THE ROAD TO EL DORADO
Rated PG - Running Time: 1:25 - Released 3/31/00
There is no doubt that Dreamworks SKG, the production company founded in 1997 by entertainment giants Steven Speilberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and David Geffen, is making a serious bid to outstrip Disney in the cartoon feature market. Their three full-length animated features released so far (Antz, The Prince Of Egypt, and now The Road To El Dorado) have been epic and spectacular, equal in every way to the Mouse Club's most dazzling output. What's interesting to note, however, are the ways in which the Dreamworks cartoons differ from Disney products. Despite accusations levied against Disney a few years ago for lacking "family values" because of their tolerant policy on homosexuals, the company's cartoons always seem to be teaching. The main theme of almost every Disney cartoon can be expressed in some simple Aesopian moral lesson.
But the producers of Dreamworks cartoons do not seem so concerned
about grinding axes, nor about pitching to the child market. Their
films, while not inappropriate for kids, are more adult in nature
geared less toward keeping a grip on the little ones' fleeting
attention spans and more toward impressing grownups and, perhaps
more importantly, the lucrative but cartoon-unfriendly teen market.
While Disney films are aimed at kids and may also please adults,
Dreamworks cartoons speak to adults and hope the kids will keep
The Road To El Dorado is a clear example of this philosophy.
While its action, color, and occasional bits of slapstick humor
may keep the kiddies entertained, its subject matter and superior
artwork appeal primarily to their parents. In 16th-century Spain,
the explorer Cortés prepares to leave on his historic voyage
to the New World. As his ships are being loaded, two local swindlers
accidentally hop on board while eluding some angry swindle-ees.
Miguel (voice of Kenneth Branagh), the charmer, and Tulio (Kevin
Kline), the brains of the duo, wind up unwitting stowaways bound
for America. After escaping the ship (along with a horse named
Altimus), they row the rest of the way to what is now Mexico and
find the legendary city of gold. There, they are mistaken for
the gods who have been expected by local high priest Tzekel-Kan
(Armand Assante), and are welcomed by the tribe's Chief Tannabok
(Edward James Olmos). Amazed at their incredible luck, they assume
the roles of gods with vigor, planning to amass huge amounts of
gold (mostly spitoons and flower vases) and leave in a few days.
But a young woman named Chel (Rosie Perez), being an opportunistic
crook herself, is onto their plan. Threatening to expose their
fraud, she blackmails them into promising her a percentage of
the loot. In return, she will help them with the local customs.
Soon, however, Tzekel-Kan gets wise and vows to bring them down.
This film, under the freshman directing team of animators Bibo
Bergeron and Will Finn, and visual effects specialist Don Paul
(Pocahontas, The Prince Of Egypt), immerses the
viewer with vivid color and awe-inspiring artwork from the first
frame. The gold-bedecked panoramas are rich and beautiful, matched
by the amusing characterizations of the two leads. Branagh and
Kline click together perfectly, even though their characters (and
that of Chel) are not exactly role models. The political incorrectness
of their being crooks, bilking an unsuspecting native population
out of its precious metals, is balanced weakly by their disdain
for the ritual sacrifices offered them by Tzekel-Kan. This script,
penned by the established team of Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio
(Aladdin, Small Soldiers),
would have been seriously revised if it had just been intended
for kiddies. It's a bit racy at times (sex is not shown, but hinted
at) and quite political, without the traditional fairy-tale romance.
With two male friends as the leads, it more resembles one of those
old Hope & Crosby "road" movies, even to the point
of including a gag used repetitively by that famous team.
Another aspect of this film which seems intentionally geared toward the over-21 portion of the audience is the collection of instantly likable songs penned by Elton John and Tim Rice (the team responsible for the music of The Lion King). In this film, Elton actually sings most of the selections himself while the characters do their respective things illustrating the song's theme. Many children may not recognize Elton's voice; few of their adult companions will fail to notice the sound of one of their generation's favorite singer/songwriters. ****½
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