The Road to El Dorado: Special Edition

January 28, 2012 17 Min Read

Review by: Zach B.

Plot: What’s it about?

Tulio and Miguel are two con men in Spain during the early 1500s. These two “performers” are good friends, cheating the locals out of money in bets and acting out fake fights in public to get away with it. However, one fateful day, the duo win a map to “El Dorado”, the legendary lost city of gold. While Tulio believes it’s rubbish, Miguel has high hopes for the map. Fate comes into play here when after they win the map and perform one of their “fights”, they escape being captured by soliders, land in barrels and accidentally get trapped on Cortes’s ship. After the shop takes off, the two are discovered and sentenced to punishment. However, thanks to Cortes’s horse, Miguel and Tulio with the horse escape the ship and soon get washed ashore. Fearing the worst, Miguel takes out the map, and Lo and behold, it’s where El Dorado is located. The two discover the city of gold and are mistaken for Gods of the natives there. While it all seems like paradise, the high priest is becoming very suspicious of the two, and a girl in the village, Chel, helps Tulio and Miguel through learning about the city and the people. However, Cortes becomes hot on their trail, and the priest attempts to take them down, it’s up to Tulio and Miguel to decide what is important to one another, with lessons about friendship coming to play in this nice but predictable animated film.

This is Dreamworks’ second animated outing (not counting “Chicken Run” which was made by Aardman and not traditional 2-D animation), the first being the wildly succesful “Prince of Egypt”, which went on to gross big numbers worldwide and over 100 million dollars in the U.S. Jeffery Katzenberg, the guiding force behind such Disney hits as “The Lion King” and “The Little Mermaid” has been responsible for Dreamworks animation studio. While so many studios have failed in many attempts to take down the Disney empire (especially with the recent closing of Fox Animation), Dreamworks is still in business and are doing a pretty good job. However, “The Road To El Dorado” was not as succesful as Dreamworks was hoping. The film gathered mixed reviews, and ended up only grossing about fifty million domestically. A respectable number, but compared to “Prince Of Egypt”, it was nothing to scream about.

I honestly thought “The Road To El Dorado” was a nice movie. Yes, it was somewhat mediocre, but it did have a lot of strengths to bring it up. In no way is it a masterpiece, but there are many good things to say about it. I guess I’ll get the bad over with first. The only thing really terrible about the movie is the script. I just felt it was uneven and didn’t have a good flow to it. I do admit there are some well scripted lines and a few parts did put a grin on my face, but jokes didn’t always work and in scenes where you were expecting something, you got something else. The movie never reaches its full potential. I also felt character development was weak. The characters have two sides to them (some one side), and nothing more. If this script was rewritten and parts were worked on, I’m sure this movie would have been even better, maybe even reaching classic status.

Now on to the good stuff: What I felt was the strongest aspect of the film was the animation, which clearly rivals Disney. So many wonderful and vibrant colors are used, to reflect each setting and part perfectly. While El Dorado itself is so beautiful, Spain is colorful but not as vibrant, giving some symbolism there. There are wonderful character and scenic designs which are pure eye candy. However, there is a flaw in the animation now and then, usually with the computer work. Sometimes computer generated images fit perfectly with the 2-D animation, while sometimes it looks really fake and really out of place. Still, the animation is breahtaking, and anyone is sure to admire how remarkable it really is.

The voice talents are first rate, headed by Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branagh as Tulio and Miguel. Kline and Branagh have good chemistry, though nothing worth going ape over. It’s not bad at all, it’s just that I felt the script is part of the blame. What they exactly say doesn’t bring you into it, and later on, there isn’t as much tension between them as there should be. They may not be the next Timon and Pumbaa, but their performances fit fine with the film and are generally good. Rosie Perez loses her annoying accent mostly for Chel, and she does a nice job here. I think Perez brings Chel to life perfectly. Finally, I felt the best performances were the smaller ones. Edward James Olmos is great as the head of El Dorado, while Aramand Assante is the Tzkel-Kan, the priest out to expose Tulio and Miguel. Olmos has the least amount of time over everyone, but his voice is heard, it’s a good presence. And Assante perfectly captures his performance.

Finally, the music. Many people were disappointed when they heard it, as Dreamworks was hoping to create another multi-platinum selling album with Elton John and Tim Rice doing the songs. I actually like the songs a lot, they do grow on you. I admit they’re no “Lion King”, but it’s because the songs are different, the film has a different feel than “Lion King”. This is more of a buddy movie, while “Lion King” was more inspirational/family sorta deal. I actually have the soundtrack to “The Road To El Dorado” (yeah, I’m sick, so sue my opinion), and the most notable difference is that the songs are not fully presented in the movie (except the end credit and headliner song “Someday Out Of The Blue”), but cut and the performances of John between the two are different. Characters don’t sing here either, it’s more of a “Tarzan” deal, where Phil Collins served as narrator, Elton John does the same thing (though Kline and Branagh perform a catchy and uplifiting song about the pressures of their new life in “It’s Tough To Be A God”). Hans Zimmer and John Powell wrote the score, which is fantastic. It captures the feeling and excitment of certain scenes, as well as the tenderness and softer parts of others.

