Directed by: Bibo Bergeron & Don Paul
Written by: Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio
Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Kevin Kline, Rosie Perez, Armand Assante, Edward James Olmos
Religion has equal power to control and bring hope to individuals with it all coming down to how it gets utilized and the motivations of those employing it for a population. The Road to El Dorado very plainly shows this dichotomy while mixing in this colonialist but incredibly memorable and engaging story about a bond between two men and the wild journey they find themselves on when they cross the Atlantic.
Unintentionally finding themselves on a boat to “the new world” from Spain, known con artists, Miguel (Kenneth Branagh) and Tulio (Kevin Kline) make it to the famed city of El Dorado. There, the natives believe them to be gods and as these two attempt to obtain as much gold as possible before departing, they realize they need to keep up this disguise as deities.
Explaining the plot of this film to someone, especially in the year 2023 will certainly get some strange side-eyes on the perspective featured. It has the appearance of something denigrating to the locals to believe these two Spanish men enter their realm and can be considered deities to them. Especially considering the infamous colonization by Spaniards of Latin America. However, this feature, which has remained one of my favorite animated films since childhood manages to find a way to walk the line of separating these two from someone like Hernán Cortés (Jim Cummings). Also, throw in the connections built throughout this feature and its impeccable soundtrack and it makes for something incredibly special.
Before digging into the themes, we must point out just how hard Elton John went with the songs featured in this film. So many incredibly memorable tunes are utilized perfectly throughout the movie demonstrating the mood and describing the emotions on display. From “Friend Never Say Goodbye” or “It’s Tough to be a God,” these songs receive the proper treatment of excellent animation to bring it all to life in such a meaningful way. Elton John’s voice echoes throughout this feature and ensures its greatness.
When Miguel and Tulio begin their reign as gods of this city, they receive guidance from the two heads of the civilization. Chief Tannabok (Edward James Olmos) represents softer leadership of the people and much more secular as compared to Tzekel-Kan (Armand Assante) the high priest who relishes in the appearance of the gods as a way to enact all of these religious doomsday scenarios he has concocted. The number of times he recommends there to be a sacrifice really says it all about his desire to utilize religion as a weapon to control the populace and thus give him even more power amongst others. Chief Tannabok has skepticism about the truth of these two entering the world as gods but recognizes the positives coming from it in how this belief can serve as a net good to the community showing the beautifully unifying power of religion. The split between them and how they operate with the central pair of Miguel and Tulio says plenty about what this godly presence truly means in this city.
With all of the positives stated about this feature, the biggest one of them comes from the relationship between Miguel and Tulio. Their opening scene together immediately demonstrates their personalities, outlook on life, and general attitude and done so in such a hilarious manner. From the moment they get found out with the loaded dice and find a way to squeeze out of their circumstance demonstrates some fantastic writing in displaying everything these characters represent. If anything I have memorized much of the first interaction and it gets better every time. “You fight like my sister.” “I’ve fought your sister, that’s a compliment.” These two operate not only as con but also as performance artists, which serves them well when they have to pretend to be gods throughout the film. If anything the way they can effortlessly play along and pass off as gods through their performance says plenty about how much deception can exist and plays a role in making people believe in higher beings.
This relationship marks the ebbs and flows of this feature and certainly sets up the idea and belief of many about the particular “closeness” of Miguel and Tulio. There’s something a little more going on between them but Dreamworks only had so much bravery at this time to fully show the truth of just how much Miguel and Tulio love each other if you catch my drift.
Equally hilarious as it is insightful and moving in moments, The Road to El Dorado has so much great going on throughout it taking away from the colonialist issues circling around it. Despite it all, the feature finds a good way to make its own stamp and create something showing the evils of this practice while also having an intriguing dialogue about religion as well and the way Miguel and Tulio factor into this story. Certainly a film I have watched millions of times and will continue to do so.