Run time: 89 mins
In Theaters: Friday 31st March 2000
Box Office Worldwide: $50.8M
Distributed by: Dreamworks
Production compaines: DreamWorks SKG
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 48%
Fresh: 50 Rotten: 54
IMDB: 6.8 / 10
The one aspect of this film that fits squarely within genre conventions is the subject matter. Like such classics as Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, El Dorado finds a classical fantasy in the lost city of gold, couching it in a historical context: In this case is the Spanish explorer Cortez's very real search for that mythical city. Unfortunately though, Cortez is lost for the bulk of the film while we are left to follow two roguish Spaniards (voiced by Kline and Branagh) who stumble upon, in sequence, a map to El Dorado, Cortez's ship to the New World, and El Dorado itself. Once the two con artists find El Dorado, they are of course hailed as Gods, and the bulk of the story concerns just how they are going to carry out this charade and make off with the gold back to Spain. In the process, we are left with a half-hearted conniving native medicine man voiced by Armand Assante as our only hope for a true villain. Once they find the lost city, the plot follows turn for turn that of the 1975 Sean Connery vehicle, The Man Who Would Be King. One could argue that plagiarizing a great film is not such a bad idea, considering a great bulk of the audience has never seen said film or read the book it is based on. Nonetheless, it tends to irk any true movie fan to see great movies remade badly.
Plagiarizing the plot is not the only evidence of cutting corners found in this film; the action sequences also seem for the most part to have been cut down into action shots. Compared with Tarzan's extensive and breathtaking use of deep canvas (the effect of making animation look three-dimensional), El Dorado feels downright static, at least until the final climactic action sequence. Likewise the dancing canvas we have expected from musical numbers since Fantasia are not only static, but heavily infused with the fluorescent hues and musical bits from the likes of Yellow Submarine.
Witnessing DreamWorks fumble around the animated film genre for the second time, one might wonder if Jeffrey Katzenberg was not perhaps boasting a bit when he claimed to be the genius behind Disney's recent success in the animated genre. You might wonder in fact if Katzenberg took anything at all from his experiences at Disney. While Disney continues to knock out quality animated fare in the tried and true Disney tradition without Katzenberg (see 1999's Tarzan and Toy Story 2), DreamWorks continues to stumble in this arena.
El Dorado also follows in The Prince of Egypt's footsteps bucking genre conventions by lassoing a PG rating. However, more risqu than Prince, El Dorado seems to claim its rating through a racy bit of sexual innuendo between the roguish Spaniard Tulio (Kline) and the bad girl native Chel (Perez).
I wouldn't ordinarily paint myself as a fan of genre conventions or brand names, but sitting down to see DreamWorks muck up the animated film format, I found myself yearning for a Disney picture. Does Disney just have the magic touch, or have they patented and contracted into infinity all of the elements of good animation?
"I know, let's rip off Mickey!"