Dreamworks SKG steps up to the Disney gold standard with this sensationally entertaining animated adventure. Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branaugh provide the voices for Miguel and Tulio, two loveable rogues who go off to the new world in search of excitement and gold. Contrary to the way most animated films are made, the producers put the two actors in the same room to record their dialogue, and it paid off. Kline and Branaugh, both classically trained and both masters of improvisation, brought humor and spontaneity to the relationship of the two characters that adds life and electricity to a medium that can often seem too staid. Think Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid crossed with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. It is no coincidence that the “Road to” title and one of the best gags in the movie pay loving tribute to the Hope/Crosby series. The animation is terrific. The biggest challenge — making the character’s faces expressive without being caricatures — is especially well done. El Dorado itself is suitably magical, and the scenes with humor and tension are epertly handled, especially a high stakes basketball-style game and the climactic escape. Aside from the lackluster Elton John/Tim Rice score, this is an outstanding family movie.
The movie is set in 1519, as Cortes is planning “to conquer the new world for Spain, for glory and for gold.” Miguel and Tulio accidentally stow away, along with their one possession, a map to El Dorado, the legendary land of gold. They escape Cortes in a rowboat (taking a clever horse along with them!) and land on a coast that looks just like the one in their map. They follow the map to the city of gold, to be welcomed as gods by the friendly chief (voice of Edward James Olmos) and his less friendly priest Tzekel-Kan (voice of Armand Assante). They are also welcomed by Chell (voice of Rosie Perez), who knows they are con men, but promises to help them if they will take her with them when they go.
As they struggle to behave like gods, Miguel and Tulio begin to care about what happens to the people of El Dorado, first from the power- hungry Tzekel-Kan and then from Cortes, who plans to plunder the city. Their friendly rivalry begins to get hostile as Miguel thinks of staying behind and Tulio and Chell fall in love. The final conflict forces them to find out what their priorities really are.
Families who watch this movie together should talk about how the characters decide what is important to them and how they decide what to do. When Miguel and Tulio think they are dying, they thank each other for their friendship and talk about what they most wanted in life –- adventure, gold, being remembered. How do their actions later on reflect these goals? Tulio says, “You know that voice that tells people to quit when they’re ahead? Miguel, you don’t have one.” What does that mean? Why does Miguel take risks that Tulio thinks are not wise? Talk about Tzekel-Kan’s view of people as disgusting and his statement that “people will not respect you unless they fear you.” Why does he think that? How does thinking that make him behave differently? Keep in mind that Tulio and Miguel are small-time con men, and ask kids if they think the end was fair, and whether Tulio and Miguel will continue to cheat people in the future. Kids with a lot of patience might enjoy trying to replicate the domino stunt in the movie, and older kids will enjoy learning more about Cortes and talking about the history of colonization.
Parents should know that this is not a Disney movie. It is rated PG for a couple of mild words, some brief nudity and suggestiveness, and some tense moments. Some families may object to Cortes’ reference to the disciples or to his calling Tzekel-Kan a “lying heathen.”
Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy the spectacular animated movie “The Thief and the Cobbler” and the Bob Hope and Bing Crosby classic, “The Road to Bali.”