With four directors (perhaps even a fifth uncredited helmer) it’s not too hard to understand why there’s a rather disjointed feeling to Dreamworks’ The Road to El Dorado. Its lack of cohesiveness isn’t really the only thing that keeps the film from becoming much more than a pleasant diversion, but it’s the most jarring and obvious problem I have with the film. Its lack of directorial consistency and vision unfortunately hinder what could have been a strong little animated adventure.
2000 was an interesting year for animation. Expectations for animated films were still rather reserved, as Pixar was still establishing itself as the premiere American animation house. Dreamworks had a series of misses that never really caught on with the general public, all whilst Shrek was sitting in development. The company was dying for a franchise – The Road to El Dorado had a lot riding on it. The potential for side projects and sequels were obviously thought of well in advance – the adventures of Tulio (Kevin Kline) and Miguel (Kenneth Branagh) with their saucy ethnic girlfriend Chel (Rosie Perez) seem less like organic characters and more like ideas spawned out of a board room meeting.
But I don’t want to dismiss The Road to El Dorado entirely, as the film obviously borrows from good company. While not original in the traditional sense, the film subscribes to the ideas of so many action films of years past, that it fleshes out the material to be more inventive than it probably is. And given that its animation style harkens back to a traditional animated style (minus the application of some glaring computer animation), there’s a certain novelty to its visual appeal – had it been released sometime in the middle of the aughts, I suspect its critical reception would have been slightly more favorable.
Simply put though, The Road to El Dorado is too slight to really leave much of an impact. It does an adequate job of establishing its characters within the context of its narrative, but ultimately, there isn’t enough to hold it together in the grand scheme of things. Individual sequences work efficiently, so much to the point that it might have worked as some sort of Saturday morning cartoon show. But undoubtedly a result of its multiple directors, the film seems too preoccupied with trying to figure out what it wants to do, rather than actually going on to doing it.