When it comes to animated films that I feel the critics misjudged at the time, one of the biggest films that come to mind is "The Road to El Dorado". When the film from DreamWorks Animation came out in 2000, the film was not warmly received by most critics and despite a relatively strong opening weekend at the box office, it quickly suffered becoming a commercial dud for the studio. Over the years though, time has been kind to this film as it's now considered a cult classic within the catalog of DreamWorks films and I'm glad it has because this is just fun to watch. It may lack the emotional sophistication and overall power some of their other animated films has, but it makes up for it by being just a straight-up fun and hilarious film to watch.
In 1519, two con artists in Spain named Miguel (Kenneth Branagh) and Tulio (Kevin Kline) successfully win a map to the fabled city of El Dorado in the New World using a pair of loaded dice. However, when the two are caught, they escape the guards and end up accidentally stowing away on the ship of Hernán Cortés (Jim Cummings) who decides to imprison the two and plans on dumping them in Cuba before reaching the New World. Fortunately, the duo escapes the ship and ends up taking Cortés' horse Altivo and lands in the New World where they use the map to find the fabled city of gold, El Dorado. When they get there, the citizens mistake Miguel and Tulio for gods and are welcomed by the kind Chief Tannabok (Edward James Olmos) and the crazed high priest Tzekel-Kan (Armand Assante). Although the two are discovered not to be gods by a woman named Chel (Rosie Perez) she decides to help them keep up the charade so she can escape the city itself with the gold and the trio try to figure out how to take the gold and leave the city without the people suspecting them to be mortals.
As I previously stated, this film was not a huge critical or commercial hit when this film came out back in 2000. It's also a film that did have quite a troubled production due to interference from Jeffery Katzenberg which resulted in the departure of the original directors, Will Finn and David Silverman, with the former having disowned the film due to his experience with Katzenberg. However, despite the film's troubled production and not really making an impact initially, this is a film that I can't help but enjoy watching for its overall silliness. It's not a complicated story and it is a bit predictable as you can imagine certain beats the film follows, but the story is so entertaining and funny that it's easy to overlook how predictable it is. As soon as the film starts, it throws you right into the middle of the adventure where we see the duo playing with their loaded dice, and from there unfolds with a lot of fun mishaps as the duo just tries to figure out how to get away with their ultimate con to become uber-rich in the process. This film really is funny as the screenplay written by "Aladdin" writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio has some big laughs within it that make the film just an overall enjoyable experience. One moment that I do find particularly funny is in El Dorado where Miguel and Tulio accidentally get thrown into a game where they have to get a ball into a hoop while also going up against some top-notch players. It's a really hilarious scene that I do enjoy watching and there are also some other funny moments where the duo tries to trick the people into believing they're gods including a moment featuring a volcano. I also admire the scene where Miguel bonds with the people of the city and gets to see the beauty of the city. It was a nice little montage that I liked quite a bit. With that said, I do think the third act before the climax does feel a bit slow at times but it does pick itself back up and finishes on a great note. As far as the animation goes, it's held up quite nicely. This was the second traditional animated film that the studio made after "The Prince of Egypt" and while that film had a much grander scale than this, this one still has a lot of substance to it that makes it lively to watch. The biggest aspect is the colors. Oh, the colors. This is such a colorful film that's bright, sparkling, and exuberant. It's such a spectacle that I never got tired of watching it. Plus, I do think that the computer animation blending in with the traditional animation has aged quite nicely as well compared to other films from the time where the computer animation has started to show its age. There's a lot of detail put into this animation and it really has stood the test of time after all these years. And that leads me to the characters who are also quite fun to watch. The film is primarily carried by the chemistry between Miguel and Tulio and these two work together so well. Kline and Branagh work like magic together with both contrasting off each other just enough to make them distinct with Miguel being the go-for-it kind of guy and Tulio being the planner. I also really liked the character of Chief Tannabok who's both kind and supportive while also being smart and collected which makes him a perfect contrast to the villain of the film Tzekel-Kan who's obsessed with ridiculous ritual sacrifices. I did like Chel a bit too though I do think the film should've given her more personality than just being incredibly beautiful. She's definitely nice to look at and smart, but that's not exactly enough. I also thought that Cortés seemed a bit like an afterthought. The film sets him up as ruthless so we think he'll be another major villain to the plot, but it doesn't really take him anywhere which left me a bit unsatisfied in the end. However, the film really is mostly Miguel and Tulio's and that's why it mostly works. I also do love the songs in the film written by Elton John and Tim Rice. Apart from the film's best song, "It's Tough to Be A God" which is a full-on musical number, the songs play out over the film and are sung by John. While that sometimes does annoy me, it didn't here, mainly because I really love Elton John's work.
In all, "The Road to El Dorado" is a really fun film from DreamWorks. The story is a bit predictable but is really hilarious and fun, the animation is vibrant and colorful, and most of the characters are a bit of fun and have great performances by their actors. This is a really fun film from DreamWorks and I do think it's worth checking out. It may not be their grandest adventure, but there's a fun path that awaits for those curious.