The Road to El Dorado

(Bibo Bergeron, Will Finn, Don Paul & David Silverman, USA, 2000)


The Road to El Dorado is a solidly crafted feature animation that blends elements of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1984), The Lion King (1994) and an older classic, Vincente Minnelli's The Pirate (1948). It overflows with cute animals, dark villains and sun-drenched landscapes whose treacle quotient is topped only by the songs of Elton John and Tim Rice.

Tulio and Miguel are a lively pair of con-artists in search of a vast store of gold. After a dramatic sea voyage, they end up in El Dorado, where they are unexpectedly greeted as gods. Thus begins a suspenseful masquerade, during which one of them finds love and the other begins to enjoy the simple, prelapsarian life.

If this were a live-action musical, these charming, scheming heroes might get to sing (or at least mime) their own numbers. Instead, they must acrobatically frolic for a minute or two each time Elton John's voice melts down the soundtrack.

Voices count for most of the appeal of this movie. Its chief attraction for any stray adult viewers is the recognition factor tied to the sound of Kevin Kline (Tulio) and Kenneth Branagh (Miguel). Everything is driven by the vocal personalities of these stars – if as all its animation techniques have been geared mainly to illustrate or accompany a relentlessly chirpy radio play.

This radiophonic bias accounts for the film's aesthetic conservatism. Although many of the images are crisp and beautiful, they never take off into the truly imaginative realms plumbed by Japanese feature animators. Unfortunately, the audiences that will flock to this – including the majority of local film reviewers – are unlikely to find themselves any time soon in front of the far superior Asian innovations in this genre.

Those of a strictly political bent are likely to experience heart failure while watching The Road to El Dorado. Making a movie for children seems to convince some filmmakers that they can get away with ideological murder. 'It's just harmless, nostalgic, movie matinee fun': one can almost hear this time-worn alibi babbling underneath all the scenes which re-run the hoariest old stereotypes of primitives and temptresses.

The result is not offensive – merely uninspired. American animated films, even the most expensive, have yet to go the whole nine yards.

© Adrian Martin September 2000

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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