Dreamworks 7: The Road to El Dorado

Some of these Dreamworks reviews I must own I am not looking forward to and some I’ve already reviewed on this blog. The 2000 film The Road to El Dorado would be true on both counts. Back in 2015 I reviewed the film, and I really hated it. I gave it an F, in fact, which is pretty rare for me with animation.

I have now seen it a second time and is it still the “tawdry insulting junk” of my last watch?  Well, yes and no. I still hate it but it has a few more pluses than maybe I admitted on the first watch. Unfortunately, it’s just hard to give a movie a pass that I find wildly racist and misogynistic which is the case with The Road to El Dorado…

Let’s talk about the positives. First of all, the animation, particularly the backgrounds, are beautiful. Every background has a watercolor feel and is rich with layers and color. They clearly did their homework and captured the Mexican landscape and Mayan temples well.

The score is also excellent by Hans Zimmer and it reminds me a bit of his Pirates of the Caribbean scores.

While no Lion King, Elton John does give us some decent songs including the catchy It’s Tough to be a God

So, that’s my positives. Now for the negatives.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on Mayan culture or anything like that but it really bothers me how the native people are portrayed in this film. I get that white worship actually happened, and I get that the sacrificial tribe is a trope seen in many movies like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and the original King Kong. All of that I understand. However, usually when these rituals are portrayed it is with a certain degree of reverence and solemnity. You feel afraid for the white people because the natives have their beliefs and the two groups can’t communicate anything different with each other. The natives aren’t necessarily wrong. They just have different beliefs that put our heroes in peril.

In The Road to El Dorado, they can communicate and the natives are so stupid and the rituals and culture are treated like such a joke it’s hard for me to watch. For instance, in an early scene you see the natives throwing heaps of gold into the water. Even if you buy they had this much gold there is no sense of gravitas or awe at this sacrifice. It is treated like ‘oh those stupid natives’.

The leader of the natives Tannabok is given so many opportunities to see that Tulio and Miguel are bad news and he never suspects or questions. It made him look really stupid and I felt it was demeaning. Meanwhile, the villain of the movie Tzekel-Kan figures out they aren’t Gods and is treated as a sniveling bad guy when I actually related to him the most! Never a good sign.

Part of my other problem with the portrayal of the natives is I find Miguel and Tulio to be irredeemably unlikable. This makes it super awkward when they are worshiped only because of the color of their skin. They are not friendly or kind but real jerks to all involved (they are even annoying and unlikable to each other).  They have no problems stealing the natives treasure and making all kinds of demands. It makes me very uncomfortable.

You are also supposed to be invested in a female love interest for Tulio named Chel. She is supposed to be strong because she figures out the con, but she quickly becomes a puppet for whatever the boys want to do. She turns on her own people and is willing to steal without much discussion or hesitation. She also wears a pretty slinky outfit and at one point clearly has sex with Tulio, which made me very uncomfortable for a Dreamworks film. Her relationship with Tulio was one of many ways she is a flat character ruled by the whims of the male characters. This movie definitely doesn’t pass the Bechtel test that’s for sure! She was a total miss for me.

Like I said, there are some good things about this film but I find the bad to sink any enjoyment I get out of it. It is unpleasant to watch and I at least can’t get over the racism and misogyny on display. If Miguel and Tulio had been more likable  maybe I could have gone along with it but they aren’t and yet they are worshiped? No thank you! Plus, they are never held to account for all the gold they steal and what they are about to do. They ride off into the sunset having had a great adventure. Never mind the chaos you left behind! Ugh

It’s just not my cup of tea.

Overall Grade- D-

13 thoughts on “Dreamworks 7: The Road to El Dorado

  1. The animation and “It’s Tough to be a God” (not It’s Good to be a God, btw) are the best things of the movie, but I’m like you in that it’s not a favorite of mine. I also find the scenes with the girl to be awkward for a family film.

  2. I love how blunt you are with this film. It is amazing thay over the years, the most flack I have ever received has come from THIS film. People were telling me its an underrated gem, and its one of the besr DreamWorks films, but……. what?….. where?

    You were the one who brought to me how poorly the natives are treated as characters, and ad a group in general. “Too innocent and stupid” is ridiculous. At least Pocahontas developed the group of people as normal beings just providing for their families.

    If they gave SOME sort of backstory with Tulio, Miguel, and Chel regarding….. ANYTHING, they would have been so much better as characters, and could have been lovable buttholes. I give Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas credit for trying to do this. People use the excuse that it’s a comedy to justify this, but it’s a character-centric movie first. And for a film that was supposed to be unconventional, it’s one of the most predictable movies I have ever seen. Compare it to its A Bugs Life counterpart The Enperor’s New Groove, and you see how flat this movie is.

    The animation and music is a lot better than I thought it was gonna be, and the film did make me laugh more often than I thought. Brilliant review. The film seems like it’s becoming overrated in a sense.

