You’re an animation studio. You’ve released one fairly successful film (The Prince Of Egypt), and you’re looking to finally escape from under the immense shadow of Disney.
What to do? If you’re 20th Century Fox, you target the PlayStation generation with a cartoon action adventure (Titan AE). And if you’re DreamWorks? You opt for some, well, different ideas to pave The Road To El Dorado. How different? Try sex, drugs and rock `n’ roll, for starters.
For while the latest combatant in the animation wars is still a solid U-cert movie the whole family can enjoy, TheRoad To El Dorado’s veiled references suggest something dodgy was slipped into the writers’ coffee. How else can you explain the leads, who walked straight out of the box marked “comic relief” and have more camp value than two series of Hi-De-Hi? Voiced with gusto by Kenneth Branagh and Kevin Kline, Miguel and Tulio are the epitome of a Billy Wilder-style buddy double-act. They’re also clearly in love with each other, providing a homosexual subtext that’s closer to text than sub. Oh, and one of them’s disturbed by the villain during what seriously appears to be oral sex (although it is, admittedly, with a woman). And drugs? Well, check out the incredible psychedelic sequence which suggests that, at a feast held for the pair, the `wine’ contains something far more psychoactive than alcohol.
Sadly, the `rock `n’ roll’ side doesn’t live up to the promise of the others, even if you count Miguel strumming his guitar. Elton John’s flaccid warbling grinds everything to a halt, while Tim Rice’s contrived and cheesy lyrics have sunk to their lowest yet. Thankfully, the songs are used as plot transitions, so you won’t miss anything if you nip out to the toilets.
Better still, why not just stick your fingers in your ears and watch the pretty pictures? For while El Dorado doesn’t equal The Prince Of Egypt when it comes to spectacle, it offers some glorious panoramas. And it does come up trumps in the script department, mixing some occasionally gut-busting comedy with serious drama; in Armand Assante’s Tzekel-Kan, we have a sacrifice-crazy bad guy who’s responsible for more than one onscreen death.
The in-house animation team can relax and Jeffrey Katzenberg can cancel the stomach acid pills; DreamWorks has created a quality movie that easily lives up to the promise of The Prince Of Egypt. Songs aside, there’s every reason to follow this road, especially if you enjoy your animation with a little more undertone than you’d expect in family viewing fodder…