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DreamWorks presents
The Road to El Dorado (2000)

"Hmmm - this is not what I expected."
- Tzekel Kan (Armand Assante)

Review By: Dale Dobson   
Published: December 11, 2000

Stars: Kevin Kline, Kenneth Branagh, Rosie Perez
Other Stars: Armand Assante, Edward James Olmos, Jim Cummings
Director: Eric "Bibo" Bergeron, Don Paul

Manufacturer: Technicolor
MPAA Rating: PG for mild thematic material and language
Run Time: 01h:29m:19s
Release Date: December 12, 2000
UPC: 667068654523
Genre: animation


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A CA-A A-

DVD Review

The Road to El Dorado, DreamWorks' second cel-animated feature film, recounts the 16th century story of Miguel (Kenneth Branagh) and Tulio (Kevin Kline), two ne'er-do-well scam artists who luck into possession of a map to the supposedly mythical El Dorado, the Lost City of Gold. En route to make their fortunes, they stow away on the ship of Spanish conqueror Cortes (Jim Cummings), acquire a pampered war horse named Altivo, hook up with restless El Dorado girl Chel (Rosie Perez), and incur the wrath of high priest Tzekel Kan (Armand Assante). Mistaken for long-prophesied Gods, Miguel and Tulio are reluctantly charged with protecting the people of El Dorado, forcing them to choose between untold wealth, friendship and "the right thing."

The Road to El Dorado is meant to be an animated action comedy—Miguel and Tulio seem to have been conceived as a sort of raffish Hope-and-Crosby duo, thrust into what the filmmakers hoped would be an amazing world of adventure. Unfortunately, the chemistry never quite works; despite the distinguished presence of Branagh and Kline, and DreamWorks' innovative use of two-person recording sessions (a rarity in animation) to allow them to play off of each other dynamically, the two characters remain seriously underdeveloped. One gets the impression from the included making-of documentary that Kline and Branagh were much more fun to watch in the studio than their animated counterparts are onscreen. Miguel and Tulio seem like two versions of the same basic character, and their movement styles, facial expressions and dialogue never sufficiently distinguish the two leads from each other. They're given lots of comedic "business" to do, but most of it doesn't work—numerous gags fall flat; they're too broad, too anachronistic or too poorly executed to produce the intended reaction, and the overblown "adventure" elements fail to arouse much sympathy for, or reaction from, either character.

The supporting cast is more successful—the compact, slightly zoftig Chel is crafty and sexier than your average animated heroine, and Tzekel Kan is a darkly charismatic villain; his supernaturally-enhanced rages are among the film's best scenes. The city's Chief (voiced by Edward James Olmos) is almost too soft-spoken to be a credible leader, but he does provide some warmth and humanity in the midst of the film's strained jokes and action set pieces.

While the secondary characters can't buoy the film enough to save it, they do provide some much-needed energy, a burden the six new songs by Elton John and Tim Rice can't quite seem to manage. DreamWorks reassembled the team from Disney's The Lion King (including composer Hans Zimmer) in an attempt to recapture that film's musical magic, but it doesn't work this time around: the songs are uniformly unmemorable, in part because the script provides no sweeping, dramatic moments for the songs to enhance. Instead, Elton John wails away in the background while the film displays some visually impressive nonsense; even the big, reasonably well-integrated It's Tough to Be a God number sung by Branagh and Kline seems out-of-place and awkward.

The animation production can't be faulted; as with Prince of Egypt, DreamWorks proves itself quite capable (under the general direction of Jeffrey Katzenberg) of producing beautiful, technically solid artwork. Water effects, integrated 3-D CGI sets and color usage are consistently impressive, and the studio continues to carve out its own character design and animation style, remarkably distinct from the classic Disney model often imitated by other studios. Character animation is sometimes a bit too "by the book," with predictable reactions and timing, and the staging occasionally feels constricted, but many sequences are brilliantly executed and there are no obvious clunkers in the finished footage. The film's flaws are due to script and structure problems, not the animation itself.

