There once was a time where Dreamworks didn’t just make crappy Shrek sequels. A time before movies were all computer animated. Back when teen pop stars reigned supreme (‘Oops! I Did It Again’ is actually about how Britney keeps banging dudes and they won’t stop falling in love with her by the way) and people still frosted the tips of their hair as our brains had yet to recover from the radioactive effects of the ’90s. Yet it’s in these murky waters that we find the gem of The Road to el Dorado.
If you’ve been around the internet chances are you’ve seen bits of pieces from El Dorado. A couple of goofy gifs, some of the infectious songs or, if like me you googled it without safe search on, a multitude gay porn. But perhaps you’ve never seen the complete film? Maybe you checked its Rotten Tomatoes score and decided all it amounted to was a funny man playing a banjo. Well I’m here to tell you different! I’m here to tell you that El Dorado is criminally underrated and is well worth your valuable time!
The Road to El Dorado is one of DreamWorks’ early few 2D animated features which have mostly been forgotten from the companies success in CGI animation. The film transports us to 16th-century Spain in the company of two rapscallions: Tulio and Miguel. The spoils of a hustle reveal to them the location of the legendary city of gold: El Dorado. Things sour fast however when their victims discover that they have been conned, and the two are pursued. In their attempt to flee, they board what happens to be the flagship of Cortés’ expedition fleet, and are imprisoned as stowaways. With the assistance of Cortés’ horse, they manage to escape into the Americas and begin their search for treasure and glory.
Yeah it ain’t gonna win any Oscars for best screenwriting anytime soon, but it’s serviceable. Why did this baldy thug and his mates have a map to El Dorado? Who cares! There’s so much to love in this film that getting bogged down in the niggles is a waste of time. First of all you might notice that it is absolutely beautiful. From the stylised intro to the great golden city itself, it really makes you long for when hand-drawn animation was the norm.
When our scheming heroes arrive at their destination they are mistaken as gods and treated like royalty. From there the film is a series of enjoyable sequences stitched together like a travel guide through El Dorado, hosted by our charismatic leads as they try their best to make off with as much gold as they can. There’s a great festival, the big whirlpool to the spirit world, the local sports team and some impressive stonemasonry.
The real magic here though comes from the film’s leads. Tulio and Miguel are voiced by Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branagh respectively and their chemistry is incredible. Their line delivery is hilarious and they bounce off each other fantastically. Kline is great as the exasperated Tulio while Branagh is solid as his spirited foil Miguel. The films endearing quality despite its flaws is almost entirely precipitated on the relationship between the Spanish con-men. The supporting cast is decent but none can take away the attention from the leads. The savvy Chell discovers the con and plays cultural translator for the two as the jovial chief and sacrifice-happy high priest/sorcerer jockey for the Divine Spaniards’ approval. They’re all fairly shallow and Chell is drawn like the animator had an erection that just would not go away but like the rest of the film they’re entertaining.
The other aspect that I’d attribute to the films longevity is the soundtrack. Composed by a collaborative team of Elton John and Tim Rice with some score contributions by Hans Zimmerman. This composing dream-team had previously formed for The Lion King and created the incredible soundtrack for El Dorado. ‘The Trail we Blaze’, ‘Friends never say Goodbye’ and especially ‘It’s Tough to be a God’ are all fantastic pieces. Hell, even if you check the tracks that didn’t make it into the film they’re great (take a look at ‘16th Century Man’ which sadly didn’t make the cut).
Hopefully that’s been enough to convince you to check out The Road to El Dorado. Even still it’s only an hour and 20 minutes long, so what have you got to lose? Chances are I’m preaching to the choir with the cult following this film has gained on the internet. But even so I got to talk about why I love this film so that’s always a plus. Now if you excuse me I’m going to listen to ‘It’s tough to be a God’ for the 14th time today.