Friday, January 17, 2014

44. The Road to El Dorado (2000)

Code-name: 7 on a pair of die

("he gave me loaded dice!")

Director: Eric 'Bibo' Bergeron and Don Paul (and 2 others)
Music and Lyrics: Elton John & Tim Rice
Score: Hans Zimmer and John Powell
Type: animated, adventure, comedy

Miguel- Kenneth Branagh
Tulio- Kevin Kline
Chel- Rosie Perez
Chief- Edward James Olmos
Tzekel-Kan- Armand Assante
Cortes- Jim Cummings


Opening Remarks

I wouldn't exactly call this a nostalgic choice because this came out when I was 13-14. I didn't grow up with it as I have some of the other animated movies further along my list. But it has the same two ingredients as my favorite types of movies in those days:
1) it's animated
2) it's a comedy

Days before my tastes in movies had a growth spurt. But even now, I look back some of these films fondly enough that I feel they deserve to be mentioned.

Actors and Actresses

Like a lot of my favorite animated movies, "El Dorado" brought certain actors to my attention that I made sure not to forget about.
Kevin Kline's voiceover skills previously appeared in Disney's "Hunchback of Notre Dame," but he really stood out here thanks to the on-screen chemistry he has with Kenneth Branagh (who, a couple years later, I'd forever link with Hogwarts Professor Gilderoy Lockhart). As for the rest of his resume, Kevin Kline is one of those actor's actors I flat out respect. I always enjoy his work, whether it's the hilarity of "A Fish Called Wanda" or his inspirational teacher film "The Emperor's Club."
Kenneth Branagh, I don't know quite as well, but my hat's off to him for his director of "Thor" (his Shakespearean touch made it very inviting) and the latest "Jack Ryan" movie might end up on my radar (although for Chris Pine more than him, lol).

Aside from being seasoned actors in their own right, their work in this film is kinda special because they did their voiceovers together whereas traditional voiceovers, which are performed separately. Not to mention the potential for ample improv.

Rosie Perez, I recently saw as Woody Harrelson's girlfriend in "White Men Can't Jump," but like her sassy character, El Dorado native Chel, she's more than able to keep up with our two leading men.

Interestingly, according to the DVD extras, this was constructed as a movie starring characters that you'd usually find in supporting roles. So-called "side-kicks" and "losers." I did not pick that up at all, which obviously means that they did a great job.

The Plot

Living in Spain in 1519, Miguel (Kenneth Branagh) and Tulio (Kevin Kline) are con men longing for riches and adventure. In a street craps game, which they'd been winning thanks to their pair of loaded dice, they win a map to El Dorado, the legendary city of gold. A series of events (the reveal of their con, the diversion, the chase scene, etc.) leads them onto a ship headed for the New World, heralded by the Spanish Conquistador, Cortes.

They're caught, he promises they'll be punished, so they decide to make their escape in the dead of night. Along with the unexpected addition of war horse, Altivo, they make their way through everything mother nature has to throw at them.
Eventually, this leads them to El Dorado, where they are mistaken as Gods by the natives... a misconception construed from ancient carvings and the fact it's the first time they've seen white man.

Fearing that the possibility that they'll be discovered, they continue with this misconception long enough to load up on gold to take back to Spain. Chel overhears this conversation and asks to join them, something they reluctantly agree to, but ends up helping them a great deal in the long run.

Then things start to get a little hairy when the High Priest discovers they're mortal and Cortes is hot on their trail after his crew arrives ashore.

The Characters

It's only coincidence that two weeks in a row, my movie features a duo of best friends. Miguel and Tulio feed off each other as well as the best of bromances (a term I'll equate with a film later on in the countdown). Miguel is the dreamer and optimist, blonde haired and green-eyed and Tulio is the dark-haired, blue eyed realist. Between the two, Tulio is the one I can relate to more, but Miguel is the better looking of the two.
As the plot goes on, their relationship is tested between how they handle this newfound "fame" and Tulio's growing friendship with Chel, which blossoms into romance.
Although these two are con men, they really are quite lovable and aside from their big plan (loading up on gold and running back to Spain), they do the right thing in every situation. This is especially prevalent in the scenes where the High Priest wants to do a human sacrifice for them and they advise against it.

There's also an interesting push and pull between the El Dorado Chief and High Priest. The Chief is the heart and soul of the city, a fair and much-loved ruler. On the other hand, the High Priest is a little psychotic, adhering to the ancient texts as if his livelihood depended on it. Reading into it a bit further, it seems like he's just power-hungry and being the speaker of the Gods is his ticket to become supreme ruler.

