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Review: Little gold in this 'El Dorado'

movie strip April 3, 19100
Web posted at: 9:14 a.m. EDT (1314 GMT)

(CNN) -- "The Road To El Dorado" reportedly was a bumpy trip for the folks at DreamWorks SKG. In a recent L.A. Times story, a source called the production "El Dorado: The Lost City On Hold." The animated movie's storyline kept changing over the five years it took to make, the article says, and the film switched directing teams halfway through production.

Unfortunately, that's all too obvious in the finished product.

Theatrical preview for "The Road to El Dorado"
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The plot, set in 1519, is thus: Tulio and Miguel, a couple of ne'er-do-wells enthusiastically voiced by Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branagh, win a map in a crooked dice game. It shows the exact location of the legendary El Dorado, the city where streets are paved in gold.

They then inadvertently stow away on a ship under the captaincy of the Spanish explorer Hernando Cortes, who's conveniently going to the New World to find said city. During a storm at sea Tulio and Miguel, along with Cortes' warhorse Altivo -- this is a fable, remember -- end up in a lifeboat and somehow make it to a deserted beach. Gasp! It's the exact spot where the map begins!

El Dorado dieties

Quicker than you can say "toy and fast-food franchises," the three are in El Dorado, where they're promptly mistaken for gods. They go along with the misconception and have the citizens load them up with gold, plus build them a ship to take it all home.

Along the way they tick off the local high priest, voiced by Armand Assante, and he becomes the film's main antagonist -- the bad guy, in other words.

Then Tulio falls in love with Chel, a native girl, and decides to take her back with him. The girl is annoyingly voiced by Rosie Perez, whose entire personality and mannerisms are mimicked to perfection by the DreamWorks animation team. The result: a hip urban chick from the Bronx with a thick Noo Yawk accent -- attitude, too -- dumped in a South American jungle in the 16th century. Sure, this is a comedy, and it's a fable, but this babe belongs in a different movie.

Finally -- and it seems to take forever -- Cortez makes it to El Dorado, the boys defend their new-found friends, blah, blah, blah, credits roll.

Music golden, lyrics leaden

Sir Elton John and the legendary Tim Rice are together again on the soundtrack. The duo won an Academy Award in 1995 for "Can You Feel The Love Tonight," from "The Lion King." Now they've come up with six original songs for "El Dorado."

John's musical score soars, but the lyrics have problems. They are supposed to move the plot along, but since the plot kept changing, Rice must have been forced to re-work the words over and over. The results -- while charming at times -- don't come close to matching the level of of the lyrics in "The Lion King."

There's nary an original thought in "The Road To El Dorado," either. Take one of the Bob Hope and Bing Crosby road trip movies -- any one will do -- in which the boys play their famed patty-cake game that precedes their duck-and-run from the villain. Then take John Huston's epic "The Man Who Would Be King" (1975) starring Michael Caine and Sean Connery in the Rudyard Kipling tale of a man mistaken for a god in some far-flung country. Mix them together, boil the thing until it turns into mush, and you've got the uninspired plot of "The Road To El Dorado."



Legends deserve respect, too

In DreamWorks' last animated feature, "The Prince of Egypt," the filmmakers had to be historically accurate because of the movie's religious content. The company had no such constraints this time, since El Dorado is a fable. Even so, the storytellers should at least have been true to whatever false reality they set up within this legend, and they weren't.

In the film's beginning, for example, the high priest seems to have limited powers and is in competition with El Dorado's head chief. Naturally, he wants to please the supposed gods in order to keep his people under his control. But in the film's climax, he displays such amazing powers of magic that he can create monsters out of rocks and rain down fire. You wonder: If he could do all that in the first place, why didn't he get rid of the head chief long ago? And who needs gods -- fake or otherwise -- to keep everyone under your evil thumb if you're capable of such feats? Sorry, you can't have it both ways.

The animation is uninspiring and brings nothing new to the table of animation magic. The continuity is terrible, too. In one frame the characters have shoes and in the next they don't. One second someone has blue earrings, the next, green. This happens over and over. Some of this lack of continuity can be put down to creative license; much of it can't.

Kids under 12 will probably be amused, and there are some good comedic moments. But this "road" has been traveled before, and traveled better.

"The Road To El Dorado" opens nationwide on Friday and is rated PG with a running time of 83 minutes.

Elton John's week: Two awards from NARAS
February 22, 2000

'The Road to El Dorado'

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