The movie takes place in 16th century (1519) Spain and tells about two men named Tulio and Miguel. During a game of dice in Spain, they manage to win a map that purportedly shows the location of the legendary city of gold in the New World. However, their cheating is soon discovered and as a result, they end up as stowaways on Hernán Cortés' fleet to conquer Mexico. They are discovered, but manage to escape in a boat with Cortés' prize war horse and eventually discover the hidden city where they are mistaken for gods.
El Dorado is portrayed as a Utopian civilization that combines facets of the Aztecs, Maya and Incas.
The soundtrack was released as the album The Road to El Dorado.
The film's opening includes a song telling the legend of El Dorado, the city of gold. According to the legend, El Dorado was built by two gods, on a horse-like creature, 1000 years ago. They also made the beautiful surroundings.
In Spain 1519, two con artists, Tulio and Miguel, win a map to El Dorado, in a rigged dice gamble. After their con is exposed, the two evade the guards and involuntarily hide aboard one of the ships to be led by Hernán Cortés for the New World. During the voyage, they are caught as stowaways and imprisoned, but break free and take a rowboat with the help of Cortés' horse, Altivo.
They reach an unknown shore at the edge of Mexico, where Miguel begins to recognize landmarks from the map. He allures Tulio to take the quest instead of taking another risk to get stranded at sea. The map leads them to a totem marker near a waterfall that Tulio believes is a dead end. As they prepare to leave, they encounter a native woman, Chel, being chased by guards. When the guards see Tulio and Miguel riding Altivo as depicted on the totem, they escort them and Chel to a secret entrance behind the falls, into El Dorado! They are brought to the city's elders, kindhearted Chief Tannabok and the wicked high priest Tzekel-Kan. The pair is mistaken for gods, while Tannabok warmly welcomes them to the city; Tzekel-Kan mainly sees them as a way to enhance his own standing. Tzekel-Kan also believes that with the arrival of the gods comes "The Age of the Jaguar," a year in which the city will be cleansed of all 'wicked people'. Tulio and Miguel begin to pry on what to do, and then a nearby volcano begins to erupt, Tulio yells at Miguel and the volcano suddenly reverts; the citizens take it as proof of their godhood. The pair is given luxurious quarters, along with the charge of Chel. She caught the two conning the people but promises to remain quiet if they agree take her with them when they leave the city (implied that she lived a dull life as a prostitute). The pair is showered with gifts of gold from Tannabok, but disapproves of Tzekel-Kan attempting to sacrifice a civilian as the gods' ritual.
Tulio instructs Tannabok to build them a boat so that they can leave the city "via a horizontal pattern to the heavens" with all the gifts they have been given. During the three days this will take, Miguel explores the city, and Chel gets romantically close to Tulio. Miguel comes to appreciate the peaceful life the citizens seem to enjoy. When Tzekel-Kan sees Miguel playing a ball game with children, he insists the gods demonstrate their powers against the city's best players in the same game, much to Tulio's chagrin. Tulio and Miguel are far outmatched, but Chel is able to substitute the ball with an armadillo, allowing them to win. Miguel spares the ritual of sacrificing the losing team and chastises Tzekel-Kan, to the crowd's approval. Tzekel-Kan notices Miguel received a small cut and realizes the two aren't gods, because gods do not bleed. He conjures a giant stone jaguar to chase them throughout the city. Tulio and Miguel outwit the jaguar, causing it and Tzekel-Kan to fall into a giant whirlpool, thought to be the entrance to Xibalba. Tzekel-Kan then resurfaces in the jungle, where he encounters Cortés and his men. Thinking Cortés is a god, he offers to lead them to El Dorado. Miguel and Tulio quarrel over their differences whether or not they should leave the city.
With the boat completed, Miguel assumed he will stay in the city. As Tulio and Chel board the boat, they see smoke on the horizon and realize Cortés is close. Tulio suggests using the boat to ram rock pillars under the waterfall and block the main entrance to the city. The plan involves with the citizens pulling over a statue in the boat's wake to give it enough speed. As the statue starts to fall too quickly, Tulio has difficulty in preparing the boat's sail. Giving up on staying in the city, Miguel and Altivo jump onto the boat to unfurl the sails, assuring the boat clears the statue in time. The boat successfully impacts the pillars, creating a cave-in but losing all the gifts in the process. The gang hides near the totem just as Cortés' men and Tzekel-Kan arrive. When Tzekel-Kan finds the entrance blocked, Cortés brands him a liar, and takes Tzekel-Kan prisoner as they leave.
Tulio and Miguel, though disappointed they lost the gold, head in a different direction for a new adventure with Chel, unaware that Altivo still wears the golden horseshoes with which he was outfitted in El Dorado.
