Sunday, 7 August 2016

Movie Review: The Road to El Dorado

History lovers, gather!

The Road to El Dorado”, an animated comedy from DreamWorks, gets its title, its wanderlust and its jokey buddy-buddy tone from those Crosby-Hope treks into silliness, however, its dialogue is so innocuous to the point that there’s no subtext to speak of. And where the Crosby-Hope frolics into exotic climes displayed a misguided Yanks-among-savages attitude toward non-North Americans, “The Road to El Dorado” bends over backward not to offend. This is a movie that wouldn’t hurt a fly.

In its nicey-nice way, it is so willing to entertain that unlike other mainstream animated movies, this one has no moral lesson up its sleeve. Well, yes, maybe one: human sacrifice is evil. Stretching things a bit, it also suggests that friendship may matter more than wealth and that con men can also be noble.

But, basically “The Road to El Dorado” is little more than a sanitized blend of babble and adventure and just a teeny bit of romance, scattered with the occasional pop song. Its half-dozen musical numbers by Elton John (music) and Tim Rice (words) stick to the team’s typically catchy pop shorthand: bluntly aggressive tunes (trimmed with Spanish and South American articulations) and clunky rhymes that any kindergartner could take after. The songs, rather than advancing the story, are production numbers dropped into the movie to light up it up and provide the animators with a bombastic light show and morphing opportunities. Mr. John declaims all but one. As the movie zips along, it has the vibe of going on a not-so-scary rush ride at a kids’ amusement park. Yet, that ride, which takes the two main characters from a Spanish jail to 16th century Mexico, is nothing if not scenic. If you can’t afford to go to Las Vegas to gawk at the city’s theme-park version of the Pyramids and other scaled-down imitations of the world’s wonders, “The Road to El Dorado” might be the ideal ticket for you.

But unlike those pyramids, the movie’s magnificent sights have a place more with legend than to archived history. Imagine a 16th century Mexican Garden of Eden decorated with gleaming temples that look like tapering stacks of gold blocks and you’ll have a thought of the shimmer emanating this lush never-never land.

Historically, El Dorado, the plated City of Legend whose promise of riches lured European conquistadors from Europe to South America, is thought to have originated with the Chibcha Indians (from Colombia) whose chieftains were rolled in gold, which was then washed off in a sacred lake while offerings of emeralds and gold were dumped into the water. Here, El Dorado is in Mexico, where it becomes the destination of the Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortes in 1519.

The screenplay includes no mention of Montezuma or of the Aztec empire attacked by the conquistador and his armed force. In visualizing El Dorado, the design team came up with a pristine, brilliantly hued pastiche of Mayan civilization progress and its ruins. Playing fast and loose with the myth, the movie depicts Cortes (Jim Cummings) as an evil, granite-faced villain who is prevented from conquering El Dorado (Cortes actually loses!) by the daring and ingenuity of the movie's cheeky antiheroes, Tulio (Kevin Kline) and Miguel (Kenneth Branagh). Greedy con men who escape from the brig of Cortes’ Mexican-bound ship with the help of a crafty war horse named Altivo (Frank Welker), they are the perkiest little crooks ever to set foot in an animated wonderland.

The story, such as it is, it is, finds Tulio, Miguel and Altivo stumbling into El Dorado after barely escaping execution and drowning. To their amazement, they find themselves greeted as gods and choose to play along with their hosts’ delusion. A convenient volcanic eruption enhances their status. Heading the welcoming committee is a treacherous high priest, Tzekel-Kan (Armand Assante), an ardent devotee of human sacrifice who hopes to use the visitors in his scheme to overthrow the chubby, good-natured tribal chief (Edward James Olmos).

Tulio and Miguel’s most valuable ally is Chel (Rosie Perez), a sassy, cynical native girl so bored with El Dorado that she is itching to take off. Chel, who is steeped in tribal lore, advises the two on the how to keep their cover. This wised-up, tough-talking babe, who strikes a hard bargain to ensure she gets her share of the loot, is movie’s most unique and engaging character and the only one who appears to be remotely connected to today’s youth culture.

Tulio and Miguel, by contrast, stay remote figures. Despite the fact that they are supposed to be opposites (the lean, swarthy Tulio is the down to earth one, and the blond, eye-battling Miguel a flighty, romantic scatter brain), Mr. Kline and Mr. Branagh’s too similar, too-polished deliveries make them sound like nearly identical peas from the same pod.

The Road to El Dorado” is rated PG (Parental guidance advised). The hair-raising adventures might frighten very young children.

Written by Sukanya Roy
Artist, Critic, Writer, Photographer, Movie buff, Graphic Designer, Literature and Geography enthusiast, Soccer fan, and Imaginative.

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