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The Road to El Dorado   C

DreamWorks Pictures

Year Released: 2000
MPAA Rating: PG
Directors: Eric Bergeron, Don Paul
Writers: Ted Elliot, Terry Rossio
Cast: Kevin Kline, Kenneth Branagh, Rosie Perez, Armand Assante, Edward James Olmos.

Review by Rob Vaux

DreamWorks Animation, be warned: your archrival Disney can afford to mark time in the battle for supremacy. You can't. Disney has owned the territory for as long as anyone can remember and has the muscle to destroy anyone who challenges them. You, on the other hand, are fresh-faced upstarts, without the clout or the tenacity to crank out films like sausage. Your CEO may have helped spur the Disney renaissance with films like Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, but he's not lord of the mountain anymore. And if you keep putting out films like The Road to El Dorado, he'll never be again.

Which isn't to say that El Dorado is bad. It has a decent script, nice animation, and an engaging pair of heroes in Miguel (Kenneth Branagh) and Tulio (Kevin Kline). The two are a throwback to the old Hope-Crosby Road pictures, a pair of Spanish con men who stow away on a ship to the New World. They won a map leading to the fabled City of Gold, and plan to rob it blind...provided they can avoid the sinister Cortez and his men along the way. Finding the city proves easier than they thought, but they're not ready for what they find. Mistaken as gods, they become embroiled in the machinations of an evil priest (Armand Assante), and receive some unexpected help from a beautiful thief (Dorothy Lamo...er, Rosie Perez), who helps them keep up the charade until they can escape.

The script follows a loose pattern set by both the Road films and John Huston's The Man Who Would Be King, but the trappings are all Disney. Tulio and Miguel receive help from some cute animals, learn the P.C. lessons of multi-cultural diversity, and are serenaded in their adventures by the dentist-office croonings of Elton John and Tim Rice. None of that's necessarily bad, per se; the story is reasonably clever and the animation is always engaging. All of the children in the screening I attended seemed to love it, and if you're looking for a family outing, you could do a lot worse.

But there's no real resonance here -- nothing to make the film more than a forgettable piece of fluff. Branagh and Kline work well together, but their characters are thinly developed and leave no lasting impression. The images are pretty, but lack the breathtaking awe of Tarzan or The Prince of Egypt. And the songs...well, the songs are Elton John and Tim Rice; vomit bags are available to those who wish them. Everything about it evokes comparisons to other animated features, and while it more or less holds its own, nothing comes across as new or even interesting. It's tough to remember anything about The Road to El Dorado even a few days after seeing it.

For a company trying to make a mark in the animation field, that's not encouraging. Last year's The Iron Giant didn't exactly catch fire at the box office, but it marked a real departure from the Disney formula and its critical success -- along with the likes of South Park and Princess Monoke -- has raised the bar significantly. Fox animation has Titan A.E. in the wings, and film companies seem much more willing to test the boundaries of the medium these days. In that light, the tired formula of fuzzy animals and easy listening musak just isn't going to cut it. Maybe Chicken Run due out this summer, can turn things around. Until then, DreamWorks -- and The Road to El Dorado -- are left following a trail that far too many have traveled before.

Review published 04.07.2000.

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