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-

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Road to El Dorado

road to eldoradoIt is no secret I am not the biggest Dreamworks fan.  For me they’ve had two wonderful franchises, How to Train Your Dragon and Kung Fu Panda and one masterpiece Prince of Egypt but the rest I could do without (although I admit I haven’t seen the Madagascar movies except for Penguins which I liked).  Anyway, I was working on a project and put on a movie as I worked and figured why not give Road to El Dorado a shot as it is on Netflix.  I’d heard some good things and I love action adventure treasure hunting movies, so maybe it would be a forgotten gem?

I’ll just say it- Boy what a stinker…

It does look nice. I will grant it that but that’s really the only praise I have for it.It’s insulting, stupid, inappropriate for children, tonally off and full of unpleasant or underdeveloped characters. In other words, a mess.

But wait…I can hear you saying ‘didn’t you like Atlantis and isn’t that very similar?’.

No it’s not.  Atlantis creates a whole new world with its own culture, people, even language, so nobody is insulted because the culture doesn’t exist (plus it’s inherently more creative and interesting to see something imagined than a cheap reproduction of a people and society).  There is also a whole cast of characters in Atlantis I found  extremely likable and engaging.  Atlantis actually embraces diversity.  This says white people are smarter and better then those silly natives.  The action is well paced in Atlantis and aside from a skimpy swimsuit it is appropriate for kids. So no the two are not alike at all.

road to el doradoThe Road to El Dorado is about 2 con artists  named Tulio (Kevin Kline) and Miguel (Kenneth Branagh) who in 1519 stow away on Cortes’ boat and sneak to the ‘new world’ to find the City of Gold or El Dorado.  Cortes is a semi-villain and a total snoozefest and from the beginning Tulio and Miguel are very smug and unlikable.

road to el dorado 6
What a disgusting depiction of native women. Such cliches.

The boys find the lost city surprisingly quickly and of course they are immediately treated like Gods in an offensive caricature of native traditions and people. It’s worse, much worse, than Pocahontas. It’s one thing for Redman in Peter Pan to exist in 1953 but in 2000 to have the kind of at best culturally insensitive characters, story and behavior is really quite shocking.  At least Atlantis had a certain reverence and awe at its imaginary culture.  This was so bad.

We even get a quasi form of soccer that is embarrassing. I don’t know what they were thinking. road to el dorado3The villain is completely underdeveloped and feels like it was copied off of the obnoxious priests in Prince of Egypt. He is overtaken by some kind of evil spirit and creates a rock monster out of the Gods. I guess it is some kind of heathen magic but it is not explained and doesn’t make much sense or add any kind of fear or suspense a good villain should.  At least in Pocahontas I can remember Radcliffe’s name.

road to el dorado7Just like in Pocahontas the movie acts like the natives are completely oblivious to the value of gold, which is absurd.  They literally have scenes with tribeswomen dumping bowls and bowls of gold into the ocean.  As if all Native and Central American tribes did not have commerce, trade and even their own currency. Kids are smart enough to know they weren’t dumping tons of gold into the ocean.  They have made an occasional offering but this is totally over the top and the natives act like they are clueless of it having any value at all. Give me a break.  Seriously the natives are probably more badly portrayed than in Peter Pan because at least that is an imaginary land and it is a 3 minute song and we move on.  This is 75% of the movie one cliche and cringe inducing stereotype after another.

road to el dorado2It is also extremely inappropriate for kids.  I had issues with the skimpy suit in Atlantis but at least she was smart and kind of mythical.  In this the boys gamble, lie, cheat, steal, and are generally bad examples.

But to make it worse it’s surprisingly vulgar for a childrens movie and the princess Chel wears practically nothing and there is a scene where it is strongly implied her and Tulio have sex. I was shocked.

road to el dorado5The music by usually reliable Tim Rice and Elton John is largely forgettable and most of it is sung by Elton John kind of like Phil Collins in the Tarzan movies.  Hans Zimmer takes a huge step down from Lion King with the mundane score.

Like I said it looks nice but I thought this was a real bomb. No wonder it did so poorly at the box office.  I mean who was it made for?  It’s too grown up for most little kids and too stupid and predictable for adults/teens.  Someone was telling me on twitter the studio got involved kind of like Disney and Hunchback and made them change things around so they are in El Dorado longer.  It feels that way. I smell a rat!

road to eldorado3

This is the era when Jeffrey Katzenberg was heavily involved with stories and the Dreamworks animation films and I don’t know what he was thinking? He usually has good taste but this is tawdry insulting junk.

I normally don’t review the stinkers but I think it being on Netflix a lot of people will turn it on and I hope this review can sway at least my friends away from it.  I was really offended by it and I don’t get offended that easily.  There is so much good animation on Netflix.  Move on to the next option.

This is a reminder of why I don’t want to review the Dreamworks Canon.  Yuck.

Content Grade- C  Overall Grade- F