The Comedy

Yet another of my favorite quotable films. The dialogue comes out almost like a play or musical. It's all in the delivery and the timing with Miguel and Tulio, something made possible by their experienced voice actors. And of course, the task isn't complete until DreamWorks animators put their voices to their sketches. To me, that's positively mind-blowing, how advanced that is for an animated film.
Hopefully in the years to come, that'll gain more appreciation amongst the masses.

[Tulio is banging his head against the wall in the brig]
Miguel: So how's the, uh... how's the escape plan coming?
[Tulio stops banging his head]
Tulio: Wait! I'm getting something!
[pauses, then goes back to banging his head on the wall]
Tuilo: All right. Here's the plan. In the dead of night, you and I grab some provisions, hijack one of those... one of those longboats... and then, we... row back to Spain like there's no mañana!
Miguel: [pauses] Back to Spain, yeah?
Tuilo: Yeah.
Miguel: [uncertainly] In... a rowboat.
Tuilo: Yeah!
Miguel: [sarcastically] Great. Sensational. That's your plan, is it?
Tuilo: That's... pretty much it, yeah.
Miguel: [delighted] Well, I like it!

Miguel: this is really the map to El Dorado...
Tulio: [very dryly] You drank the sea water, didn't you?

Miguel: let's follow that trail
Tulio: What trail?
Miguel: the trail, that we blaze
[hacks greenery away with a machete to reveal a rock]
Miguel: (a beat) [points in another direction] That trail that we blaze!

and just so Chel isn't left out of the fun...

Chel: and I suppose you'll be wanting these back [reveals the loaded dice in her hand]
Tulio: [taps his pockets to find them empty] How did you get those?
Miguel: Where was she keeping them?

The Music

"The Lion King" was another early theatrical experience of mine. One of the biggest selling points of "El Dorado" was the fact it reunited the amazing, award-winning musical team Elton John, Tim Rice and Hans Zimmer.
Their process for this is quite fascinating. Elton and Tim communicated across the pond, Tim would write the lyrics and Elton would construct the music. Then they'd give the songs to Hans Zimmer, who'd revamp them to fit the spirit of the picture (which he co-scored with John Powell).

I'm quite aware of Elton John's massive repertoire on his own right, but there's something about his film work that needs to be celebrated as well. A certain je ne sais qua. All I can kinda say is flock to YouTube, but it doesn't do as much as justice as seeing the film in its entirety. Having the jaw-droppingly colorful visuals accompanied by the triumphant adventurous music.

In Other News...

The Oscar nominations came out yesterday... and most of them followed suit with the Golden Globes. Not too many surprises to report on.

*Jonah Hill got another supporting actor nom for "Wolf of Wall Street." And Martin Scoreses, who also didn't get a nod from the Golden Globes, is in the Best Director category.

*"Nebraska," a film I hadn't even heard of until the Golden Globes, earned several nods including Best Picture, Best Actor and Supporting Actress.

*"Saving Mr. Banks" got snubbed almost completely, it has one for Thomas Newman's score, but there was no love for Emma Thompson, the only nomination the Golden Globes had for this film... the people on GMA made the argument that Meryl Streep took her nomination slot because there's only room for one older woman in that category.
I mean, it's a comfort that of her dozens of nominations that she'd only won three times, but... c'mon, enough is enough, Academy.

*Of course there's a lot of talk about the fact "The Butler" and Oprah were snubbed... as if there's only room for one African-American contender at the Academy. Way back last summer when the movie came out, I figured it'd get some Oscar buzz because it's just that type of movie that does well at these things. But, alas, it is not to be... possibly because it came out too early to be considered.

*There's also talk about no love for Tom Hanks, shut out of the Best Actor category despite having been in TWO big movies this year. "Captain Phillips" and "Saving Mr. Banks," about which I've heard he was a very convincing Walt Disney.

*While people on Yahoo are debating about whether Idina Menzel or Demi Levato should perform "Let it go" at the Oscars (Idina all the way!), I'm afraid it'll be another win for Bono and U2.

*No love for "Blue is the Warmest Color" in the Foreign Film category, but Miyazaki got into the best animated film category with "The Wind Rises"

Other than that, I'll leave this entry off with a remark about next week:
Another comedic, quotable film. This time, it's by one of my favorite actor/writer/directors.
And it's a family-favorite :-P

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