- Kevin Kline as Tulio, one of the con artists who pretend to be gods so they can get gold. He is the planner who wanted to leave El Dorado with the treasure.
- Kenneth Branagh as Miguel, one of the con artists who pretend to be gods so they can get gold. He is the fun-loving one who wants to stay in El Dorado.
- Rosie Perez as Chel, a young native from El Dorado who discovers Tulio and Miguel's con and decides to play along. In exchange, she'll go to Spain.
- Jim Cummings as Hernan Cortes, the merciless and ambitious leader of the expedition to find the ancient South American empires.
- Cummings also voices the cook on Cortés's ship, a warrior who gets stepped on Tzekel Kan's stone jaguar, and the native who warns Chief Tannabok about Cortés.
- Armand Assante as Tzekel-Kan, the fanatically vicious high priest who has a religious fixation for human sacrifices.
- Edward James Olmos as Chief Edjo Tannabok, the kind chief who welcomes Tulio and Miguel.
- Tobin Bell as Zaragoza, the original owner of the map, which he loses to Tulio and Miguel when gambling with them.
- Frank Welker as Altivo, Cortés' horse who ends up teaming up with Tulio and Miguel.
- Duncan Marjoribanks as Acolyte, with the guards.
- Elijah Chiang as Kid #1, with the mask.
- Cyrus Shaki-Khan as Kid #2, with the hat.
- Elton John as the Singing Narrator
- Anne Lockhart as Girl in Barcelona
- Jack Angel as Cortes's Soldiers
- Bob Bergen as Jaguar, Cortes's Soldiers
- Rodger Bumpass as Cortes's Soldiers
- Corey Burton as Cortes's Soldiers
- Cathy Cavadini as Female Villager #5
- Mitch Carter as Cortes's Soldiers, Tzekel-Kan's Guards
- Philip L. Clarke as Tzekel-Kan's Guards
- Robert Clotworthy as Tzekel-Kan's Guards, Cortes's Soldiers, Male Villager #6
- David Cowgill as Cortes's Soldiers, Tzekel-Kan's Guards
- Jennifer Darling as Female Villager #4
- Jonathan Dokuchitz as Cortes's Soldiers, Tzekel-Kan's Guards
- Paul Eiding as Cortes's Soldiers
- Bill Farmer as Cortes's Soldiers
- Don Fullilove as Male Villager
- Elisa Gabrielli as Female Villager #6
- Jackie Gonneau as Female Villager #7
- Nicholas Guest as Cortes's Soldiers
- Richard Horvitz as Cortes's Soldiers
- Rif Hutton as Tzekel-Kan's Guards
- Marcel Jeannin as Male Villager #5, Tzekel-Kan's Guards, Cortés's Soldiers
- Carole Jeghers as Female Villager #1
- Daamen J. Krall as Cortes's Soldiers, Tzekel-Kan's Guards
- Sherry Lynn as Female Villager #2
- Danny Mann as Seagull
- David McCharen as Cortes's Soldiers
- Mickie McGowan as Female Villager #3
- Paul Pape as Cortes's Soldiers
- Patrick Pinney as Cortes's Soldiers, Male Villager #3
- Phil Proctor as Cortes's Soldiers, Male Villager #4, Male Villager #2
- Peter Ranaday as Cortes's Soldiers
- Michelle Ruff as Female Villager #8
- Steve Susskind as Cortes's Soldiers
- Brian Tochi as Male Village #7
- "Stars!... Can't do it... Not today." Kenneth Branaugh as Miguel
As with other animated movies, the weakeness within The Road To El Dorado lay in its ignorance of historical fact. The culture of El Dorado makes no distinction between South America and México or the ancient American civilizations of the Aztecs, Mayans, and Incas. Aspects of all three are visible in the city.
Also, there is a confusion between Hernán Cortés, who is seen in the movie looking for the city, and Gonzalo Pizarro, who actually led the original Spanish expedition for El Dorado in 1541.
As with other recent Disney films, such as Pocahontas White Europeans are portrayed as simple, greedy money-grubbers, while natives are portrayed in a favorable light.
This is not a Disney film, it was made from the Dreamworks studios.
- When Tzekel-Kan (the priest) is flipping through the pages of a spell book one of the illustrations resembles the Walt Disney Pictures logo, depicting the castle of walt disney world Castle.
- The name of the armadillo that is seen throughout the film (and used in the game that Miguel and Tulio play) is Bibo. He was named after one of the directors.
- It is paired with Chicken Run, Joseph: King of Dreams, The Stone of Cold Fire, and Galaxy Quest.
- It has been labeled 83669.
- The full screen version is from the VHS version, and the widescreen is from the DVD version.