The Road to El Dorado (2000)

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Released 7-Mar-2001

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Animation Main Menu Audio
Audio Commentary-Bibo Bergeron (Director) & Don Paul (Director)
Featurette-Behind The Scenes (DD2.0, 4:3, 26:21 minutes)
Featurette-Basics Of Animation (DD2.0, 1.85:1, 4x3, 39:34 minutes)
Music Video-Someday Out of the Blue-Elton John (DD2.0,1.85:1,4x3,4:15)
Theatrical Trailer-(DD2.0, 1.85:1, 16x9, 2:19 minutes)
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 2000
Running Time 85:47 (Case: 89)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Bibo Bergeron
Don Paul
Studio
Distributor

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Kevin Kline
Kenneth Branagh
Rosie Perez
Armand Assante
Edward James Olmos
Case ?
RPI $39.95 Music Hans Zimmer
Elton John


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Auto Pan & Scan Encoded English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Dutch Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired
Dutch
Smoking Yes, unlit cigars appear
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Not a Crosby and Hope classic, but this very modern animated buddy film is very much in the same vein. As the name implies, The Road To El Dorado is a story about the search for the mythical city of gold. In this case, however, the search is concluded very early on in the piece and the film concentrates far more on life in the city itself. But I get ahead of myself - let's go back to the beginning...

    The film opens in early 16th century Spain as the ships of Cortez are preparing for their voyage of plunder to the New World. Entirely irrelevant to this historic voyage are the antics of a pair of local wise guys, Tulio (voiced by Kevin Kline) and Miguel (voiced by Kenneth Branagh) who make their living by cheating at dice games. During one of these games they happen to win a treasure map, that is until their dodgy dice are discovered and they have to make a quick getaway. This opening scene immediately sets the style of these two characters - wise-cracking, fun-loving, high-spirited lads who are entirely happy living day-to-day and experiencing life as it comes. This all comes to an abrupt end when, escaping from their latest victims, they end up in a pair of water barrels aboard Cortez' ship in the mid Atlantic. They manage an escape from the brig with the help of a horse and, resorting to the long boat, eventually turn up on the coast of Central America, fortuitously enough right at the beginning of the road to El Dorado as marked on the map.

    One song later sees them at the gate to the city after an apparently fun little romp through the jungles of Mexico. Luckily for them, the city's people worship two gods who ride something remarkably similar to a horse, so our two heroes are immediately accepted as deities, installed in the high temple and plied with gifts of gold. This fits right in with the guys' plan, which is essentially to gather up as many riches as they can, get their hands on a ship and get back to Spain (maybe even buying Spain) as quickly as possible. However, this is where a number of complications set in that really form the core of the film's plot.

    Firstly, Chel (voiced by Rosie Perez), a young woman whose bodily curves have to be seen to be believed, sets her sights on Tulio as a means for her escape from the sterility of life in the city. Tulio, although the more logical and practical of the two guys, and seeing the dangers of such a course, gives in to Chel's allures pretty quickly. Incidentally, I find Chel one of the more obvious anomalies in the film. She is the only character with an obvious Hispanic accent, even though she certainly isn't Hispanic, while the two Spanish characters have distinct American and English accents. She also has longings to escape the city for the attractions of the "civilized" world, even though she could not possibly have even heard about them. These might be minor gripes, but they grated on me throughout the film.

    The second plot complication is that Miguel, more the dreamer and idealist, begins to see the true nature and beauty of life in the city and ultimately decides to stay, thus breaking up the partnership of these two lifelong friends.

    Finally, there exists an undercurrent of jealousy between the jovial and wise Chief of the city (voiced by Edward James Olmos) and the evil high priest Tzekel-Kan (voiced by Armand Assante) who sees himself as mouthpiece of the gods and hence the rightful ruler of the city. More importantly, now that the gods themselves have come to the city, he believes it is now time to implement a campaign of terror and death against the citizens to secure that power.

    The story proceeds quite happily up to the conclusion, as the entire city is threatened, first by Tzekel-Kan and then by Cortez. Of course, the two heroes ultimately join up to save everyone and ensure a happy ending.

    While the film will probably appeal to children, it is far more grown-up than your average Disney classic. The nature of the characters and the fast-paced delivery of their lines as they work off each other would be entirely lost on children. The other major difference between this and the Disney classics is that the latter always end up with big heart and a tear in the eye. The best that could be said about El Dorado is that it struggles to achieve perhaps a small heart. Having said that, it is still an extremely strong technical film. The pictures and soundscapes on offer are sumptuous and there is more than enough to hold your interest for even several viewings. Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branagh, the great actors that they are, imbue Tulio and Miguel with real human character and work off each other wonderfully to provide much of the humour.

    Perhaps my single biggest question is - what's with all the armadillos that keep popping onto the screen? Obviously they're not there by accident, so I guess one of the directors must have some sort of armadillo fetish.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The film is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, very close to its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. If there are any remaining doubts (even after Pixar's magnificent achievements) concerning DVD's ability to handle animation, then this disc has just given them the big KO. With stunning original artwork and the 16x9 enhancement available here, the picture simply has to be given the rank of reference quality. The preformatted sheet on which I write my review notes has fewer comments than just about any other film I've reviewed, and not a single one of those was in the least bit negative.

