The Road To El Dorado

Apparently still unfamiliar with the concept of counter-programming, Dreamworks' second animated feature, like The Prince Of Egypt before it, closely follows the classic Disney template. (That's not factoring in Antz, which followed the template of Disney subsidiary Pixar.) This time, the borrowing is even more explicit. Where Egypt appropriated the Disney look but added narrative ambition—its story, after all, was nothing less than the story of Moses—The Road To El Dorado has no pretensions of profundity, as might be guessed by the inclusion of a lovable hedgehog. As Disney knockoffs go, it's acceptable, if not especially inspired. Kenneth Branagh and Kevin Kline provide the voices for a pair of 16th-century Spanish gay blades—the former a dreamy romantic, the latter a pragmatic fortune-seeker—who inadvertently stow away on a ship bound for the New World captained by Cortes (voiced by Jim Cummings but apparently modeled after Stacy Keach). After jumping ship with a highly merchandisable horse sidekick, the two don't die a watery death on the cold and merciless high seas, but instead wash ashore in an unspecified land of adventure. There, they discover the fabled city of El Dorado, where the citizens—whose ranks include benevolent chief Edward James Olmos, evil priest Armand Assante, and curvy streetwise schemestress Rosie Perez—mistake them for gods, perhaps due to their ability to conjure up numerous montage sequences set to new songs by Elton John and Tim Rice. El Dorado gets by on its relative lightheartedness, at least for a little while, but it's the same quality that does it in. Polished into lusterlessness, it's so carefully calculated to be inoffensive that its ostensible subject, the meeting of European and indigenous American cultures, becomes irrelevant. It's cheerful and brisk enough to appeal to those drawn to bright colors and moving shapes, but a few moments of genuine entertainment, particularly a clever opening sequence, suggest it could have been more satisfying. If Dreamworks truly wants to compete with Disney, it should provide something different or better. This is neither.

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