This is a really delightful and highly underrated film, an undeserved flop at the box office but actually one of Dreamwork’s best efforts in the traditional animation vein, partly because it seems less bound by attempts to imitate the Disney formula than its more well-known predecessor, The Prince of Egypt. Granted, like The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Anastasia, and The Prince of Egypt, it is essentially a light-hearted children’s movie very loosely based on a much darker work of literature (in this case, Kipling’s The Man Who Would Be King), but this time they had the grace not to use the original title or openly bill it as an adaptation. The writing is exceptionally witty—the film is most often described as a tribute to the Crosby/Hope Road pictures (hence the title), but I’ve also heard it compared to The Princess Bride, and I can honestly see a certain resemblance in the style of humor. The two main characters are delightfully multifaceted, and big-name voice actors Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branaugh do a marvelous job of bringing them to life. Reportedly, the filmmakers’ original intent was to make them implied lovers, an absolutely fascinating concept that might have pushed this movie into masterpiece territory. This plan was abandoned for obvious commercial reasons, but much of the subtext is still discernable if you pay attention, and in any case, the extremely close and touching friendship between the leads forms a strong emotional core to the movie. The animation is gorgeous throughout, with eye-poppingly sumptuous backgrounds and wonderful character designs (love interest/femme fatale Chel, in particular, has one of the sexiest designs in animation history). The songs are the only aspect that doesn’t completely measure up…they were written by Elton John and Tim Rice, and like their Lion King songs, they’re decidedly uneven. Still, the first two numbers, the title-song and “The Trail We Blaze”, are very nice, “It’s Tough To Be a God” is catchy and amusing, and the closing theme, “Someday Out of the Blue”, is attractive enough. The film was reportedly intended as the ‘pilot’, so to speak, for an entire planned series of films featuring these characters, a genuinely promising concept stopped cold by the film’s poor box office performance, which had less to do with its quality and more to do with traditional animation falling out of fashion at the time. As I said, this film was unappreciated at the time and a lot of people still don’t give it the credit it deserves, but it is a witty and classy delight that deserves to be better regarded, and I highly recommend it.