Unusually sophisticated in so many ways, this colourful tale is let down by some truly awful songs from the usually dependable Tim Rice and Elton John. The English pair produced a succession of catchy tunes for "The Lion King" when they were hired by Disney, but cannot repeat the trick here.
Yet that is the one significant flaw in a film that is remarkably assured and offers verbal and physical humour for a wide audience. On this evidence, DreamWorks SKG is catching up with Disney at a rapid rate. Kenneth Branagh and Kevin Kline voice the film's two roguish heroes, 16th century Spanish conmen Miguel and Tulio, who are forced to stow away on a ship while escaping an angry mob.
The ship is captained by legendary explorer Cortes, and is setting sail for the New World and the fabled 'City of Gold'. Escaping their fate at the hands of their unwilling host, they slowly make their way to land and by chance discover El Dorado for themselves. Mistaken for Gods they are torn between staying and enjoying their new lives, or stealing as much treasure as possible and returning to Spain.
There's more than a touch of "The Man Who Would Be King" here, but it's not so heavy and dramatic as to lose the younger audience. Armand Assante brings larger-than-life villainy to the ambitious high priest who comes to suspect that these gods may be mere mortals, while Rosie Perez is the smart young woman who also has their measure. It's a bright and enjoyable tale, well told and beautifully performed - so good that, at times, you forget it's animated at all.