DM Haight

The Road to El Dorado. It feels like this is one of the masterpieces of the early 2000s that has been completely forgotten. This Dreamworks picture has it all: catchy songs, beautiful animation, stellar voice actors, compelling story, and unique setting. How could this one get lost in the annals of animation? Probably because it’s not Shrek or Disney. Let’s be honest here, if your name isn’t Ghibli or Disney, your traditional animation is probably going to buried. It’s a shame, especially when you consider that Kevin Kline, Kenneth Branagh, and Edward James Olmos all occupy the screen in some of the crispest animation we’ve seen.

I cannot begin to express the effect this film has on its viewers. The songs are big and romantic, full of adventure and beauty. You won’t soon forget the lyrics, and you shouldn’t. While strolling through the streets of El Dorado, you have gentle twangs from a makeshift guitar ringing in your ears, and you feel at ease. It’s weird. It’s calming. It’s simple. It becomes its own reward for watching the film.

Then you get the humor. For a film that is catering to a younger audience, there’s an awful lot of adult humor. Be it sexual innuendo, torture, ritual sacrifice. We don’t find this type of humor in out films anymore. Our culture has become so entitled and politically correct that a period film aimed at children will likely never again reach this same level of intelligent, tongue-in-cheek humor. Which is all the more reason to remember that this film exists.

For those unfamiliar with the story, let me give you the quick rundown. Tulio and Miguel, two conmen from Spain, haphazardly end up trapped on a ship bound for the new world. When they are discovered, they elect to escape a life of enslavement by jumping off the ship, getting washed up on a beach with nothing but their clothes, a war horse, and a map. A map to the city of gold. The premise is not one we’ve seen before or since. A tale about the Aztecs and a city of gold, about ritual sacrifice and the Spanish conquistadors invading native American lands in order to exploit the wealth of an uncharted continent? Why, what an absurd idea for a children’s film. But, of course, it works incredibly well on more than just the music level, or the all-star casting. Written with diverse themes and fleshy characters who have real motivations and interpersonal dynamics that make sense and push the story forward. It’s not much to ask of a film, and yet when you watch El Dorado you remember that you don’t get that kind of writing too often.

The use of computer generated images and traditional animation is, of course, stunning. The 3D work we later find in many animated features and television shows is prevalent throughout the film. Whether it be a truly beautiful book the high priest is searching through, or the giant stone jaguar running amok in the city, you are in no shortage of stunning visuals. Not to mention, for a film about the Aztecs, El Dorado certainly ensures that you feel the time period, the culture, and the people.

El Dorado is a film that will keep you smiling. Simple as that. I couldn’t be more pleased to have seen this film, and I am sure I’ll see dozens of times throughout the rest of my life. You can’t deny this essentially hidden, forgotten gem of a picture. Let’s just hope history pays it its fair due.

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