Video: How does it look?

When you watch this film on DVD, your jaw is going to drop. The transfer is “beyond magnificant”, and since this movie has so many great visuals, I’m really glad about this transfer. As I mentioned in my review of the movie, “The Road To El Dorado” has some brilliant animation and wonderful designs. The sparkling golds as well as the vibrant and bright colors are presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colors and hues are perfectly balanced, no over or under saturation. Detail is excellent, just freeze frame a few shots and see for yourself. The city of “El Dorado” looks so real it is scary, and I didn’t notice any grain, dirt or blemishes. The film looks like a moving painting with all the exotic settings and blended colors. I noticed some slight artifacting here and there, but it never takes away from the viewing. Dreamworks once again shows off how film transfers should be.

Audio: How does it sound?

DTS 5.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks are included and I believe each sound option is wonderful with booming surrounds, but I prefer the DTS a little more than the Dolby Digital. The 5.1 Dolby Digital is pretty much perfect. Each channel is made to good and equal use as well as the subwoofer. Dialogue is crisp and easy to understand, and surrounds can be overwhelming, especially during the action sequences (such as the rock monster and the climax of the film). The songs and score will really bring you in. While the Dolby Digital was perfect, the DTS 5.1 is “beyond perfect”. I enjoy it more because I think it’s a bit more tighter and aggressive around the edges, and brings the movie into scope even more. The dynamic range, like the Dolby Digital, is well mixed, but I felt the directional fields and range were captured in closer. I felt the music had more depth to it, and the surrounds packed a little more punch, but not as much more than the Dolby Digital. Dialogue was easy to hear and understand as well. Fidelity was perfect too. Each track boasts with so much richness to create a great audio experience that you may feel like you’re in the movie itself. Two words sum up the sound: reference quality. Also included is a Dolby Surround track and English subtitles.

Supplements: What are the extras?

This special edition features The Making Of “The Road To El Dorado”, a nice featurette about the process of creating the film. It features interviews with the voice actors, Jeffrey Katzenberg, producer Bonne Radford and some creative forces behind the film such as director Eric Bergeron and the sequence director. There is some footage from the film as well as behind the scenes work, footage from a trip with the design team, such animators drawing and the voice actors recording. There are also storyreels as well. I really enjoyed the part which focused on the computer animated portions. The origins of the film are explained and some inspirations too, and a nice portion focuses on the music with interviews from the likes of Elton John and Tim Rice. Also there’s a tiny bit on the making of the music video. All this lasts 26 minutes, and while it seems on the fluffy side, I did learn a good deal about the making of the film, I highly suggest you give it a spin. Color Script is an interesting program narrated by directors Don Paul and Eric Bergeron, as well as Raymond Zibach. It lasts for a good forty minutes. This documentary of sorts shows concept art and various stills from many key scenes of the film and how they were established and put together to make a final product. I thought this would be a bit boring and mononotous, but I was really surprised how interesting and insightful it really was. It shows how the slightest choices can effect the film, check out the uses of color when Spain is introduced to us, and the colors in the jungle itself. If you are into animation at all and the whole process, this is a must watch. We also have a Audio Commentary with Eric Bergeron and Don Paul, the directors of the film. The two discuss their thoughts and inspirations for the film, and the process they went through to get it created. They remember the challenges they faced and talk a lot about colors, though some of this info is in the Color Scheme part of the disc. Bergeron’s accent is a bit thick at times and I found some of the comments a tad bit dull here and there, but this commentary is well done filled with good information. They point out some sound design aspects, the music and how it was developed as well as parts of the voice acting. There is also some gaps here and there, but the directors praise their cast and crew. I felt this was worth a listen and lasts right through the closing credits.

A music video for Someday Out Of The Blue is included, in widescreen and is well put together. I really like this song, and the music video features animation and clips from the film, plus a fully animated Elton John. Despite the mixed reception the music got, I feel this is the strongest song from the film and is really well put together with lovely lyrics and a good tune. So if you liked the song, you’ll watch the video again and again…

The DVD-ROM content is packed, and has great features for younger ones to enjoy. There’s a screen saver, a demo of the PC game, a trivia game, downloadable mazes, coloring pages and some learning activities.

The Read-Along is strictly for kiddies, and is sure to please them. It features stills from the film as well as music and sound effects, plus some clips to further advance the story. As more standard things go, the Theatrical Trailer is included in widescreen as well as Dolby Digital 5.1. You got your extensive Cast and Crew Bios (for a good amount of people if I may add), as well as some detailed Production Notes and a nice insert in the package with notes about the film.

On a side note, the menus are wonderful animated with GREAT sound and great animation, and really fit into the theme with the film. Some of the best menus I’ve experienced. While I felt the movie was a bit underwhelming, it’s a good family movie and kids should enjoy it. The DVD is great though, with a dazzling anamorphic widescreen presentation and some booming audio. The extras are in a good amount and they all fit it all perfectly. If you enjoy the film, this is a great DVD for your collection. If you never seen it, I urge you to rent it before you buy, just to make sure it appeals to you. Another disc to show off your home theater system. Well done Dreamworks!

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