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The Road to El Dorado: Special Edition

Not too long ago Disney revitalized the commercial appeal of the animated feature with an enticing combination of classic tales, artistic flourish, and the grand romance of old-school musicals. It's now the 21st century, and what do we have? Template-driven drivel with little imagination, scored to the weakening pulse of half-assed pop tunes. DreamWorks' The Road to El Dorado is not the worst animated film you'll see, with a decent share of amusing moments and visual spectacle to offer — and thank God there are no talking animals. However, what it lacks are the very elements that revived this expressionist genre: lovesick heroines, grand heroes, and majestic songs, painted in a way that makes us feel we've never seen them before. Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branagh give voice to a couple of clever 16th century Spanish charlatans who literally stumble upon the mythical land of El Dorado. Despite their best efforts to screw up, they are mistaken for gods. Their charade, however, does not land them in the countless riches they desire, but rather leads to encounters with dull baddies like a stone monster and cruel explorer Cortes. Kline and Branagh try to put some spirit into their uninspired banter, but they nearly fail to imbue their shallow characters with any likable qualities. Parents may well question the post-modern touch of centering this child-aimed entertainment around two lying anti-heroes, and they may also balk at some fairly overt sexuality (bordering on whore-like extortion) displayed by the scantily clad (yet unexpectedly fat-thighed) female lead voiced by Rosie Perez. The Road to El Dorado is certainly not appropriate for most children, and adults will yearn for the very similar and much superior John Huston classic The Man Who Would Be King. Sadly, our last link to the popular musicals of the past seems to have been irretrievably lost since has-been pop hacks have replaced the likes of the excellent Alan Menken (Beauty and the Beast) as favored composers for animated features. Elton John's work here is dull and instantly forgettable — and what the frick happened to Tim Rice? Once the second-brightest lyricist in the theater, he seems to sink in resignation rather than lift this tepid material. When the money comes rolling in.... Nonetheless, DreamWorks has put together a nice package for The Road to El Dorado: Special Edition on DVD, with an excellent anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) and audio in DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1, and Dolby 2.0 Surround. Other features include commentary with directors Don Paul and Bibo Bergeron, a 30-minute making-of featurette, a storybook-like "read along," the Elton John video "Out of the Blue," an animation primer, trailers, and loads of DVD-ROM content, including actvities and a demo of a spin-off game. Keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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