Animation fans will want to give The Road to El Dorado a look, if only to see the gorgeous visuals, but the film doesn't stand up to repeat viewing. The jokes are weak, the plot is predictable, and the lead characters never really engage our emotions, making the ninety-minute film seem much longer than it is. The Road to El Dorado is all sturm, no drang, and I hope for better from DreamWorks' next effort.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: C

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: DreamWorks presents The Road to El Dorado in its original 1.85:1 theatrical widescreen aspect ratio, with a solid anamorphic transfer. Colors are deep and faithful to the film's rich visual design, sometimes muted, sometimes saturated but never faded or visibly "off," and the image is clean without a speck of dirt or damage. Detail is generally crisp, though the transfer does suffer from momentary shimmer and scan-line artifacting in a few spots (which progressive-scan DVD players may overcome). A fine transfer of a visually impressive animated film.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishno
DTSEnglishno


Audio Transfer Review: The Road to El Dorado is supported with three English audio tracks—DTS, Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 Surround, though no audio switching "on the fly" is permitted (presumably to shield non-DTS receivers from attempting to play raw digital data). The film is mixed in a fairly flat and balanced manner, with few particularly quiet or loud scenes, and all three tracks do a fine job of presenting the audio. The DTS track is enveloping and complex, with subtly active surrounds, crisp sound effects, solid bass, and broad frequency range, and the Dolby Digital 5.1 track is comparable (perhaps a bit less crisp in the higher frequencies). The Dolby 2.0 track retains most of the surround flavor of the 5.1 mixes, though dialogue is slightly muddied and bass is noticeably weaker in the few scenes that call for heavy LFE. DreamWorks is to be commended for their recent commitment to DTS and DD on the same disc; the broad audio support allows viewers to use the best soundtrack their equipment will handle, without having to decide which "version" to purchase.

Audio Transfer Grade: A

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
Production Notes
2 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Directors Eric "Bibo" Bergeron and Don Paul
Packaging: Alpha
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:09m:57s

Extra Extras:
  1. Read-Along
  2. Elton John Someday Out of the Blue Music Video
  3. DVD-ROM Interactive PC Game Demo
  4. DVD-ROM Puzzle/Coloring/Activity Pages
Extras Review: As usual, DreamWorks provides substantial supplements for The Road to El Dorado. Standard features include 28 full-motion menu chapter stops and English subtitles; extensive extras include:

The Making of The Road to El Dorado:

A fairly typical 26-minute TV promotional piece, with some brief but interesting insights into the voice characterizations, music and (to a lesser degree) animation production. It's fluffy and dominated by clips, but interviews with actors and production personnel do provide a few insights.

Read-Along:

A 21-minute retelling of the film's story, with narrated text overlaid on pixelly, low-resolution stills from the film, with brief film clips to illustrate significant plot points. I'm not sure what the value of this feature is when the actual movie is available right next door, and the narration suffers from a generic tone without a hint of storytelling flair.

Elton John Music Video—Someday Out of the Blue:

A promotional music video featuring Elton John performing one of his songs (co-written with lyricist Tim Rice) from the film's soundtrack, presented in 1.85:1 nonanamorphic letterboxed video with full-blown Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. I'm usually not fond of these inclusions, but this one places live-action and animated versions of Elton John into settings from the film, and the strong, integrated visual approach raises it a notch above the typical promo video (though the song remains less than memorable).

Directors' Commentary:

Co-directors Don Paul and Eric "Bibo" Bergeron contribute a running commentary, discussing the film's genesis, actors' contributions, technical aspects and evolution of the film. The two have good chemistry, and though they sometimes go silent for a stretch, their comments are often funny and insightful. One gets the impression that the film's lengthy four-year production cycle contributed to some of its shortcomings; one suspects that so much attention was paid to individual shots and sequences that no one evaluated the film as a whole.

Theatrical Trailer:

The film's original theatrical trailer is nicely presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio; the source print has a few dirt flecks, but the transfer is otherwise in good shape. The trailer plays up the film's humor and action without giving too much of the plot away, so it's not a bad preview on that basis.

The Basics of Animation: The Color Script:

This 39-minute documentary takes an in-depth look at The Road to El Dorado's color design, with commentary by the directors and art director Raymond Zibach accompanying concept drawings from each sequence of the film. It's a close look at how color and contrast are used in animation (or in any film) to establish mood and rhythm, and the commentary is worthwhile. A bit esoteric, perhaps, but much more valuable than the making-of piece.

Cast & Crew:

Well-written biographies and good filmographies for five cast members and 16 production personnel; standard stuff, but nicely presented.

Production Notes:

Several text screens' worth of production notes, also available on the keepcase insert, but nice to have on-disc.

DVD-ROM Features:

I was not able to explore these PC-compatible extras, but the packaging lays claim to brain teasers, mazes, coloring pages, and Aztec arts and crafts projects, as well as an interactive PC game demo.

Extras Grade: A-

 

Final Comments

The Road to El Dorado is a beautiful but unrewarding animated action comedy that should have worked much better than it does. DreamWorks' quality DVD features an excellent transfer and substantial supplements, but the film itself is just barely worth a rental.

 


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