Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Because it’s Simpsons Week at The A.V. Club, we’re recommending films featuring key contributors to the series, from actors to writers to a certain famed composer.
Hidden adult content in Disney classics is a nice Easter egg for adults, but DreamWorks’ underappreciated story of two layabouts conniving their way into deity status offered mature themes both overt and subdued. Miguel and Tulio, voiced with respective aplomb by Kenneth Branagh and Kevin Kline, are first seen swindling their way through Spain with a combination of smooth talk, performance art, and cheating. But after their loaded dice betray them, the duo escapes with nothing but a map to the fabled, titular city by hiding in two barrels, which are promptly loaded onto a ship. A series of high jinks later, the good-hearted scoundrels find themselves on a tropical island and on the road to El Dorado, blazing a trail through the jungle with the cognizant (but thankfully voiceless) horse they picked up along the way.
Just as they did on The Lion King, Elton John and Tim Rice join forces to provide a peerless soundtrack, fantastic down to the very last song. It’s probably for this reason that El Dorado seems closer to a ’90s Disney film than a subpar DreamWorks offering. But it’s also edgier than the Mouse House movies of its ilk, with drunken revelry, executions, and a pretty obvious sex scene. David Silverman, a longtime Simpsons staffer, was one of five credited directors; he would go on to co-direct Pixar’s Monsters, Inc. the next year. Maybe that’s why El Dorado isn’t as well remembered, surrounded as it was by late-period Disney greats and early Pixar triumphs. It’s a shame, though, because the film is right up there with the canonized ’90s-era favorites, at least in terms of production and music. It even teaches children some valuable lessons: Horses will break you out of jail in return for a Red Delicious, Cortez was a terrifying historical figure, and colonialist endeavors don’t end well for the indigenous people or the white men looking to get rich off their natural resources. Also, friendship trumps all.
Availability: The Road To El Dorado is available on DVD, which can be obtained from Netflix or your local video store/library, and to rent or purchase from the major digital services. The film is also streaming on Netflix.