If you were to make a list of the greatest animated movies of all time, I highly doubt that The Road to El Dorado would be on your list. Many people group The Road to El Dorado with other DreamWorks failures and assume that since it was a box office bomb it was a bad movie. However, if you sit down and rewatch the film you'll see how well it has aged and how baffling it is that this movie wasn't a success. So let's take a look at what makes The Road to El Dorado awesome and why that went unnoticed.
Animated films that are known for their great soundtracks are usually films where the characters themselves are singing. In movies like Aladdin, Frozen and Mulan the main characters are singing and these songs advance the plot. The songs are an integral part of the movie and it's impossible not to notice them. In movies where the songs are played in the background, it's sometimes difficult for these songs to get attention. The link above is the only song in The Road to El Dorado that's sung by the characters, and it's by no means the only impressive song in the movie. Naturally, any soundtrack by Hans Zimmer and Elton John is going to be fantastic. What makes the soundtrack in The Road to El Dorado stand out is how much it adds to the movie. Every background song adds to the splendor or intensity of the scene.
Watch the scene below with and without music and tell me which has more impact.
The scene not only shows how impactful the soundtrack is, but how beautifully animated this movie was. This movie was released more than 17 years ago and it still looks incredible. Everything about the way they made El Dorado made it feel like a mystical city.
From the sparkling of the gold...
...to the magnitude of the city...
...to the wildlife...
...everything about the way this was animated makes the city come alive.
Almost all children's movies have to be funny. It doesn't need to be constant laugh out loud funny, but there needs to be humor sprinkled in in order to keep kids entertained. This is where The Road to El Dorado may have succeeded for adults and failed for children. This is a funny movie, but the humor is a bit too mature for kids, and no I'm not talking about that one dirty joke they hid in the movie (Google it). I'm talking about how dry the humor was.
This clip is a perfect example of the humor. While it's funny, they are talking very quickly and using words and phrases children don't really know... and yes I had to look up the word loquacious. Many of these jokes went over children's heads and that may be what ultimately led to its downfall.
Miguel and Tulio
While soundtrack, animation and humor are all important to the success of a movie, the most important thing is always the main characters. Miguel and Tulio play off each other effortlessly. Not only does the humor between the two of them flow well, but their friendship is authentic. Throughout the movie, you get a sense of who each character is and what they mean to each other. That's why the scene, "Friends Never Say Goodbye" is so powerful.
In other movies, you're just told that certain characters are friends and you accept it, but in The Road to El Dorado you understand why they are friends and you feel the pain of them losing that friendship. They have one of the most genuine friendships in any film I have ever seen.
So the question remains, why was this movie a failure? A funny movie starring two great characters that's beautifully animated with a great soundtrack sounds like it would be a success. The main problem is with their humor, this film was originally intended to be PG-13, but it was changed in order to gain a younger audience. Even though the rating changed, the bulk of their content did not, and many parents felt this film was not suitable for young kids and that hurt their box office return. The mature theme, mixed with misguided marketing and a poorly made trailer are the reason this film is not regarded as the classic it should have been.