    Two simple comments fully describe the picture quality on this disc: brilliantly sharp and brilliantly colourful. Every object is rendered with exceptional clarity with no hint of grain or edge enhancement. Colours are pure and well-defined and never extend beyond their borders. Discussion of shadow detail is a little strange in the case of animation, but for what it's worth, shadow clarity is equal to everything else on screen. There is a tremendous amount of detail everywhere, but especially in the jungle scenes and around the city of El Dorado. A high proportion of scenes have actually been generated to some degree by computer (in a similar fashion to the Pixar methods), including several instances displaying gold treasures. These are particularly full of fine detail that the disc has no problem reproducing. Colours begin somewhat undersaturated in the early scenes around Spain and during the Atlantic crossing, but once the guys reach the fabled city, it's full-on saturation all the way. The effect is a literal visual feast that is worth viewing for its own benefit.

    As much effort seems to have gone into the disc engineering as into the film, and this results in an unblemished picture. Forget MPEG compression artefacts, forget aliasing, and most definitely forget anything in the way of film marks or scratches. The print is as pristine as they come.

    The disc is formatted as dual layered in order to accommodate the film plus all of the extras. For the first time I was unable to detect the layer change, so I am forced to concede that either it separates the feature from the extras or it is entirely unobtrusive (or I blinked at the wrong moment).

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    When it comes to commenting on the sound you can just about repeat all of the things I've already said about the picture. There are three language choices, in English, German and Dutch, each with a high 448 kbit/sec recording rate. All seem to have the same background and music tracks, although even the songs have been translated into the appropriate languages.

    Dialogue is perfectly clear, as you would expect from the likes of Kline and Branagh, and never gets overwhelmed by the rest of the sound effects. This is vital for a film of this type because a good part of its attraction is in the way the two main characters bounce their dialogue off each other. My sole complaint in this regard is that the animated lip sync is not always spot on. Perhaps this is simply one of the weaknesses of traditionally animated film and is caused by the difficulty in perfectly modelling the fine detail of the human mouth that we have become so expert at reading.

    In what seems to be a blatant attempt at poaching some of Disney's past glory, the music and song-writing team for this film has been lifted entirely from The Lion King in the form of Elton John, Tim Rice and Hans Zimmer. Unfortunately, they don't seem to have been able to recreate the same level of success from that earlier film. There are certainly some effective moments, and a couple of the songs (primarily the one accompanying the opening titles) that are above the ordinary but otherwise it's pretty pedestrian. I guess that's reflected in the difference between the lack of even a single Oscar nomination this time around compared to the two Oscars won (by Hans Zimmer for Best Original Musical Score and Elton John & Tim Rice for Best Song) plus a further two nominations (again for John & Rice for another two of their songs) last time.

    The surround channels are used aggressively, as much to create a totally enveloping sound and music environment as to assist in the many fore-and-aft action pieces. The sound is forceful and crystal clear and, as much as I downplayed their relative artistic merit above, the songs come across with beautiful effect. This really is a soundtrack that deserves to be wound right up! I found that the subwoofer wasn't used extensively, but when appropriate it certainly made its presence felt.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Main Menu Audio

Audio Commentary - Bibo Bergeron & Don Paul (Directors)

    A commentary that, while not chock full of interesting information, is nevertheless a reasonably entertaining and easy listening way to spend a couple of hours. I can't imagine myself wanting to play through it more than once.

Featurette - Behind The Scenes

    Presented in full frame (1.33:1) format and Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. Running time is 26:21 minutes. A typical, made-for-TV "special" that consists of the usual "interviews" with the talent falling over themselves with praise for each other and the film. It even comes complete with spots for commercial breaks. The picture quality is OK, but clearly from a video source. I hate these things because of their phoniness and lack of any real value.

Featurette - Basics of Animation

    Presented in widescreen format with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. Running time is 39:34 minutes. You would have to be pretty keen to sit through this lot. It consists entirely of a series of static production paintings that set the "key" or colouring guide for every scene of the film. The featurette is again voiced by the directors with their explanation of their colour choices, but much of this information can already be had, in a more interesting form, in the audio commentary.

Music Video - Someday Out Of The Blue - Elton John

    Presented in widescreen format with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio and Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. Running time is 4:15 minutes. A music video set amongst many of the film's scenes and featuring an animated Elton John (actually looking quite young). See above for comments on the songs.

Theatrical Trailer

    Presented in widescreen format with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio and Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. Running time is 2:19 minutes. The trailer paints a pretty decent picture as to what the film is all about without giving away the plot or the jokes. Well done! The picture quality is very good, but not quite up to the same standard as the film itself.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

   The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;    The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;     The read-along, apparently designed for children, could perhaps be of interest, and the DVD-ROM would be worth seeing. The R1 disc also comes through with DTS, although from the single review of it that I've read, the difference between the DTS and Dolby is not huge. Make up your own mind between the superlative PAL picture or the slightly better extras list and DTS burdened by the NTSC picture of R1.

Summary

    The Road To El Dorado is very much a modern animated film made with real class and attention to detail. Quality-wise it's every bit the equal of what the Disney studio turns out, but it avoids the heartstrings approach that is one of the trademarks of that other great animation house. It could almost be described as a grown-up's animated film. It's fresh and light and the visuals are simply gorgeous. The disc reproduces every detail, both audio and visual, with consummate skill. Perhaps the film will never reach the "classic" status, but it still remains a very tight act. I should say this is at least worth a rental and if you liked the film in the cinema then it's a definite buy.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Murray Glase (read my bio)
Thursday, March 01, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba SD-K310, using S-Video output
DisplayPioneer SD-T43W1 (125cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationPioneer VSX-D906S
SpeakersRichter Wizard (front), Jamo SAT150 (rear), Yamaha YST-SW120 (subwoofer)

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Comments (Add)
Pixelation Glitch during "It's Tough to Be a God", has anyone else noticed this? - Christopher
Re: Pixelation - indigoe