The Road to El Dorado
Directed by Eric Bergeron and Don Paul
Written by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio

Starring the voices of Kevin Kline, Kenneth Branagh, Rosie Perez


The Road to El Dorado

Here is a list of the things I disliked about "The Road to El Dorado":

1. Two main characters who could not be told apart, except when one would call the other by name. Voiced by Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branagh, they could as well have been voiced by two guys named Kenneth Kline and Kevin Branagh.

2. Shallow, cheesy animation that flattened everything until it looked like a Saturday-morning television show.

3. Unforgivable stereotyping of pre-Columbian cultures, particularly Mayan, harking back to the worst days of Hollywood animated features when anyone not white was to be laughed at as, at best, an innocent savage. This is a film -- made by Spielberg's, Katzenberg's and Geffen's SKG Dreamworks studio, no less -- that parades its insensitivity, never mind its lack of wit, like a great Hollywood trophy.

4. The absence of a plot.

5. The absence of any jokes, or even decent dialogue.

6. The songs, by Elton John and Tim Rice, that are simpy, obvious, and dull.

Here is a list of the things I liked about "The Road to El Dorado":

1. Rosie Perez.

The film's concept is that two Spanish con men at the time of Cortez find themselves stowaways on one of his ships, are thrown in the brig, escape with a map to El Dorado, and make their way to the city of gold, where they are treated like gods until -- but you can fill in the rest. The natives are credulous, superstitious, and child-like, the Spaniards smooth and sophisticated, and most of the film's action is built on that structure.

But there's a larger issue here, which is related to both the advantages and disadvantages of making an animated film. The temptation for the creator of an animated film is to build its appeal on the fact of the animation itself, that is, to make shots that cannot be done in live action because they would be unbelievable. So you can show animated characters bobbing around in a little boat, menaced by huge waves in a storm at sea. You can show a mountain of gold, a volcano erupting, and great temples falling -- shots that would undermine the believability of any live-action film. That is what was done here; but what was not done was to create any kind of believable, human protagonist with whom the audience could identify. Although ten years of "The Simpsons" and five years of "South Park" have shown to anyone who would listen that in order to work successfully animation requires its characters to be real people, somehow the Dreamworks people never learned the lesson.

By the way, one more little irony of the film is that while Kline and Branagh are the two supposed Spaniards -- though Kline speaks flat American and Branagh speaks British English -- Perez, with the only authentic Spanish accent in the film, is the voice of a native, evidently Mayan, woman. Say what?

At the screening I saw, a local elementary school had brought all its first, second, and third-graders to the film. No one laughed.    

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