Friday March 31, 2000
"The Road to El Dorado" not only sounds like an old Bob Hope-Bing Crosby "Road" movie, it plays like one--never mind that it is a splashy work of up-to-the-minute animation. It's fitted out with Elton John-Tim Rice songs that are entirely pleasant and appropriate to the story without being particularly memorable--which pretty much sums up this lavish DreamWorks presentation. It's reasonably diverting, but don't count on it lingering in your memory.
When we first meet blond Miguel (Kenneth Branagh) and black-haired Tulio (Kevin Kline), you think Siegfried and Roy, and in the way they've been drawn they even somewhat resemble the Vegas magicians. But we quickly discover they're a pair of klutzes looking to get rich quick who stow away on Cortes' ship bound for the New World. Many mishaps later they, in fact, do stumble onto the legendary El Dorado, fabled for its vast treasure in gold.
Tulio and Miguel may not be the swiftest guys on the block, but they're smart enough to try to pass themselves off as gods to the natives with the help of a sexy local, Chel (Rosie Perez)--the Dorothy Lamour role--who has an eye on the main chance and agrees to help the guys grab the loot, provided they provide her safe passage to the outside world she craves to see--and a substantial portion of the gold.
Much of the film's shenanigans have to do with Tulio and Miguel passing muster with El Dorado's high priest Tzekel-Kan (Armand Assante, the film's richest "voice"), a great believer in ruling by fear instilled by human sacrifice rituals. In these politically correct, ethnically sensitive times, writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio present El Dorado's citizens, including their benevolent chief (Edward James Olmos) as kindly, highly civilized types in the thrall of the evil Tzekel-Kan, who possesses terrifying supernatural powers. To be sure, by the film's end the guys have acquired less materialistic values, and they've saved El Dorado from Cortes, who in an earlier era would have been treated on the screen as a conquering hero rather than a genocidal villain.
The look of the film, which was directed by Eric "Bibo" Bergeron and Don Paul in lively fashion, is lush and amusing. When it comes to evoking a pyramid-dominated city-state, the film summons images from those Mexican calendars featuring lurid depictions of the ancient gods and monuments. El Dorado recalls the Mayan Theatre more swiftly than Chichen Itza, for example, and that's fun. Indeed, in its colorful jungle atmosphere and pagan ritual stuff, "The Road to El Dorado" resembles nothing so much as a Maria Montez Technicolor epic like "White Savage." You have to wonder, though, whether the filmmakers intended this outing to be as campy as it is.
In any event, youngsters should find plenty to divert them--one of the liveliest sequences involves a sport that seems a cross between soccer and basketball in which it's absolutely essential for some reason that Tulio and Miguel demonstrate their prowess to Tzekel-Kan. The film's use of bold colors is frequently stunning and, as amusing as the production design deliberately is, the imagery has considerable beauty and grace. If you decide to take a chance on "The Road to El Dorado," just don't go expecting to experience the impact of an animation classic. Yes, it has Elton John and Tim Rice songs, but "The Lion King" this ain't.
The Road to El Dorado, 2000. PG, for mild thematic material and language. A DreamWorks Pictures presentation. Director Eric "Bibo" Bergeron & Don Paul. Producers Bonne Radford, Brooke Breton. Executive producer Jeffrey Katzenberg. Co-executive producer Bill Damaschke. Screenplay by Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio. Senior supervising animator John Baxter. Editor Vicki Hiatt. Music Elton John. Lyrics Tim Rice. Score composed by Hans Zimmer and John Powell. Production designer Christian Schellewald. Art directors Raymond Zibach, Paul Lasaine, Wendell Luebbe. Digital supervisor Dan Philips. Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes. Voice Talent as . Kevin Kline as Tulio. Kenneth Branagh as Miguel. Rosie Perez as Chel. Armand Assante as Tzekel-Kan. Edward James Olmos as The Chief.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times