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IN SHORT: A Splendid 'toon.
For those out there that aren't long time readers, Cranky's a 'toonhead. Loves animation. Almost wept when he had to sell a Gertie the Dinosaur cel to support this site (didn't 'cuz I had two). In general, of the post-Lion King run of animations from all the major studios, in general I hate the second banana characters and really don't have much temper for the multitude of songs that usually get in the way. Now that you're up to speed . . .
What's a Cranky Critic to do when there are no second banana characters -- to keep the kidlets giggling at the expense of grown up attentions -- to complain about? You know the type -- supporting monkeys or gargoyles or whatever that usually infest toons from the other "D" studio but less so from Dreamworks. You can blame or thank Jeffrey Katzenberg for this, he did oversee The Lion King and many others at the Mouse, and is the partner in charge of animation at Dreamworks SKG. The 'toons we've seen from them in the last couple of years, Antz and The Prince of Egypt have both aimed a wee bit higher, with more themes for the post thumb-sucking set and less base comedy for the kidlets. Cranky likes that.
This year's offering, The Road To El Dorado, upgrades the second banana type from support to lead and tries to duplicate the kind of chemistry that made Hope & Crosby (or Lemmon & Matthau) a good screen team. El Dorado tries and succeeds for the 'Works, delivering the most family friendly of all their 'toon output. I know 'cuz I saw El Dorado twice. Once with other critics, in preparation for StarTalk interviews with lead voices Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branagh. Again, on the biggest screen in New York, with an audience filled with media and their kidlets. The kidlets were cackling at stuff that makes kidlets cackle (don't ask me why) and the double entendre went right over their heads. The big screen effect is discussed a couple of inches down.
Branagh and Kline voice Tulio and Miguel, two Spanish con artists who, through every fault of their own, find themselves stowed away on the conquistador Cortez' flagship on its journey to the New World. Cortez (Jim Cummings) is searching for the legendary City of Gold called El Dorado and has no tolerance for the stowaways (who just happen to have a map to the city in their possession). The pair get washed overboard, along with Cortez' stallion Altivo (who never speaks a word but is "voiced" by the most expert and rightfully legendary Frank Welker) and make it to the New World ahead of Cortez.
We're not telling how. It's funny. As is the pair's personal search for El Dorado, which culminates in their finding it and being declared Gods by the Chief Priest of the City, Tzekel-Kan (Armand Assante), who is fighting a political battle with the Chief (Edward James Olmos) for control of the tribe. Their Protector and Partner in Crime is the lovely and equally greedy Chel (Rosie Perez) who tries to guide these nincompoops in the how-to of breaking the bank, and winds up breaking Tulio's heart. The interplay between Kline and Branagh's characters is incredibly funny and dead on target (Kline's the Crosby, btw) and both are topped by the vocal effects of Welker. To say the horse is smarter than both men put together is a fine compliment, indeed. As for the animation . . .
Let's talk honestly for a second. We all know the biggest market for all feature toons is the post bigscreen video market. All of you with kidlets know that for a fact -- how many times have you parked your kidlets in front of [title here] or, for that matter, been parked by your kidlets in front of [title here]? As I wrote, I saw The Road To El Dorado twice. First, on a screen that was probably the size of the bigger theaters in your local multiplex, which was enjoyable though some of the CGI/traditional animation mix onscreen seemed obvious. Second time was on a monstrosity of a screen with no such apparent "problem". While there have been notable improvements in the technology of background CGI character movement and water animation ('toonheads'll catch it all), the climax of the film, in which a boat with sail unfurled and filling with air evades a stone pillar crashing into the water behind it -- absolutely breathtaking.
If you've got a theater nearby with a screen the size of the side of a house, that's where you want to see The Road To El Dorado.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Road To El Dorado, he would have paid...
Elton John and Tim Rice pick up their partnership where they left off on The Lion King, though they've just done Aida for Broadway as well. The songs in this flick are meant to narrate which they do better than entertain, though the opening title and the Kline/Branagh sung "It's Tough To Be A God" two (of five) are real toe-tappers. The radio hit runs during the end credits, so it doesn't count. Sorry.
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