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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 11/2/01

The Road to El Dorado
Special Edition - 2000 (2000) - DreamWorks

review by Greg Suarez of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVsEncoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital Surround

The Road to El Dorado: Special Edition Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Extras): A/A-

Audio Ratings (DD/DTS): A-/A

Specs and Features

89 mins, PG, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:09:57, at the start of chapter 22), Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary by directors Bibo Bergeron and Don Paul, The Making of The Road to El Dorado featurette, The Basics of Animation: The Color Script with commentary (by directors Bibo Bergeron and Don Paul and art director Raymond Zibach), Elton John music video (for Someday Out of the Blue), read-along, theatrical trailer, cast and crew bios, production notes, PCFriendly DVD-ROM features (including interactive game demo, brain teasers, piranha math game, downloadable mazes, downloadable coloring pages and Aztec arts and crafts), animated film-themed menu screens with sound effects and music, scene access (28 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 and 2.0 & DTS 5.1), subtitles: English

Tulio: "What's happening here?"

Miguel: "We're both in barrels. That's the extent of my knowledge."

Memo to Disney: Watch your back, because DreamWorks is gaining on you and gaining on you in an aggressive way. The Road to El Dorado is as grand and entertaining a film as almost anything you are capable of. And it's funnier, edgier and more enjoyable than anything your animation studio has produced since 1994's The Lion King (The Lion King will, most likely, always hold a place in my heart as the best animated motion picture I have ever experienced). You may be the almighty Disney, but that doesn't mean that you cannot be outdone.

Come dear readers, join Tulio (voiced by Kevin Kline) and Miguel (voiced by Kenneth Branagh) on a sweeping adventure as they journey to El Dorado, the lost city of gold. It's 16th century Spain and our swashbuckling heroes are con men trying to earn an "honest" living. When they swindle a mysterious map from a group of thugs, Tulio and Miguel figure out that the map will lead them to the legendary El Dorado. Also on the hunt for the city is the vicious, intimidating Cortez (voiced by Jim Cummings) and his vast army of brutes. After accidentally stowing away on Cortez's ship, and escaping soon after, our heroes find themselves on the shores of the New World and on their way to El Dorado.

During their journey, they stumble upon a sassy Aztec chick named Chel (voiced by a surprisingly sexy sounding Rosie Perez) on the run from a group of native soldiers (seems she stole some gold from the city and was trying to escape). When the soldiers bring Tulio and Miguel into El Dorado, they are mistaken for gods and the people of the city praise them. Tulio and Miguel make a deal with Chel that she'll guide them through the unfamiliar religious customs so they won't blow their cover in exchange for taking her with them when they leave with the gold. The current leader of El Dorado is the kindly Chief (voiced by Edward James Olmos), but he's in danger of being overthrown by the evil Tzekel-Kan (Armand Assante), who declares that, with the coming of the gods, his reign over El Dorado will begin. So will our heroes be able to keep up the ruse and escape with the gold, or will they find a love and respect for the people of El Dorado that is more valuable than all the gold in the city? And what about the evil Tzekel-Kan and the approaching Cortez? Do Tulio and Miguel have what it takes to win the day?

The two main reasons that The Road to El Dorado works so amazingly well, is Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branagh. These are two A-list actors in top comedic form (yes, Branagh can be funny). Much of their dialog was recorded with them together and that helped bring forth a level of spontaneity and ad-libbing that shines through on film. The characters of Tulio and Miguel can be, at times, fall down funny, and this is attributable to not only the wonderful voice work, but also the way the characters were animated. Their body language and facial expressions are very detailed and add a further sense of comedy to the mix. Speaking of the animation, the liberal use of 3D CGI started off distracting me (I thought it was overused). But as the film continued, I found myself getting into the CGI special effects and found them quite marvelous.

But Road isn't perfect. First, it misses the vast scale of Disney's best modern films like The Lion King and Aladdin. Road comes very close, but it doesn't quite reach the same heights. Second, even though the musical Dream Team that worked on The Lion King (Elton John, Tim Rice, a Hans Zimmer) reassembled to produce the songs and score for Road, the final product isn't an incredibly strong effort. Zimmer's score lacks the beauty and majesty of his work on The Lion King and John's and Rice's songs - while snappy - fall short of the truly inspired work they did for Disney. The saving grace of the music in Road is that it all sounds authentic. Like The Lion King, the score and songs were written and arranged with supple traditional sounds and instrumentation so that they would blend perfectly within the setting of the story.

As with their previous animated works on DVD, DreamWorks once again delivers the goods with The Road to El Dorado. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is superb, featuring bold and brilliant colors, coupled with deeply detailed images that pop off the screen. There is no compression artifacting to distract, making for a top-flight animated experience.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 track offered on this disc is rich and enveloping. The surround channels are used often for sweeping directional effects and musical enhancement, and the front channels image wide across the listening space, further bringing the viewer into the action. The music was well recorded and features crisp fidelity, while the vocals are always easily understood and well integrated into the mix. The alternate DTS 5.1 track sounds similar to the excellent Dolby track, however the DTS version sports slightly deeper, more punchier low frequency effects and just a tad more realistic imaging. The tracks aren't incredibly different, but the DTS track shines through just enough to be noticeable.

When it comes to the supplemental features on this DVD, think of them as an abridged version of one of Disney's collector's edition multi-disc sets. Most of the topics that are covered in thorough detail on a Disney CE are touched upon on this disc, except in a much shorter span of time. The first supplement, The Making of The Road to El Dorado featurette, is a 26-minute look at what went into the making of the film. Footage of the actors performing their lines, along with interviews with the actors about their character, is featured prominently at the beginning of the piece. The featurette includes footage of Elton John, Tim Rice and Hans Zimmer working on multiple stages of the music for the film, and also includes brief interview clips with the musicians. In the final part of the featurette, attention to the animation is given by interviews with several of the key animators. Demonstrations of the early animation tests is also included. The next supplement is The Basics of Animation: The Color Script, which, for a lack of a better way to explain it, is a 40-minute presentation of conceptual art for the film cut together in sequence. This presentation features commentary by directors Bibo Bergeron and Don Paul, along with art director Raymond Zibach. If you're a fan of animation and art in general, you'll want to spend some time with this supplement so you can marvel at some of the beautiful paintings and drawings. An informative audio commentary track with directors Bergeron and Paul is also accessible on the disc. The pair is all business on the track and explains the animation process and the voice recordings, among other topics. It's a good for information, but it's not particularly exciting. A cool music video for Elton John's Someday Out of the Blue is here as well, and features Elton as an animated character set in the city of El Dorado. The kiddies will have fun with a read-along that can be found on the disc, as well as the PC Friendly DVD-ROM features, that include an interactive game demo, brain teasers, a piranha math game, downloadable mazes, downloadable coloring pages and Aztec arts and crafts. Finally, look for the theatrical trailer, production notes and cast and crew bios to complete the lengthy set of extras features.

Fun for the entire family, DreamWorks's The Road to El Dorado is a funny, captivating joyride, that stacks up higher than any of Disney's animated films since 1995. The DVD features reference quality video, exciting Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 soundtracks and a nice set of features that take you into the world of animation production. If you miss out on this one, you must have been drinking too much seawater!

Greg Suarez

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