I am as distressed as anyone else that we didn’t get the whole franchise of Road To… films that were promised, though given what happened to the other perfect Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio script that became a franchise, perhaps a bullet was dodged. Like any script by the duo, there’s a solid dramatic arc that gives each individual character their own identity (and, crucially, sense of humour) that gives every other creative member of the crew room to breathe life into the story, and this movie has a Simpsons level of effort put into it. I’ve felt for a long time that voice acting is so much warmer when the actors are recording together, allowing them to bounce off each other, and I think this movie had a big effect on me in that respect, because Kenneth Branagh and Kevin Kline turn the dialogue into something musical (“How did you get those?!” / “Where was she keeping them?”).
The animators, too, go the extra mile; of course the magical parts of the movie, the settings and ships and giant magical creatures are spectacular, but it’s also the little details. The central creative drive of the movie is that we’re watching the comedy sidekicks of another movie, and I always loved the slightly offbeat design of our central characters – you don’t often see Tulio’s long hair/chin strip combo at all, let alone on protagonists – and this extends to their characterisation. The two share a deep love of adventure, but Tulio is motivated mainly by money and Miguel is motivated mainly by romance; Tulio is a brilliant liar and Miguel has to cover his smile and laugh every time; Tulio’s expressions are often more single-minded because he’s focusing on the issue at hand, and Miguel gets both very funny and very sad facial expressions (his anger and hurt at Tulio during the breakup montage are very real). This is a fun story with a fun pair of dudes.
Even if it doesn’t curdle into the toxicity of, say, misogynistic Ghostbusters fans, there are movies you love so much you feel as if they belong to you in some way – The Matrix hit me so hard at so impressionable an age that it feels a part of my identity. There are also movies that feel as if we share them with others, and The Road To El Dorado feels like it belongs to me and my sister. We watched a lot of movies growing up, and this is the movie we’ve quoted together the most (which I shall now call The Matt Groening Measure Of Quality), and it’s one we’ve both continued to love even as our tastes have gradually diverged over the years. You could even see this film as an origin point for our respective tastes in movies as adults – I love polished dramatically-structured affairs with rich characterisation and quotability, she loves incredibly wacky comedy filled with physical and verbal slapstick (stuff ranging from surreal anime I don’t know the name of to We’re The Millers).
It’s got me thinking about Gillianren’s article on The Women’s Canon – I’m considered the film buff of my family despite actually watching fewer movies than my sister these days. Partly it’s because of the kind of movies I watch – I can jokingly point and say “for example, she watches We’re The Millers“, but that’s what I’m saying, that there are kinds of movies that get you more Film Buff Points than others, even outside of sexism. It’s also that I like talking about movies and writing essays about movies and carrying them beyond the experience of watching them. I think it’s nice that there are movies like The Road To El Dorado that find a middle ground between our respective viewpoints, where the Venn diagram of shit she likes and shit I like come together in one movie – that I can think about how the relationship between Miguel and Tulio (“Tulio and Miguel!”) reminds me of my relationship with my sister, and my sister can take the experience as an experience, and we both enjoy the movie.