An adult film mistakenly aimed at kids, El Dorado features curse words, human sacrifice (or at least the threat of it), a sex scene (or at least the overt implication of it), a truly villainous depiction of Cortes, two heroes who are charlatans and cheats, a cold-blooded murder, and a giant, scary-ass jaguar monster.
There is a lot for the kids as well, with bright, vibrant colours, an anthropomorphic horse, Elton John songs, and an armadillo (kids like armadillos, right?).
The movie, which failed upon release, has gained a cult following based upon gifs, causing internet dwellers to embrace it as a classic. You’ve probably seen a scene from the movie without realising while scrolling through Tumblr, Twitter, or Buzzfeed. That was what drew me back to this movie after dismissing it for so long. It originally came out in 2000 after Antz and The Prince of Egypt, two other Dreamworks Animation movies that fell flat for me. I had seen many, many references to it in memes and gifs and then, one night, while scrolling through Netflix I saw it and thought I would give it a try.
As much as I would love to write here that I wasted fifteen years of my life not watching this movie, I can’t. It is good, sometimes very good, but it is not the classic I sometimes see it called on the internet. The problem lies in what I discussed in my opening. A lot of modern animation manages to dance on that line between adult and kid audiences. When done right the movie will have enough spectacle and prat falls to keep the kids laughing and enough subtle humour and grand themes to keep the adults happy. The problem with El Dorado is that when it veers too far into adult it course corrects too strongly back towards kids and vice versa. For every threat of sacrifice, there is an Elton John song that sounds like an outtake from the Lion King. For every bemused horse expression, there is Cortes menacing our heroes with the following line of dialogue:
My crew was chosen as carefully as the Disciples of Christ, and I will not tolerate stowaways. You will be flogged. And when we put in to Cuba to resupply, God willing, you will be flogged some more. And then enslaved on the sugar plantations for the rest of your miserable lives.
This tonal imbalance is bound to continuously catch viewers off guard and makes for a jarring watching experience.
However, at its best, this film is a joy to watch. Kenneth Branagh and Kevin Kline as the two leads are having a ball, and their performances make me wish that this movie had been live-action instead of animated as, even though the animators capture them very well, to see the lines being spoken mixed with Branagh and Kline’s body language would be a real treat.
Tonal weirdness aside, I would still advise watching this movie. The two leads are charming characters voiced by charming actors and there are enough cool set-pieces and jokes to make it a fun watch. And if the worst I can say about a movie is that it is not the classic that the internet promised me it would be, then that’s actually not so bad.