THE ROAD TO EL DORADO
Review by Michael Jacobson
Kline, Kenneth Branagh, Rosie Perez, Armand Assante, Edward James Olmos
Directors: Eric “Bibo” Bergeron, Don Paul
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video: Widescreen 1.85:1 Anamorphic Transfer
Features: See Review
Length: 89 Minutes
Release Date: December 12, 2000
The Road to El Dorado is a visually stunning and
rollickingly hysterical buddy adventure…one that marks technical improvements
even over Dreamworks’ animated masterpiece The Prince of Egypt, but
with storytelling that focuses less on grandeur and spectacle and more on sheer
unbridled comedy. I laughed harder
and more often during this movie than most in recent memory.
Even the title, the more I thought about it, called to mind
those classic, irreverent Bob Hope and Bing Crosby “Road To” pictures…each
had the two entertainers playing friends who get caught up in one kind of
screwball adventure or another, usually in exotic locales. The Road to El Dorado seems both a tribute to and an
improvement upon those films…mostly because animation could take the leading
heroes into worlds, adventures and scenarios that no conventionally made film
The picture opens in 16th century Spain, where
partners in crime Tulio (Kline) and Miguel (Branagh) are conning their way
through a game with some loaded dice. Instantly,
we see what kind of characters they are: Tulio
is the more grounded one, concerned only with the easy buck and safest route,
while Miguel is the dreamer, wearing his heart on his sleeve and opening his
mouth a little too wide from time to time.
When their con is discovered, they make a daring escape—not with the
money, but with a map to the fabled city of gold, El Dorado.
Accidentally becoming stowaways on one of Cortez’ ships
sailing toward the new world, the men steal away on a rowboat with the help of a
smart horse named Altivo, and head out wherever the seas may take them.
They soon land in the west, and Miguel becomes convinced that they can
actually find the city of El Dorado ahead of Cortez and his men.
When they finally stumble upon the mythical city, their
adventures are just beginning. They
meet up with the people of El Dorado, and are proclaimed the prophesized
arriving gods by the tribe’s creepy holy man, Tzekel-Kan (Assante) and the
jovial rotund Chief (Olmos). As
always, Tulio is apprehensive, but Miguel sees a great future in godhood, not
quite considering that their lack of divinity might cause them some problems
with these people down the road. One
of the film’s great running gags is how Tzekel-Kan, the champion of their
primitive religion, keeps wanting to offer human sacrifices to the ‘gods’,
and how they in turn keep trying to prevent them from happening. There’s one instance where a human is saved, but the heroes
have to watch in horror and dismay as mounds of precious gold are sacrificed in
The duo decides the best route is to use their divine
influence in getting the natives to rig them a ship, where they can then load up
on tons of gold and break away. “We’ll
go back to Spain!” says Tulio. “And
BUY Spain!” Miguel responds. With
the help of a pretty native girl, Chel (Perez), who wants to get away and go
with them, they seem to have everything they need to make their scheme work,
provided they proceed cautiously. But
with Miguel’s spirit, that might not be possible.
Soon, Tzekel-Kan discovers their fraud…and without real
gods to stop his evil plans to ‘cleanse’ the city, he unleashes power
against them, in a scene so spectacular and exciting, it could only be the
climax of the film…yet it isn’t. The
real climax comes shortly after, in a real topper involving a harrowing escape
from the city via a man-made wave. The
latter is made even more awesome by the creation of new software for the
realistic rendering of splashing water, and BOY, does it work. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this film garner an Oscar
nomination for Visual Effects, or even a special achievement plaque from the
body’s scientific department.
But what makes the film most entertaining is not so much
the story, nor the characters, nor the tremendous visual impact, though all
three certainly spice up the brew. What
made the movie for me was the humor. From
the opening scenes where Tulio and Miguel stage a lively (and fake) duel to
escape an angry mob, and watching the way the animators worked (particularly
with Miguel’s highly expressive face), I knew this was going to be a no-holds
barred comedy. The gags, both
physical and verbal, come one after another in rapid fire fashion.
I loved, for example, when Cortez’ boat was about to bear down on the
heroes: “Holy SHIP!!” cries
Tulio. Or the ‘basketball’ game
where a ‘living’ ball becomes key to the duo’s success against a team of
giants (and naturally, after the other team loses, Tzekel-Kan calls for them to
be sacrificed!). By casting Kline
and Branagh as the lead voices, these characters get a real injection of life
and energy that serves as the glue that holds the film together…it’s a very
safe bet these two veteran actors will look back on El Dorado with more
fondness than they will Wild Wild West.
The songs by Elton John and Tim Rice are a mixed bag, but
offer at least two memorable ones: the
rousing opening theme “El Dorado” and the beautiful “Friends Never Say
Goodbye” (a sure-fire Oscar contender). Hans
Zimmer provides the film with a powerful, percussive and rhythmic score that
helps drive the comedy and action along.
All in all, The Road to El Dorado succeeds because
it finds the right mix: good
performances, envelope-pushing animation, action, adventure, and most of all,
comedy. It’s not only one of the
year’s best animated films, it’s also one of the year’s funniest.
Absolutely stunning! This
is an extremely colorful and brightly beautiful animated film that transfers
flawlessly to DVD. A couple of the
sequences, including the “It’s Great to Be a God” segment, take plenty of
artistic license with flights of fantasy: the
colors are often taken to extremes in terms of vibrancy and contrast, and the
results are amazing: no bleeding,
distortion, or other distractions. Images
throughout are crystal clear and superbly sharp…so much so that it’s
difficult at times to discern which parts of scenes are computer animated, they
match so effortlessly. I mentioned
one of the film’s pioneering techniques, the water animation
program—that’s spectacular. But
equally so is the rendering of the gold, which also utilized brand new technical
advances. For the first time in animation, gold isn’t merely a color:
it’s bright, metallic and reflective.
It looks amazingly real. No
question about it, this is a reference quality transfer.
The Dolby 5.1 soundtrack (DTS also included) is an equal
triumph, beginning with one of the clearest sounding musical scores I’ve
heard: every instrument punches
through with singular identity, and the percussion cuts through with cleanness
and potency, bringing the .1 channel in cleanly with the remaining channels for
a smooth mix. There is plenty of
action that allows for discreet front and rear stage usage, with clean
crossovers both front to back and side to side, with plenty of dynamic range.
All in all, mark this disc another triumph for Dreamworks!
The features package is quite generous, starting with
nicely done animated menus with sound. It
begins with a commentary track by the filmmakers (interesting and informative),
but doesn’t stop there. There is
a very nicely done 25 minute behind the scenes documentary, with plenty of
interviews with cast and crew and segments on both the music and the technical
advances of the film. There is also
a read-along feature for the kids, an Elton John music video (“Someday Out of
the Blue”, where Elton becomes an animated figure in scenes from the movie!),
DVD ROM extras, a trailer, production notes, talent files, plus some Easter eggs
which I haven’t found yet: brain
teasers, mazes, coloring pages, Aztec arts and crafts and more.
A terrific package.
Dreamworks continues to raise the bar in the field of animation and make a serious challenge to Disney for their crown. The Road to El Dorado is a funny, exciting and visually spectacular ride that you will want to take with your family time and time again…especially on this top notch, reference quality DVD.