    1. You’re absolutely right. If we had some backstory on the boys than it might have worked better or if there was a sense of awe and gravitas at the tribe. As it was it was just awkward and uncomfortable.
      I agree with you about it being overrated in a sense. It’s kind of like Treasure Planet in that way. So many said it was underrated and over-praised it that now I feel like it is overrated. Ha!
      And the sad part is this movie does have positives but the negatives make it really hard for me to enjoy. It’s tough for me to give any kind of pass to something I find racist. It just is.
      Thank you for the brilliant comment! 🙂

    2. Yeah, I am also wondering why the hell this movie is considered an underrated classic. I mean, it is not unheard off, after all even The Black Cauldron has a cult following. But usually I do get what exactly about the movie sparks this admiration, even if I don’t share it. But this movie? It’s a mess, the characters are unlikable and I don’t even think that it is particularly funny.

      1. I’d rather watch Black Cauldron than this. At least that’s not very offensive and racist

  3. I like the movie up to a point. I found the writing to be good, the animation is quite beautiful, and I will never get that one song the characters’ sing out of my head. The other songs, while they didn’t leave as much of an impact on me, do sound nice as they are. It’s hard for me to explain why I find Tulio and Miguel appealing, they have sort of an upbeat and comedic attitude in them. I thought there was a hit-and-miss connection between them and Chel, I felt a bit of a connection between them. Somehow I found the horse to be humorous. The antagonist could have had more charm and comedic writing thrown into him. While the animation is great, I feel there could have been more inbetweens drawn in for the characters, sometimes the animation on them can be a bit choppy. The portrayal of the natives didn’t bother me much, but they could have drawn them a little less obvious as natives, like they didn’t have to draw them with big noses or with noticeable lips. I have that same nitpick for “The Prince of Egypt” and “Pocahontas.”

    But, eh, I think one viewing’s enough 🙂

  4. I definitely disagree with you. As a non white person, I’ve never perceived that Miguel and Tulio are worshipped because they’re white. That you’ve even stated that makes me uncomfortable. It’s more so they are two strangers on a horse and look like the statue that they’re stood by!

    And the fact that Chel comes over (escaping after stealing and betraying her people!) with something she stole from the temple… To people who are in the same position as the Gods on the giant rock.

    And I’ve never ever viewed the natives as dumb or anything like that. When they throw their gold away, that’s just what they do and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that – as part of their ritual!

    It’s just Miguel and Tulio, two scheming con men whose aims are to get rich via gold, no matter where it comes from, who get upset because they thought it’d be theirs, so they’re the dumb ones, especially when Chel intervenes because she sees that they realise they’ve made a freakin mistake.

    Anyway, I love the way Miguel goes through the village to meet the lovely locals who are just living their lives man.

    It’s a great movie. It’s cheeky at times, but when I watched this as a kid, I didn’t see the sex part… As a sex part… Because I was a child!

    Just my interpretation anyway.

    1. Awesome. Thanks so much for sharing your perspective. Maybe I will have to give it another watch. I wish the characters were more likable but that’s very subjective. I always appreciate other perspectives

  5. Hi! I just finished watching the movie. A small (but possibly significant) note: the chief does in fact know what the boys are up to and I feel he is subtly portrayed as wiser than the duo as we get to know him more. When Miguel complains about the boat (because he wants to stay) then says “my mistake”, the chief gently reassures him and says, “to err is human,” which is a callback to Miguel’s own line and a playful hint that he knows Miguel is not a god (and possibly has all along?). Miguel scratches his head when he hears this and I got the impression of a father indulging a child’s ruse to allow them to come to their own conclusions.

    I got the sense the movie was about a growth arc for the duo, which does make them a bit unlikable at certain points. But I also found Miguel very sweet and childlike, and I liked the way he interacted warmly with the children and other tribespeople.

    As a non-white person, I did feel a few points where they went with the typical native portrayal (and it’s unfortunate) but this was partially redeemed/subverted in the end once the chief was shown to be wise and nurturing and wanting the best for his people and everyone. The chief is the one that pushes Miguel into reconciling with Tulio, much as a father would. Also, I did not feel they were worshiping the duo’s skin color (there’s no reference to skin color?) but the random prophecy on the stone which I feel is played to be this so-implausible-it’s-silly coincidence. The volcano “miracle” felt that way, too, just part of the movie’s over-the-top charm.

    Anyway! I hope you might enjoy the movie more if you do end up giving it another view. Thanks for your review.

  6. You are so wrong, multiple times, throughout this “article” that I cannot correct you in one reply. I’ll just make the point that the chief literally quotes Miguel and Tulio with a coy smile “To error is human” proving he was aware of the con. You clearly did not pay this movie enough attention and your over the top “critique” is just idiotic.

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