The Road to El Dorado was birthed during the period where Dreamworks was still getting started, per say. After releasing the deeply sophisticated Antz and the cult favorite The Prince of Egypt, moviegoers still really had no true idea of what kind of film the company would give them. If Antz was sophistication, then The Road to El Dorado is anarchy - the coherent and easily-lovable kind. Filled with catchy, spur-of-the-moment songs, bright stylistic animation, and an immersing storyline, it majors in the field of uncompromising fun.
The film's lead characters, two extremely hilarious ones, are Miguel and Tulio (voiced by Kenneth Branagh and Kevin Kline), two con-artists who rig gambling games and deliberately turn the tables on unsuspecting folks so they come out on top of everything. During a small gambling session, where the two are winning because of loaded dice, the two rustle up a map of El Dorado, a place bearing untold heavens. Just as they get the map and all their winnings, the other group finds out their swindling tactics and quickly run them out of the area. The two, and a horse, escape on a small boat, which washes up on the beach of El Dorado. There the two are mistaken for almighty, powerful gods of El Dorado and are treated like royalty. They decide to live in the luxury for a while, sneak some goodies, then ditch it in search for a new land to rob. Obligatory subplots involve Tulio falling for a native to El Dorado (Rosie Perez), who is aware of the two's secret, and the thought that both Miguel and Tulio will grow angry at one another and contemplate going their separate ways.
While in some regards the story of this film is standard and somewhat foreseeable, it's nonetheless a competent, potent production. For example, the animation is presented in a believable, realistic light, not making everything too silly and bombastic, yet not entirely life-like. This is almost guaranteed to offput some; I can see people saying that it's an animated film that doesn't take full advantage of its medium. Yet the crisp, controlled style of the film let's loose on occasion, particularly during the chase sequence on water that concludes the film, which is lively and exhilarating. Rather than grounding the film to reality, it seems that the animators wanted to provide the illusion that it was an animated film that can capture the events of its story in th way that if this was real, but certain laws, rules, and logic didn't apply, this is how it'd look. It's fascinating and often absorbing. A similar style was used in Disney's Atlantis: The Lost Empire, when Disney took a shot in the dark, attempting to usher in a fanbase that wasn't so reliant/content with songs and candy-coated colors.
This is one of the first animated films in a long time that doesn't use big-name actors to market its story, content, and animation. I guess Dreamworks used all its big-casting abilities on Antz. While Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branagh are certainly not "unknowns" in Hollywood, they aren't the kind you usually see receiving top-billing in an animated feature. Because of this, it's nice to hear voices that are not plagued by celebrity recognition and familiarities, so there's an easier transition to believing and knowing the character.
The Road to El Dorado is wonderfully scored and livened by Elton John, whose song "It's Tough to Be a God" is one that will not leave my head soon enough. The film's music sequences are fun and spontaneous, much like the exposition as a whole. This is a good family endeavor; one that is light-years more fun than much of what passes for basic family programming.
Voiced by: Kevin Kline, Kenneth Branagh, and Rosie Perez. Directed by: Eric Bergeron and Will Finn.
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