'The Road to El Dorado' is one not taken

Underrated animated comedy simply isn’t one to forget


There is only one animated film I turn to when I feel the nostalgic desire to revisit my childhood. No, it’s not “The Lion King” or “Aladdin.” In fact, it’s not a Disney film at all. It’s a film which hardly even features children, and instead has two con men scheming their way to become filthy rich as its leading, unlikely heroes. Still can’t guess it? Here’s another hint: there’s a little treasure known as El Dorado heavily featured in it.

That’s right, I’m talking about 2000’s “The Road to El Dorado” — DreamWorks Animation’s charming and hilarious musical-comedy about Tulio (voiced by Kevin Kline) and Miguel (Kenneth Branagh), two gamblers who find a map to El Dorado, journey to the mythical city and are mistakenly received as gods by its citizens. Hijinks worthy of a screwball comedy ensue.

This film gets the award for most underrated children’s animated film in my book — not only for the hysterical and mischievous shenanigans Tulio and Miguel get into, but for the touching friendship between the duo at the heart of the film. This is a buddy comedy disguised as a family-friendly adventure film.

The banter between the two of them is like nothing seen in Disney animation. It has one of the most quotable scripts I’ve ever encountered in a children’s film, with dialogue resembling comical jousting. It certainly helps the two lead characters are voiced by none other than Kline and Branagh, who have such fun with their roles you can hear the rib-tickling repartee bouncing off their tongues with comedic ease.

I won’t deny, I’m especially partial to Kline, who manages to infuse all of his roles with vibrant energy, and here, as the greedy schemer Tulio, he excels. One could say his role within this underrated slice of animation earns him top prize for most underrated performance alongside all his other outstanding roles.

Have I even mentioned the music yet? Because it’s savory, toe-tapping and written by the immensely talented Elton John and lyricist Tim Rice. Only one song is sung by the characters themselves (the clever “It’s Tough to Be a God”), while the rest of the soundtrack plays in the film’s background, guiding Tulio and Miguel on their adventures. I often find myself humming these tunes, from the upbeat and perky “Trail We Blaze” to the incredibly catchy title song “El Dorado.” Go on YouTube, give them a listen and try not to get one stuck in your head. I dare you.

This film has so many gems in it: all-star voice casting, an entertaining and amusing plot, terrifying villains, swell music. I find it surprising and disappointing it didn’t catch on with audiences when it was originally released. It’s true hand-drawn animation in feature films was already being ushered out the door by the new millennium; “El Dorado” entered theaters around the time that Disney released “The Emperor’s New Groove” and “Atlantis: The Lost Empire,” both films which grossed a small profit and signaled the decline of this cinematic art form. Like those two films, it’s possible the downfall of “El Dorado” was its medium — or perhaps it was forgotten by the time DreamWorks debuted the immensely popular CGI franchise “Shrek” a year later. Still, for me, this film shines golden, and will always be the film I return to when I need a good dose of childhood nostalgia.

This story is a part of Arts & Entertainment’s “Underdog” series running this week, which highlights commonly underappreciated artists and artistic mediums.
Published March 17, 2014 in Arts and Entertainment, tableau

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