The Road To El Dorado

The Road To El Dorado (2000)
Dreamworks Home Entertainment
Cast: Kevin Kline, Kenneth Branagh, Rosie Perez
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurettes, Read-Along, Music Video, Trailers

’The Road to El Dorado’ is the second full-length animated feature from Dreamworks Home Video. While their first foray into animation was 1998’s very serious, visually-sumptuous ’Prince of Egypt, ’ this sophomore effort is a light-hearted, glorious romp full of gorgeous scenery and entertaining antics. While the film was greeted with a lukewarm response by critics and the film-going public upon its initial release, maybe this wonderful DVD edition will entice more people to give this little gem a second chance.

Miguel (Kenneth Branagh) and Tulio (Kevin Kline) are two Spanish rogues who win a map to famed El Dorado – The City of Gold – in a crooked game of dice. Fleeing the local constabulatory, they wind up aboard Cortez’s ship which is headed to the New World in seek of conquest. Condemned as stowaways, the two enlist the aid of Cortez’s great warhorse, Altivo, in a daring escape that finds all three of them cast adrift in a small rowboat. Washing ashore, Tulio realizes that the terrain matches that on his map and the trio sets out to find El Dorado.

Soon they encounter Chel (Rosie Perez) and the posse that has been sent to return her, and the sacred idol she stole, to El Dorado. Mistaking Miguel and Tulio as gods, they are all escorted back to the city where they find wealth beyond their wildest dreams and become embroiled in a battle for the very soul of the city between its affable chief (Edward James Olmos) and the dark priest Tzekel-Kan (Armand Assante).

The storyline of ’The Road to El Dorado’ follows the tried and true buddy movie formula and is quite predictable throughout. But that in no way lessens the visual and aural delight that this film provides.

As is to be expected from a Dreamworks Home Video production, the video on this DVD is stellar. The image is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is enhanced for <$PS,widescreen> displays. The lush colors are saturated almost to bursting and the varied palette will keep yours eyes fully engaged from beginning to end. The image is uniformly sharp throughout and black levels are spot on with even the darkest recesses of the temples and caverns full of fine detail. I could find no evidence of compression artifacts, film grain, or imperfections of any sort. The integration of traditional cel-based animation with CGI has also progressed as the two forms mesh very well and never jump out as being mismatched as they do on some previous hybrid animated films. All in all the DVD is picture perfect.

Fortunately the audio is just as good as the video and is offered in your choice of a <$DS,Dolby Surround> 2.0, <$DD,Dolby Digital> 5.1, or <$DTS,DTS> <$5.1,5.1 mix>. Both <$5.1,5.1 mix>es exhibit the same excellent imaging characteristics, although the DTS sounds a bit fuller on my particular system. The front soundstage is perfectly balanced between dialogue, sound effects, and music and flows seamlessly into the rear surrounds to create a wholly enveloping soundfield. The <$5.1,5.1 mix>es also display nice dynamic range with piercing highs and a deep low end where appropriate. The impact of the soundtrack actually startled me in a few scenes – which doesn’t happen too often.

On top of the flawless video and audio presentations, Dreamworks has also provided a number of bonus features on this disc. First up is a running commentary with co-directors Don Paul and Eric "Bibo" Bergeron that is very technical in nature. The two also provide comments, along with art director Raymond Zibach, during the 40-minute ’The Basics Of Animation: The Color Script’ featurette which analyzes the important role of color coordination in such a visually-oriented film. Also provided on the DVD is the 20-minute ’The Making Of The Road to El Dorado’ featurette that focuses primarily on the voice performers as they develop their on-screen characters.

For younger viewers there is also a 20-minute narrated read-along that uses still frames from the movie overlayed with large text to tell a summary of the film. Rounding out the extras are the music video for ’Someday Out of the Blue’ – which features a fully animated Elton John; the original theatrical trailer in Dolby Digital 5.1; DVD-ROM content consisting of a few simple games; production notes; and very bountiful cast and crew biographies.

’The Road to El Dorado’ is a beautiful film that I enjoyed immensely. That being said, there are a few caveats to consider. First, the musical score is almost uniformly disappointing. Reuniting the talent that worked wonders with ’The Lion King’ – Hans Zimmer, Elton John, and Tim Rice – you can’t help but wonder what went wrong. While the soundtrack isn’t flat-out bad, it offers very little that is original or entertaining. On top of that, the Elton John songs are completely out of place and really pull you out of the movie whenever they come on. Second, as you may have noticed, the film is rated PG, which is unusual for animated family fare. While there is nothing terribly objectionable, the sexual innuendo between Tulio and Chel is quite overt and some of the violence tends toward the dark and disturbing variety. It’s nothing the kiddies don’t see on TV everyday but there it is for those who care.

Unfairly maligned by critics – and almost completely ignored by the public – ’The Road to El Dorado’ is nevertheless a wonderfully fun movie that rivals some of Disney’s more light-hearted fare for sheer entertainment value. The exquisite video and audio provide ample excuse for repeat viewings and the abundant extras offer much more than I had expected. Anyone who is still young at heart should find ’The Road to El Dorado’ to their liking and Dreamworks Home Video’s special edition DVD comes highly recommended.