The Road to El Dorado (2000): Bright Shiny Things

I don't understand how people can forget about this one...

I’m going to start off this post by dragging up some tenuous link between The Road to El Dorado and how it’s all about an obsession with gold, so that I don’t feel guilty about plopping it in this month’s theme. 

There, now that’s done I’ll carry on, writing about how this is a brilliant piece of early work from the guys at Dreamworks. Even though it’s pre-Shrek, when everyone still debated whether Dreamworks could ever be considered a real threat to Disney,  all the makings of what Dreamworks productions would become synonymous with are right there on the screen. 

Worried that my memories of the film had somehow been viewed through rose tinted glasses- at 10 I have to admit that my sense of humour hadn’t matured to the highest echelons of wit that it enjoys now- I sat down the other night to watch it again. I think it says a lot that my younger brother; at an age where his bike, music, clothes and girls are all that seem to be significant, made me promise not to start the film till he had finished talking to his gf and could come watch too. 

Happy to say, a 22 year old Becca was not disappointed. From the time the music of Elton John and Tim Rice (not their strongest work) kicks up in the opening sequence, the purposeful use of vibrant colours and beautiful, Aztec design washes across the screen. Yay! That contented feeling from childhood is washing over me again. So long stresses about debt, toodle-oo worries about what to make for dinner, time to sit back and enjoy the adventures of Miguel and Tulio. 

Let’s not get it twisted; in no way am I trying to convince you that this film is somehow destined to change your life, some deep-seated messages about religion and morality woven within- a claim that’s been placed on the Disney camp many a time. Simply, The Road to El Dorado found that its release was sandwiched between two of Dreamworks bigger titles; The Prince of Egypt with its stunning imagery and majestic soundtrack, and Chicken Run with the humour and use of comedy suggestiveness that would lead Dreamworks to become a deal breaker for parents heading to the cinema with their kids. 

Throughout the narrative of the film; a pretty straightforward piece about best-friends who head off on an adventure to the land of gold, and pick up some side-kicks along the way, there is a goofiness and complete lack of reverence that I think must of been what made me fall in love with it as a child. The gags that made me crack up when I was 10; Miguel’s use of dramatic guitar playing, an armadillo that’s used as a self-propelling ball in an Aztec equivalent of basketball, or simply the high pitched screams that leave our protagonists mouths in the face of sudden danger, they still managed to make me genuinely chuckle. 

In a review by Roger Ebert, he acknowledges the likability of the piece but doesn’t see great things for the movie. For me with the luxury of hindsight, when you look at the catalogue of films Dreamworks has produced, The Road to El Dorado stands out as one of the best, especially once we start getting into Shrek The Third and Madagascar 3 territory. With the voices of Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branagh, as well as the wonderful Rosie Perez who I have such a love of, the film could really only ever have been great, and I’m pretty sure that if I sit down to watch it in another ten years, it’ll still make me chuckle. 

Illustration by Tamara-Jade Kaz