The Road to El Dorado (2000) (PG)

Dreamworks hadn't made the cultural shock and awe factor seen when "Shrek" was released when "The Road to El Dorado" snuck under the radar in 2000. Perhaps this is for the best that we should remember a crazy take on a fairy tale instead of this movie. Now, haters hold on, this isn't to say that the movie isn't enjoyable, because it just doesn't compare to the other works of Dreamworks ("The Prince of Egypt" being one) and it does not manage to reach any watermark whatsoever. It's just fun and shallow.
Set in the early 16th century right as the infamous Cortes (Jim Cummings) is about to conquest the New World leaving from Spain, "The Road to El Dorado" focuses on two con artists, Miguel (Kenneth Branagh) and Tulio (Kevin Kline). After being found out by an angry mob just cheated out of all their money, this duo has to make a mad dash for it...and as fate would have it, they find themselves on Cortes' ship. Bummer.
Cortes is not the kind of man you want to mess with, and he imprisons the two stow-aways. But they are clever and a smart, hungry, sassy horse is on their side so they manage to escape. After days of rowing they find themselves on a beach where Miguel has a revelation: this could be the beginning to the path to El Dorado, the legendary city of gold.
Tulio isn't as impressed with pipe dreams and myths but it only takes a few short reminders that El Dorado is the city of gold to bring Tulio's greedy little heart back into the frame. Miguel is motivated by adventure, something bold. Tulio is just in it for the money.
The two start down the path to the city of gold and eventually find themselves immersed with a group of native people who curiously all speak English. Here I break and say that "The Road to El Dorado" is rife with references to Spain and yet who are our voice actors? an American and an Englishman. If nothing else, it's a little bizarre to here Kenneth Branagh's voice coming from a Spanish man named's kind of cringe-worthy just thinking about it. Also add into this the introduction of the curvy seductress Chel (Rosie Perez) who has a heavy accent. This just reaffirms the whole "sexy exotic but not quite as intellectually advanced" trope that can be seen in a whole lot of movies, not just this one. But I digress.
This native people that Miguel and Tulio stumble upon are ruled by two battling forces: a chief and a high priest. The chief (Edward James Olmos) is the more genial of the two and certainly the one that the audience immediately likes as opposed to the blood hungry witch-doctor-type priest, Tzekel-Kan (Armand Asante).
Throw in a few Elton John written songs and this is supposed to make up for a lack of character, not just believable character, but moral character. Tulio and Miguel are average guys who seem to win simply by being awesome. There is no climax of character, no moral obligation that begs them to do otherwise. The only time we see them doing "the right thing" is when they chose to step in at the very last second and tell Tzekel-Kan to take a hike. That really didn't take a lot of moral strain or effort, considering that they are promoted to deities quickly in the eyes of the simple, stupid native people.
There is a lot to hate about "The Road to El Dorado".
But wait...there's more...
For all of its sins, which are many, particularly how the only female character of the story is treated, the movie remains vaguely entertaining and pretty watchable. The story moves quickly and the movie proves that Dreamworks always was the biggest risk taker in children's animated movies. It's not afraid to be adult enough to make some of us even blush, and yet it doesn't overplay its card with gross sex scenes or vulgar profanities. It's the adult version of Disney and a far cry from "Family Guy".
It's likable, unfortunately likable. Considering that on an intellectual level its deplorable and I can find no redeeming quality to it, in terms of the filmmaking itself, "The Road to El Dorado" is bountiful with color and style.
It does not compare to the works of the studio that came before it or after it; yet it does serve as an interesting reminder that even in animated movies, white-washing and (regrettably) racism manage to sneak in, if only for a profit. Not that my little blog with change the moral mindset of the media; but hey, I gotta say it.
Back to the movie. The songs aren't quite catchy enough to be memorable, the movie itself—for how blood thirsty it appears—is actually quite tame, and the obligatory heroes win big time with no real suffering—yay 'murica!

Score: ★★½

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