Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Road to El Dorado (Dreamworks, 2000)

WELCOME BACK, EVERYONE!

It's been a hell of a long time since my last update, and for that, you have my sincere apologies. You know how it is, work gets in the way, you never seem to have time, you have to write a review of a really uninspiring movie.

Don't get me wrong, it wasn't bad. Far from it. I really enjoyed it. It just didn't leave me with much I wanted to talk about. If I had something as good as The Iron Giant or as bad as Quest for Camelot to return to, I'd probably have got to it sooner, but as it stands... ehh.

And with that thrilling introduction, we turn to -

ADVENTURE!

EXPLORATION!

WHITE GUYS EXCELLING AT A NATIVE CULTURE'S ACTIVITIES DESPITE NO EXPERIENCE!

IT'S THE ROAD TO EL DORADO!





Ah, what can I say about The Road to El Dorado that hasn't already been said? Probably a lot, it was a big flop. Not sure why, really. This was a year where Dinosaur was in the top 5 grossing movies, so people must have been hard up for entertainment. And while Pixar was established, and while D______r made bank, this wasn't yet at the point where CGI had completely dominated. And while the bulk of Dreamworks' cash was going to Prince of Egypt, it's not like they slouched on advertising this. Many moments in the movie I recognized as soon as they showed up because I'd seen them about ten thousand times on TV commercials. So why the disappointing box office. I mean sure, it made more than... [checks Box Office Mojo] "Dude, Where's My Car", but it also had... [checks Wikipedia] eight times the budget, as well as engaging visuals, a winning cast, Elton John music, and not much competition. Honestly, the failure of this movie is as baffling as... [checks We Hunted the Mammoth] the Manosphere.

Speaking of men going their own way, this article will be illustrated entirely with screencaps that make the characters look gay.
I think the biggest problem was that people didn't know what to expect. From my half formed memories, I remember it being pitched as a big, bombastic adventure story about two dashing adventure types having adventures. And while there is some of that in there, a lot of it is much smaller. For one thing, our heroes are hardly heroes. They are a pair of small time hustlers who luck into a map that turns out to lead them to El Dorado, the fabled lost city of gold. When they arrive there, it is at a convenient point for a local prophecy, and they are hailed as gods. As well you may expect, one of them is into it, one of them wants to leave, they meet a woman who's onto their scam but agrees to help, and they eventually mount a daring escape.

The plot isn't that daring, but it's nice. As the name implies, it takes a lot of influence from the Hope-Crosby "Road to" comedies, and Kenneth Branagh and Kevin Kline are well suited for the fun, bickering dialogue you expect from something like that. Branagh plays the easygoing, slightly dimmer of the two, and Kline the more tightly wound, which plays to their strengths. Apart from those traits, they haven't much personality, but they still work well as archetypes. As the third, native member of the team, Rosie Perez brings appropriate sass while not devolving to stereotype.

This is for two reasons. First, for SOME REASON, 90% of the screencaps I found made them look totally gay.
The best twist on the expected comes from the civil leaders. The secular chief, played with great warmth by Edward James Olmos, is all about the new gods, as the city's been having a rough time lately. The high priest, though, is not happy at all. Now, you might expect him to denounce the two as frauds, or to be a non-believer himself, especially when he's as human-sacrifice-happy as he is. But they play him as resigned to accept their godhood, even if they go against what he thinks of as gods. This alone lends their culture a level of reality, and the fact that the guys just stumbled into an existing conflict and became a facet in it really helps the movie avoid some of the flaws of this sort of movie. You know, where the native civilization seems to have been on pause for a few centuries until the white folks show up to get things started cough cough Atlantis.

The film's biggest asset was the design. Bright and colorful, which characters that were exaggerated while still maintaining enough realism to connect to the audience. They actually look pretty much exactly like the Prince of Egypt characters, which is fine. Developing a house style helps them differentiate from Disney. And the El Dorado civilization is very well-designed. I was all set to be annoyed by the blending of Maya, Inca, Aztec, and Olmec that shows up in any movie set in  pre (and just slightly post, in this case) Columbian Mesoamerica. To my own surprise, though, I didn't mind. It seemed fairly even and intentional when it did show up, and they also showed a lot of bizarre animals, driving home the point that El Dorado is a place apart from everything. My main animation problem is that old late-90s/early 00s bugbear that is CGI props. They still don't look remotely good.

Second, I'm totally on board. They hit on a lot of ladies in this movie, but frankly, it mainly seems like overcompensating. Except for one thing I'll get to later.
The songs were... I guess they were fine? I watched this the first time two months ago, and made no notes on the music. Watched it again last week, and wrote a note that said "songs are fine?" So... I guess they are. I don't remember them at all. I remember they're mostly done by Elton in the background, Tarzan-style. There's one that Branagh and Kline sing, but I don't think there are any other actual musical numbers. This might bother some, but I'm a huge fan of musical numbers in non-musical movies, so I'm cool. I don't know. It was Elton John and Tim Rice, I'm sure it wasn't bad.

That's pretty much it. I wish I had a more interesting take for you. Maybe our next movie - which I assure you will be MUCH quicker than this one was - will be more engaging. So come back soon for... [checks top of page] some nonsense about a horse.

I mean.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS

* The actual El Dorado myth started fairly small, being a probably exaggerated account of a native king being covered in gold dust at his coronation. The tale grew in the telling, as they do, until there were rumors and legends of a city made entirely of gold.

* Jim Cummings is back yet again, playing Hernan Cortes, as well as a host of extras. He doesn't bring his A-game, I admit, but he is one of very few people who can deliver a line as cliche as "Well well well, what do we have here" and imbue it with actual gravitas. So good for him.

Honestly.
* A poster I found for the movie proudly and boldly declares that Ebert gave it a thumbs up. While he did really enjoy it, that seems like an odd thing to put on a poster, because it's a tacit admission that Siskel didn't like it.

* Ebert did note one of the film's great strengths was mounting jokes. There's one bit where the guys appear to be lost at sea, but then they see a bird, which must mean they're near land! Then the bird drops dead. Then a shark eats it. That's a gag that lives or dies on its timing, and they do them very well.

* Branagh can't maintain an American accent to save his life. Frankly, I wish he hadn't tried, because his fake American sounds distractingly like Kevin Kline, to the point that it took me a few minutes to work out which was which.

* "You fight like my sister!" "I've fought your sister, that's a compliment."

* Finally, for all my little jokes up there about how gay for each other the characters seem, at least one of them is not entirely. Please follow this link, as I give you, in gif form, the dirtiest thing I've seen in one of these movies so far. And you CAN'T tell me that wasn't intentional.

* If you don't get it, just look at where their heads come up in comparison to each other. Yeah. That's happening.

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