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El Dorado's opening includes a song telling the legend of El Dorado. According to the legend, El Dorado was built by two gods, on a horse-like creature, 1000 years ago. It then cuts to 1519 Spain, where Hernán Cortés is leaving with his troops for the New World. Miguel (Kenneth Branagh) and Tulio (Kevin Kline), two wanted conmen, are nearby swindling sailors with loaded dice. After the sailors run out of money, one insists on a last bet with his map portraying El Dorado in the New World. Miguel wants the map and convinces Tulio to go for it. He does, but the sailor insists using his own dice. Surprisingly, Miguel and Tulio win, but as Tulio is gathering his winnings, the loaded dice fall out of his vest and the sailors discover the con. They begin an improvisational argument where Tulio blames Miguel for giving him loaded dice and Miguel insists that Tulio was the real thief. As their acting escalates, they grab swords and begin a duel which takes them to the top of a nearby building, at which point they jump down to the ground on the other side of the building, effectively escaping. An angry bull takes them by surprise, and Tulio and Miguel become the objects of a chase scene which ends at the docks, where they jump in barrels which are loaded onto Cortés' ship. On the ship, they are discovered and mistaken for stowaways. Cortés will not tolerate stowaways and has them locked in the brig. After much head-pounding-against-a-wall, Tulio decides their best chance of escape is to steal a longboat and try rowing back to Spain, but is unable to come up with a plan to escape their cell. Fortunately a sailor drops an apple by accident, and Miguel uses it to bribe Cortés' horse (named Altivo, meaning "haughty" in Spanish), who is standing near by, to fetch a pry bar. He returns with keys instead. In the dead of night the duo leave the cell and load up a longboat, but as they lower themselves into the water Altivo neighs for the apple he was promised. Tulio tosses Altivo his apple but it bounces off various objects on the ship and ends up in the ocean, where the horse follows. Miguel attempts to save him and they end up losing all of their supplies. After a storm and many foodless and waterless days, they finally reach the shores of the New World. Miguel, Tulio, and Altivo are overjoyed until they see skeletons impaled with swords, prompting them to leave. While leaving, Miguel notices a rock in the shape of an eagle and recognizes it from the map. He convinces Tulio to go to El Dorado to loot it and they begin their trip through the jungle. After many small adventures, they wander onto the last part of the map, and all that they find is a rock depicting the legendary gods. Mistakenly thinking the rock is El Dorado (Tulio says humorously,"El dorado must be the local word for GREAT BIG ROCK!!!"), they begin to leave when a woman who is being chased by a group of tribal warriors for stealing a golden object emerges from behind the rock and runs into them. The whole group sees Tulio and Miguel on Altivo - which resembles the two gods on the rock - and take them through the watery tunnel passage into El Dorado. As they leave, the "rock" is revealed to be made out of solid gold. There some of the soldiers notify Chief Tannabok (Edward James Olmos) and high priest Tzekel-Kan (Armand Assante) of the arrival. Tulio and Miguel are led to a large courtyard where Tzekel-Kan addresses a crowd, telling them the gods have arrived. The pair realize that they've been mistaken for deities, and encourage the ruse. Chief Tannabok asks them why they have chosen now to arrive and Tzekel-Kan warns him not to question the gods. Miguel warns that he will unleash his power if they do, which is unfortunately exactly what Tzekel-Kan wants. Taking Miguel aside, Tulio scolds him for pushing their luck, and they begin to argue over how to get out of the situation. As Tulio gets angrier and talks faster, a volcano begins to erupt, coincidentally stopping when Tulio yells "stop". The city accepts them as gods and they are taken to a temple, where they are offered a feast that night and a ceremony at dawn. The pair begin celebrating that they have found this "whole city of suckers" and plan how to loot it. The woman they saw by the rock overhears them, and she, Chel (Rosie Perez), says she wants to join the con and she offers to help them pretend to be gods. The boys are hesitant, but have little choice but to accept, as they do not know the customs of the city. They have fun at the feast, singing "It's Tough To Be a God," which is the only song in the movie that is not sung by Elton John. The next dawn, when Tzekel-Kan offers a human sacrifice, they are quick to stop the killing, instead accepting the Chief's tribute of gold. Hoping to leave with the loot, they ask the Chief to build them a boat, but are told that the construction will take three days. Meanwhile, Cortés lands on the beach and begins to follow the pair's trail to El Dorado. Worried that they will be unable to keep up the illusion, Tulio tells Miguel to lie low, but Chel persuades him to leave and explore the city so that she can seduce Tulio in his absence. Miguel has fun teaching the locals to play the mandolin and learning their version of a Mesoamerican ballgame. Tzekel-Kan, unhappy that the gods are not as violent and destructive as foretold, goes to the temple to convince Tulio of the importance of human sacrifice, and when Tulio hears that Miguel is playing with the locals they both leave to find him. Tzekel-Kan initiates a much more serious Mesoamerican ballgame, with the duo against a team of bulky warriors, and Tulio and Miguel barely win by using an armadillo as a ball to cheat. Miguel objects to sacrificing the losing team as Tzekel-Kan had hoped, but Tzekel-Kan, seeing blood seep from a small cut above Miguel's right eyebrow, realizes that Miguel and Tulio are mortals. Soon after Tulio admits to Chel that he wants her to come back to Spain with him, and Miguel, overhearing this, is furious. As the night's celebrations begin, Tzekel-Kan attacks them with a giant jaguar statue that he controls. Miguel and Tulio are chased to the edge of a whirlpool, and, using the same argument technique as they did in the beginning of the movie, manage to knock both priest and statue into the whirlpool. It quickly becomes apparent to both that this argument was very real, and as a result, Miguel decides to stay in El Dorado while Tulio leaves with Chel for Spain. Tzekel-Kan, who somehow survived the whirlpool, is found by Cortés, who embodies the destructive godliness that the priest was waiting for. Believing he has found his true gods, Tzekel-Kan begins to lead Cortés to El Dorado. As Tulio and Chel board the boat, they see smoke rising over the horizon, and a scout returns to tell the Chief about Tzekel-Kan and Cortés. Miguel insists that the native warriors cannot fight the invaders, and Tulio, by a stroke of luck, comes up with a plan to stop them: they'll cause the tunnel entrance to the city to cave in by smashing the boat into the pillars that support it. As they put this plan into action, the boat's sail becomes stuck. Seeing that his friend is in danger, