Friday, August 24, 2012

The Road to El Dorado

Note 1: As you become older, the things you like change and evolve as you do. But there would always be a few things from your childhood which stick with you. 'The Road to El Dorado' is one of those few things for me.

Note 2: I've been meaning to write this since quite some time now, among other things. Better now than never. Hopefully this will drive me to publish all those "drafts" in my head soon.

The premise - two small-time con artists in 16th century Spain get hold of a map to the fabled city of El Dorado, the city of gold. The quest for the hidden treasure takes them on an epic journey of discovery. They reach El Dorado and are proclaimed Gods. Loosely inspired by Kipling's 'The Man who would be King', with real-life references to Cort├ęs, the premise is beyond magical and fascinating for a 12-year old, already hooked to "treasure hunt" adventures of Uncle Scrooge and his three mischievous nephews.

I watched it for the first time as a kid, and then again several times in the next few years. Maybe this is why the movie stuck with me, because every time I watched it, it had something new to offer to me. And not in a 'V for Vendetta' kind of way, where when the first time I watched it (still in school) I went, "Why in God's name is this man wearing a mask? Can someone please tell me what the hell is going on?", and then later having understood it I went, "Oooo, okay. Okay, I need a moment. Woah!". But in the kind of way 'Wall·E' is going to grow on today's kids 5/10 years from now.

At a very rudimentary level, 'The Road to El Dorado' is about an adventure, a quest for gold following the trail laid on a mysterious map. Then, it is a story of friendship, and the highs and lows in life. Then, it is about individuality, about how we want different things from life, about what we think would make us happy, and the eternal pursuit of happiness. It is about the experience of self-discovery, and recognizing that what we set out to achieve might not have been what we really wanted from life, and knowing that the original dream might be compromised along the way. El Dorado, the city of gold, is really a brilliant metaphor, for the bigger things in life. The essence of the movie is captured in these lines between the adventure-seeking Miguel, and the gold-seeking Tulio -

Tulio: If it's any consolation, Miguel, you made my life an adventure.
Miguel: And if it's any consolation, Tulio, you made my life rich.

The movie is seeped in sharp and witty lines, and the comic timing between Miguel (Kenneth Branagh) and Tulio (Kevin Kline) is top-notch. And of course, Kenneth Branagh gets to show off a little Shakesperean -

[as Miguel and Tulio fight with swords]
Tulio: Any last words? 
Miguel: I will cut you to ribbons!
Tulio: Fool! Such mediocrity! Let your sword do the talking! 
Miguel: I will, it will be loquacious to a fault!

The movie pays tribute to the 'Road to...' movies made in the 1940s and the 1950s, and just might be the greatest bro-mance ever featured in an animation film. And the innuendos and the references in the movie!

Tulio: [sighs] Well, it was nice working with you, partner. 
Miguel: Tulio, I just want you to know... I'm sorry about that girl in Barcelona. 

Chel, the leading lady in the mix, is a treat to watch. Beautiful, intelligent, sensual, dusky with long black hair, and knows how to get her way. She is a welcome break from the stereotypical Disney's girls that we have been fed as kids. You cannot help but smile when Miguel threatens her with "Beware the wrath of the Gods! Be gone!", and she replies, "Save it for the high priest, honey. You are gonna need it." [sigh]. This is Chel's introduction scene, also one of my favorite scenes from the movie. The best quality that I could find on youtube -

The animation quality is stunning. Pulling off a "city of gold" on animation is no mean feat, and they have done a spectacular job. The production design is beautifully done. The intro sequence sets the right tone for the movie -

Which brings me to the music. Written by Elton John, and composed by Hans Zimmer, the score and the songs are an absolute delight. The background score fits with the scenes seamlessly, and accentuates the movie's every aspect. And can I say enough about the songs. Brilliantly done, goes well with a sunny Sunday afternoon. There are two versions of the soundtrack, one performed by Elton John, and the other, used in the movie, by Hans Zimmer. It is difficult for me to pinpoint a favorite song from this album. There are hidden gems like The Panic In Me, My Heart Dances, and of course, Friends Never Say Goodbye. I think my favorite would Without Question be -

The more I want the more I steal
The more I hold the less is real
I come to you, I'm not afraid
Without question, I love you

It is really a shame that the movie did not "perform" at the box-office. Dreamworks had plans for sequels for this movie, and now we will never know. [sigh] If you haven't already watch this one, do, you will be pleasantly surprised. I found a bootlegged version of the movie here (if you don't mind the Arabic subtitles), but I sincerely urge you to watch the movie in it's high-resolution glory.

The Road to El Dorado...

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