The Road to El Dorado

Directed by Bibo Bergeron, Will Finn, and Don Paul.
Starring: Voices of Kevin Kline, Kenneth Branagh, Edward James Olmos, Rosie Perez, Armand Assante.
MPAA Rating: PG for mild thematic material and language.

Review by Matt Heffernan
April 1, 2000

Last year was undoubtedly the best year ever for animation. Tarzan and Toy Story 2 were by far the most successful, and both were wonderful. Of course, you can't forget other gems like Princess Mononoke, The Iron Giant, and even the hilariously irreverent South Park movie. DreamWorks is riding high off winning the Academy Award for American Beauty, so you'd think they would hitch onto the animation streak of glory. Unfortunately, this attempt cannot even measure up to The Tigger Movie.

In the early 16th century, Cortez is preparing to head off for the new world. In the name of Spain, he makes his voyage for God, glory, and gold (but not necessarily in that order). Tulio (voiced by Kevin Kline) and Miguel (Kenneth Branagh) are two street hustlers, and their latest con goes awry, forcing them to stow away on Cortez' ship. They are discovered, but they manage to escape with the help of an exceptionally smart horse, and they take a lifeboat to Mexico, arriving ahead of Cortez.

Even through all this, Miguel managed to hold onto a map that he won in a dice game back in Spain. It supposedly leads to El Dorado, the legendary city of gold. He recognizes features on the map, and he leads Tulio (and the horse) on the trail. When they find it, the Aztec tribe assumes they are gods, giving them an opportunity to take a whole lot of gold. They meet Chel (Rosie Perez), a girl with similar interests, and she helps them deal with the tribe, led by the rival chief (Edward James Olmos) and high priest (Armand Assante).

The location may be different, but The Road to El Dorado is a quite obvious rip-off of Kipling's The Man Who Would Be King. That wouldn't be so bad, if John Huston's film wasn't so much better. This pairing of Kline and Branagh is at least better than Wild Wild West, but give me Sean Connery and Michael Caine. Of course, the kids won't care about the story (or the jokes) being derivative. The horse and a cute little red armadillo were added for their amusement. Their parents will probably enjoy some of the snappy dialogue, but some patches of the film are worn pretty thin.

This is no fault of the animation, which has a good look and a smooth fluidity. Jeffrey Katzenberg was in charge of the project, and he learned how to manage cartoons quite well at Disney. I especially liked the opening sequence, which was done in the style of Aztec art, showing the magical formation of El Dorado. Behind that was the title song by Elton John, with lyrics by Tim Rice -- reuniting for their first film since The Lion King. The other songs are pretty good, but never fit in well with the action. I guess hearing Elton's voice suddenly blaring during a scene in the Mexican jungle is a little disorienting.

I think I just prefer to have the characters sing, or have no songs at all in an animated film. As much as I might like Elton, or Phil Collins or Sarah McLachlan, hearing them sing about the animated action just doesn't work. Well, it's not a really big deal, I guess. What's going to be really disturbing is watching talking computer-animated dinosaurs in Disney's upcoming Dinosaur. I'm afraid that 2000 doesn't look like another banner year for the artform.

For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
The Road to El Dorado (2000)

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The Road to El Dorado (2000) -- VHS
The Road to El Dorado (2000) -- DVD
The Road to El Dorado, a storybook by Ellen Weiss -- Hardcover
The Road to El Dorado, a screenplay novelization by Peter Lerangis -- Paperback
The Road to El Dorado: Soundtrack -- Compact Disc
The Road to El Dorado -- Game for Sega Dreamcast
The Road to El Dorado -- Game for Sony PlayStation
The Road to El Dorado -- Game for Nintendo Game Boy Color Home
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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan