I'd seen gifs of the guitar-strumming scoundrels on tumblr, and heard my friends talk about it as one of their favorite childhood movies, so I wondered why I wasn't in on the little DreamWorks animated adventure called, "The Road to El Dorado." Growing up, my parents had a strict Disney-and-Nick-Jr.-only policy. I was raised on images of mermaids and gorillas and talking candlesticks. I was fed a steady diet of love stories and inspiring quips and heartbreaking death scenes. Alan Menken provided the soundtrack to my life, with Phil Collins as the opening act. Films like "Prince of Egypt," "Anastasia," and "The Road to El Dorado" were passed off as "dumb copies." So I never saw them.
That is, until, at the age sixteen, a funny textpost on tumblr made me decide to rent "El Dorado," just for kicks.
At first, I had a pretty open mind. I thought the animation was a bit less fluid and detailed as Disney's, but it wasn't a huge issue. I liked Miguel, with his outlandish facial expressions and intense strumming. I was laughing within the first five minutes, although I was a bit put-off by Miguel's inexplicable British accent and Tulio's oddly American one. It would have been a lot better if they had actual Spanish accents, in my opinion, or at least all the same accent. But anyway, I thought they had a really good set-up here: two con men (something relatively strange to kid's movies) lie to obtain a goal, get caught in their lie (that's right kids: lying is wrong!), and must play off each other to escape (ah yes, humor and action!). The horse on the boat thing was humorous, and I loved the two men's dying confessions as they thought they'd never reach shore. I was really liking Miguel as a character; he was an innocent adventurer while Tulio was greedy and conniving. The only reason he went along with Miguel to find the city in the first place was so that he could steal its gold. OK. I was sure he would have a change of heart by the end of the film and realize the value of friendship and such, so I wasn't too concerned.
I was also taken aback by their two naked butts running through the jungle, but OK. A butt is a butt. There's nothing wrong with an innocent butt.
When the pair reached the lost city, they were met by a woman with a stolen object and curvaceous hips. I was intrigued: who was this woman? Why did she steal the thing? What was she trying to escape from?
These questions were quickly answered as she overheard Tulio and Miguel reveling in the fact that the citizens of El Dorado thought they were gods. "I want in on the scam," she said, "so I can get out. You think you're the only one who dreams of a better life? " Ah, so she's a rebel with a cause, a woman taking charge and turning her bad situation around. I liked this.
Except her cause was simply that she wanted to go be rich someplace else because she was bored of her magnificent city. I kept waiting to see how oppressed she was. Maybe she was an outcast, or lonely, or feeling caged in. But she wasn't. Now, there's nothing wrong with wanting something different, we all do that. But it was how selfish and
stereotypical she was portrayed that rubbed me the wrong way.
Chel had a lot of potential to be a complex and intriguing anti-heroine. I was interested in her. Yet throughout the entire movie, she was nothing but a devious vixen, sashaying her hips and pouting her lips in barely-there clothing and helping the two Spaniards lie and cheat their way to piles of gold. While I liked how her realistic, pear-shaped body was markedly different from the unattainably swan-like figures of the Disney princesses, her character was never developed beyond her voluptuous backside.
I've heard it said that misogynists see women characters in one of four ways: mothers, witches, flirts, and virgins. They put their women into stereotypical, one-dimensional boxes and focus instead on developing the "more important" male characters. This definitely happened here, and Chel definitely was painted as "the flirt." From the first time Miguel and Tulio met her, they claimed she was a temptation, ignoring her brain (which she claimed would be valuable to them - she actually didn't do much but stand back and watch them blunder, shaking her head) and focusing just on her bombshell body. As it became clear that Tulio wasn't so keen on teaming up with her, she literally starts performing sexual favors for him in order to win him over (ok, this is never overtly stated, but is strongly implied). OK - it's perfectly fine for a woman to be comfortable with her sexuality. If Chel wants to have sex, fine. It's her life. But then she was using it for her own means, performing sexual favors for repayment. If there had been some sparks and romance between Chel and Tulio, I would have believed that she had sex with him because she genuinely liked him. From what I could tell, though, the only reason she had sex with him, basically seducing him, was so that she could get a bigger share of the gold - gold that they were swindling right out of the hands of innocent people.
That's the other thing that bothered me: Miguel and Tulio seemed to be able to lie and cheat their way out of everything, with absolutely no consequences except positivity for them. When I started watching, I was sure that the two would get so mixed up in their web of lies that they'd be caught, but since Miguel had been so kind to the citizens of El Dorado and spared many innocent people from being sacrificed, the people would still give them their boat so that they could get back to Spain safely, teaching the message that lying will not get you anywhere for long but that kindness is remembered and repaid. Instead, the two con men leave the city under the impression that they are still gods, with heaps of gold they conned from the people that had been so gracious to them. Granted, they sacrifice their ship and their gold to keep Cortes out of the city, but still. They lied and deceived up until the very end, for their own personal gain.
Suddenly, I was a little glad that I'd only been exposed to Disney. Honestly, I wouldn't want my young son looking up to Tulio and Miguel at all. Miguel was a little better as a role model than Tulio, because of how friendly and kind he'd been to the people of El Dorado, but he was still content to stay in the city as a "god," lying and pretending to be something he wasn't for the rest of his life. Compare that to Disney heroes like Aladdin or Tarzan, who discover that trying to be someone other than yourself is pointless and come to accept and be proud of their true selves, and this doesn't look so good. And Tulio - the only thing he cared about the entire film was money. When his best friend and partner Miguel looked like he wanted stay longer in El Dorado, Tulio was perfectly OK with leaving him behind and taking all the stolen gold for himself. He was so blinded by Chel's curves that he failed to see how she was using him (I still don't buy that she actually cared about him). In the end, he didn't even apologize to Miguel for betraying him, but simply bemoaned the fact that they had lost the gold - never mind that it was for a noble cause (yeah, that line was played for comedic affect, but it still showed that the character had not learned or grown at all). He honestly had more in common with Ratcliffe than John Smith. And Chel - the scheming bombshell who used sex as a means to obtain her own selfish desires - is hardly a role model for young girls. If this was a movie aimed at adults I wouldn't be upset about the sex, but would simply bemoan the poor characterization (a shame, really - screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio managed to create the strong, complex woman Elizabeth Swann in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" films). But this is a kid's film, aimed at young, impressionable little minds, and I wouldn't want my daughter being taught that she should give her body up to men to get what she wants. I guess it really bothered me that she claimed that her knowledge of the El Dorado religion would help them, then showed no real knowledge at all. Instead of making herself a valuable member of the team through wit and intelligence, she used sex. I felt like she could have done better. Compare her to heroines like Mulan, Pocahontas, Ariel, Belle, Megara, and Jane, and it's not even a contest as to who I'd want my daughter looking up to.
I just felt like the film was kinda pointless. It didn't send any good messages about friendship or honesty or the value of adventure, even though it was rife with opportunities for them. Instead, I just watched selfish and conniving characters being selfish and conniving. I took nothing away from it besides frustration for the thin, stoic characterization and disappointing plot resolution.
Let's just say that next time, I'll be sticking to Disney.