It’s no Prince of Egypt, but it’s no Anastasia either. Hans Zimmer’s score should have remained the only musical accompaniment to this film, the songs in which are the second collaboration between Elton John and Tim Rice since the Lion King. Me personally, I felt that The Lion King’s music was the weakest part of an otherwise wonderful movie – and I am sad to say that that is the case again. The most delicious thing about El Dorado is of course Kenneth Branagh and Kevin Kline’s interplay. These are two highly trained actors with vim and vigor and passion, having a fantastic time in the studio. They should get the chance to work together again because they have delightful chemistry, good vocal matches, equally good timing and wit and everything. Any time the story itself grows simplistic, a shade of nuance from Tulio or Miguel adds life that would otherwise be missing.
El Dorado also lacks a good deal of the visual design lushness that made Prince of Egypt such an amazing film – but it is lovely, and it does take advantage of the Deep Canvas technology really mastered in Tarzan. It uses music similarly to Tarzan, in that very little of the numbers are songs sung by a character – and the one that is, is sung by Elton and frickin’ Randy Newman on the CD, not Kenneth and Kevin! Grumble. This worked great for Tarzan (you know, inexplicably, Phil Collins won the Oscar for Best Song – probably because of the unobtrusive quality of the music) but it does not work here – the songs are alarmingly mixed in. Detractors of musical theatre (in all its forms) hate the notion of people suddenly bursting into song. I love it, myself, but it has to be real, it has to be true. In The Little Mermaid, for example, the movie that rejuvenated the genre, every song propels plot and/or character development. In El Dorado, it propels filler. So that bummed me out.
The animators make a lot of use of psychedelia and oversimplified Mayan (? Yucatan type) art motifs rather than (as in Prince of Egypt) being led more by the beautiful native works. Yes, of course, it’s a mythical city, but it has a style similar to that of the Mayans and Aztecs and Olmecs and Toltecs and PaintFlecks…it is a shame they did not use that design concept as gorgeously as in Prince of Egypt. “Hey, shut up about these other movies. What did you think of this one?” It was OK. I was entertained, I was interested, the main characters (for the most part, more on that in a bit) were interesting and well drawn (figuratively speaking as well as literally) and it was cool to look at most of the time. But it was only OK, and I don’t want people not to go because they think it will be a bad time, but to know why it was not Great and Fabulous and Wonderful.
Now, I have to say, the water, all the water shots, usage, whatever, is the best I have ever seen in an animated movie. For some reason I have always noticed Disney water and how realistic and beautiful it is. This movie blows it all out of the…well, water. Holy mackerel! And no, they didn’t integrate the computer work with the hand-drawn stuff as well as less recent movies have (how can that be?) but it’s still nice to look at.
I can’t avoid it any more. Oscar nominee Rosie Perez is the voice of Chel. This is not right. The least-understandable speaker in Hollywood (Roberto Bernigni and Pedro Almodovar aside), Perez is a terrible choice for an animated voiceover. On top of that, OK, perhaps, as a Puerto Rican, her accent is as close to Cuba in 1519 as we can get, since Gloria Estefan was busy with Music of the Heart – **but she sounds like she is from New Jersey** and you can hear the “you go girl” head bobs and the pursed lips – and THEN they animated them in. Chel, as a whole, is a weak character, with a scary, wrong voice. Yes, Branagh has his English accent and Kline his Theatre English one. So what? Armand Assante and Edward James Olmos sound perfect with their accents. All these people have won or been nominated for Oscars, I can see how this cast would look good on paper (and KB and KK are!) but ROSIE PEREZ? “It ain’t right!” To be fair, she never ascends into her screechy “you don’t love me!!” voice she is so well known for, but she still sounds like she should be clamping a cigarette and waggling her neck above her tube top. Which Chel is wearing.
The movie is worth seeing for Kenneth and Kevin (oh how much glee I have just to hear them when they do their thing that they do so well, that special vocal magic that each of them uniquely have no matter what character they inhabit) and the animation is very good, just not the most amazing thing I have ever seen. Lots of nice side visuals will be missed, so watch out for them. Altivo, the horse, is surprisingly funny.
MPAA Rating PG
Release date 3/31/00
Time in minutes 89
Director Will Finn, Bibo Bergeron, Don Paul, Eric Bergeron