Thursday, 17 April 2014

The Load For Chel Dorado

(The Road To El Dorado Review By Neamo)
While the title might imply that this review is a frothy mouthed tirade of cynicism and bitterness, I will assure you that this couldn't be further from the truth. I am if nothing else bitter, twisted and hypercritical of flaws wherever and whenever I find them, and few movies hold innate charm that can openly defy that bitterness. This however is one of those movies. Steeped in nostalgia, the bane of any real critique, this is a film that resonates with my childhood and provides layers of new enjoyment with each watch. While I could easily ramble on into a monolithic paragraph with little cohesion and less direction, I feel now is a perfect time to start the review.

We start our film with the principle cast, Miguel (Kenneth Branagh) and Tulio (Kevin Kline), a pair of bungling but well meaning con artists in a particularly nasty period of Spanish history who secure themselves a map of El Dorado with loaded dice. Hilarity and tribulations ensue as our dynamic duo are chased by guards, countrymen and bull alike onto the ship of the encroaching shadow of death that is Cortes. Imprisoned in the brig and without any real hope, save for a remarkably intelligent horse named Altivo, they disembark into the ocean in a row boat leaving the three stranded and starving on an endless plane of wet desolation. Fortune favors the inept however, and as they breach the sandy shores of salvation, Miguel quickly produces the map, much to Tulio's chagrin. Questing onward through unknown terrain, they bump into an otherwise hidden local, a thief called Chel (Rosie Perez) who unwittingly leads guards from the hidden city to our hapless duo, quickly bringing them to the city in a display of trust that Spain would never see again from any country of the new world. Introduced to the two city chieftains, the festively plump Tannabok and the living embodiment of the devil, Tzekel-Kan, our heroes through luck alone convince the city of their divinity and that they are gods. It is here the plot thickens as we see what starts as a planned heist evolve into a genuine care from our brotagonists. Miguel, euphoric with cultural ecstasy, channels the inner travel guide that had forever longed to peel free and helps to involve himself in the city's culture and heritage, whilst Tulio, immersed in the scheme with the aid of Chel, finds his own euphoria by immersing himself in the buxom female. That isn't a joke. Quickly however things go amiss. After a game of the world's most complicated form of basketball, Tzekel-Kan discovers they are mortals, and not the gods he had wished for in his religious fervor. Distraught but not outdone, he cracks open the peeling text of voodoo for beginners and after displaying a power that frankly should have left him ruling the city like a giant among ants, summons a giant stone jaguar. Now fighting over different goals and women problems, our team put their feelings aside to send Tzekel-Kan to Xibalba, a whirlpool outside of the city gates. Found by Cortes and leading him to the city, Tzekel-Kan looks set to have the last laugh, but in a final act of selflessness and a reparation of our fellowship, Miguel, Tulio, Chel and of course the ever present Altivo work together to foil the plan by sealing the entrance and forsaking the gold. A happy ending for all. Except for the villagers who probably sent parties into the jungle to forage for food, and who all now have Spanish Flu. A happy ending for all who count.

So, where to go from here? I've recapped the plot, and if I am to review it, I could only say I think it is perfection. Filled with witty references that still remain culturally relevant to this day, and in jokes made for parents that otherwise would not have been obvious to watching infants, the breadth of story explored in this film felt spectacular. I will admit, motivations seemed a little shallow, and if I wanted to stab at the heart of the piece I would say Chel was clearly using Tulio as a means to an ends and thus remained a gold digging harlot, but I won't. I don't like using the excuse 'it was made for children', as it implies inherent stupidity is acceptable. What I will say is the complex theme of a romantic story would have had little place in lieu of their core demographic, and also in the face of the light adventure itself. It would have served only to disrupt the ease and fluidity of the story, and that would have been a shame in of itself, so whether hooker or heroine, the plot should have remained the same. It's this freedom to interpret I think that allows for much of the comedic build, the misplaced kiss of Chel during a 'tender' moment with Tulio leaving many who have lost their purity screeching back in revelation, whilst the exploding cigars smoked during the festivities could clearly have been representing marijuana. These little gifts of good writing and careful planning pepper this film and leave it a true joy to behold, with exquisite repeat value. The dialogue too is snappy and well placed, and the general plot ideal opens the stage for raucous fun. More films should take note of this.

The voice acting in this film is superb, with Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branagh providing likable and reasoned performances, expected of veteran actors. Bringing comedic timing with vocals that feel unforced, they truly embody the characters they become. I could talk of other specific examples, but the matter of fact is that all of the vocal performances in this film are stunning in of themselves. If I am going to mention vocals however, I must take a moment to advise the soundtrack of this beautiful film. Elton John's original score is magnificent, and holds well against the test of time and changing tastes. Crisp, husky but at the same time filled with that magnanimous charm that many fans of the singer have come to expect, it never disappoints and remains an unwavering favorite, especially 'The Trail We Blaze' and 'Without Question' for yours truly. The animation too is sumptuous and stylish for it's time. I'm starting to get a little sugar rush from how much praise I'm glazing this movie with, so this may be a good time for me to summarize.

The Road to El Dorado is many things, and all of them good. It defies genre, age group and expectations by being a truly universally entertaining film, and is something everyone should experience at least once. Seriously, I'm not kidding. Yes, you. Right now. El Dorado.

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