Nearly 500 years after Hernando Cortés cut a swath through South and Central America, Dreamworks' animation division has returned to the scene of the crime in its search for box-office gold. The Road to El Dorado would like us to believe that the Spanish conquest of the New World, though responsible for the wiping out of entire civilizations, also had the makings of a Hope and Crosby road movie. And if the result is closer to Ishtar than to Road to Morocco, who am I to begrudge the movie's target audience their Saturday-matinee jollies? The young crowd I saw it with seemed to be sporadically enjoying themselves, rendered mute only by the approach of another Elton John song...and another. A wonderful story might have been fashioned out of the Indians' century-long dangling of a mythical pot of gold before the Spaniards' eyes, which led to amazing acts of treachery and a lot of failed missions. Instead, The Road to El Dorado introduces us to Tulio (voiced by Kevin Kline) and Miguel (Kenneth Branagh), the Siegfried and Roy of the Age of Discovery. Less conquistadors than cons, these two get in and out of various jams before landing in the City of Gold, where the natives promptly mistake them for gods. In the Dorothy Lamour role, Rosie Perez voices Chel, a dark-haired beauty in a halter top and little else. Chel sees right through Tulio and Miguel, and they see right through her (clothes). Are parents aware of how hot these animated characters can be, or how hot and bothered they can leave those viewers who've reached puberty? Disney's Tarzan flew through the trees with the greatest of ease...in his BVDs; and Chel, like spring, is busting out all over. Tulio finally falls for her, which puts a real crimp in the whole Siegfried and Roy thing. So does the fact that Miguel starts to think he may actually be a god. Alas, our boys can't see their way past 1) human sacrifice or 2) cannibalism, so hanging around El Dorado the rest of their lives seems out of the question. I love the way the filmmakers casually discard all sorts of history but retain practices guaranteed to offend budding imperialists' delicate sensibilities.
I wish the movie were more consistently entertaining. Visually, it's not quite up to Disney standards, although it moves well enough. It seems to me that the city of El Dorado, which has heretofore existed only in the West's gold-fevered imagination, ought to knock our socks off; this one doesn't. The script's a little flat too, but Kline and Branagh squeeze every possible ounce of juice out of it. Finally, all that Shakespeare training pays off.