Reviewed by: Deanna Marquart
Kevin Kline … Tulio (voice)
Kenneth Branagh … Miguel (voice)
Rosie Perez … Chel (voice)
Armand Assante … Tzekel-Kan (voice)
Edward James Olmos … Chief (voice)
Jim Cummings … Cortes (voice)
Frank Welker … Altivo (voice)
Tobin Bell … Zaragoza (voice)
Duncan Marjoribanks … Acolyte (voice)
Elijah Chiang … Kid #1 (voice)
Cyrus Shaki-Khan … Kid #2 (voice)
Elton John … Narrator (voice)
Stardust Pictures [Great Britain]
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Not recommended for kids
What elements are needed for an action-packed animated family film? Stunning animation, comedy, character transformation, a good verses evil conflict, cute and adorable sidekick animals, and wayward but loveable heroes.
Enter Miguel and Tulio, the comic duo con-artists. After having won a map to the legendary city of El Dorado, then being caught for cheating, they become inadvertent stowaways aboard Cortes’ ship bound for the New World. A set of mishaps lands them on the exact beach described in the map that would lead them to El Dorado. After finding the city, the high priest, Tzekel-Kan, sees them as the embodiment of the prophesied coming gods. As a means of saving their lives and of obtaining the desired gold, they quickly embrace the façade of gods, carried on by the help of Chel, a devious bright-eyed native girl who strikes a deal with the two, by dumb luck, and by the clever assistance of an ally armadillo.
Unfortunately, Tzekel-Kan is an evil man, bent on the two “gods” ushering in the Age of the Jaguar, a reign of terror and death. Additionally, the unseen impeding threat of Cortes and his army finding the city continuously looms over the horizon.
In this film, I am reminded of the parable of the Kingdom of Heaven being likened unto the catch of many fish in a net. The good and bad fish are sorted and separated (Matt. 13:47-50). As with most movies produced these days, one needs to take in the whole story as is and sort out the good and bad.
The negative elements of the film are few, but notable. Chel is created as an overtly voluptuous character, which I found out of place for a film geared towards a younger audience. In addition, there is implied sex between Chel and Tulio; though, since they are both still fully clothed, it can just as easily be implied they actually did not. There is, however, full rear nudity of the two men when they jump into a hot spring, and again when they have to chase some monkeys who are stealing their clothes.
A few scenes may be too scary for younger children. In one scene, Tzekel-Kan nearly has a cowering man thrown over the Temple platform as a sacrifice to the gods. In a later sequence, he summons a giant demon/monster that tears through the city. Pagan revelry is partaken of, but in a much toned-down form, so that comic drunkeness is the worst that is seen. The only allusion to Christianity in the film comes through Cortes as he refers to God’s mission. One of the leads says *hell* once, but fortunately that is it for foul language.
The positive elements are obvious as well. As with any good family film, the violent scenes discreetly eliminate or hide anything gruesome; thus it is a presentation of violence without being violent. Miguel frequently sticks his neck out to save the citizens from becoming sacrificial victims. Additionally, he displays an uncanny compassion towards the people that becomes a true heart of love for them. Tulio as well comes to realize that love, friendship, and the lives of others are greater riches than gold.
Though it is typical in a film of this caliber for the heroes to begin being motivated by greed and end being motivated by love, one still cheers when Tulio finally decides to do what it takes to save the citizen’s lives, even if it means (sniffle!) sacrificing his beloved obtained gold. Finally, Tzekel-Kan believes he discovers his bloodthirsty god of prophecy in the form of Cortes, but instead discovers the principle of reaping what you sow.
The animation in the film is exquisite, being described by critics as having “bold colors” and whose “imagery has considerable beauty and grace.” The Elton John-Tim Rice music score, however, is described by critics as disappointing for not being as memorable as with other films Elton John has performed in. I found that even though the lyrics may not have stood out, the music itself is catchy and does get your feet tapping. Another criticism I read suggests that the friendship between the two men strays out of bounds. I myself saw no hints of impropriety between them.
Although this film may in the end not win any awards, and despite its flaws, I still found watching “El Dorado” to be an enjoyable, relaxing way to spend an evening. I personally have not laughed so much during one film in a long time.