kid. It kind of shaped my love of adventure. I was really into
    explorers and the Amazonian jungle too. I think it was refreshing to have best friends as the main characters, and to have them be anti-heroes. Of course now that I’m older I think the movie is rather culturally insensitive, but I didn’t notice that as a kid…

  • Mack

    Respectfully disagree about the songs. They and Hans Zimmer’s score are the reason I love the movie (well, that and the film’s gorgeous animation). That said, I’m willing to agree with some here that the songs…well, let’s just say, if I didn’t know better, I could listen to the soundtrack as simply an Elton John album and never realize I was listening to songs that are supposed to be underscoring scenes from a movie.

  • I only saw this one once. IMO, it was rather bland although the animation was good.