The problem is just the opposite, says Lisa Schwarzbaum: The film is too conservative

By Lisa Schwarzbaum
Updated March 31, 2000 at 05:00 AM EST

Is ”El Dorado” too suggestive for its intended young audience?

In the course of the new DreamWorks animated adventure-comedy ”The Road to El Dorado,” 17th-century Spanish con men Tulio and Miguel sleep together, skinny-dip together, and dress up together in costumes a drag queen would covet. Blundering their way to the New World and stumbling into a legendary lost city of gold, they meet up with Chel, a wily, curvy local babe who threatens to bust up their beautiful friendship. Because of her, the two boys bicker.

I thought Tulio (voiced by Kevin Kline) and Miguel (Kenneth Branagh) had an Affleck-and-Damon thing about them, nothing more sexual than that. But apparently, in the weeks before its release, guardians of propriety have been suggesting that the two amigos may be… gay. And is that okay for kids? Is Chel a slut because she enjoys shaking her ample booty? Are her hips an homage to Jennifer Lopez? Is this PG feature too racy for children because Tulio and Chel kiss, too liberal because the heroes touch, too dark because there are moments of threat, danger, and violence?

Have we all gone mad?

”The Road to El Dorado” is a CARTOON — a bland one at that, with any spicy whiff of originality and daring filtered out. In fact, so anxious have its creators been not to offend, or startle, or cause parents a moment’s concern that their sweet, suggestible children may be warped by exposure to questionable lifestyles, that the fabulous, brown-skinned natives of El Dorado are about as exotic as residents of Mayberry. A fat and happy Chief (Edward James Olmos) rules the populace with paternalistic beneficence, dandling his many children without any suggestion that he may have a palace full of wives. An angular and sneering High Priest (Armand Assante) lobbies for the continued legalization of human sacrifice, but he is, in the end, about as persuasive or scary as a losing corporate attorney on ”Law & Order.”

I don’t know which comes first — the clucking about possible ”homoerotic subtext” in a family cartoon, or a finished product desperate not to bother anybody, but the result of such audience testing and reflexive piety is the same: ”The Road to El Dorado” is a movie about gold with the weight of tin. And its cautiousness reflects a dismaying conservative studio trend in Covering One’s… Assets.

True, traditional Disney-style animated features (from which DreamWorks has lifted a photocopied and out-of-date playbook) have always appeared innocent about sex, even when their subject is romance. But some time after ”Beauty and the Beast,” some time around ”Mulan,” political and gender and racial correctness in all its most hypocritical manifestations began constricting corporate imaginations. One example: Disney’s ”Aladdin” was brilliant, but after all the hoohah about ethnic stereotyping, the studio’s ”Hercules” strode the straight and narrow.

At DreamWorks, meanwhile, ”The Prince of Egypt” employed a staff of theologians to vet its Bible story. So is it any wonder that while making ”The Road to El Dorado,” according to reports, top brass squinted hard and long at Chel’s lush bod to determine whether she was too hot to handle? And is it any wonder that, in their nervous eagerness to make Tulio and Miguel all men to all people, they have inadvertently left a couple of cartoon everybuddies open to har-har-ing innuendo? Well, nobody’s perfect.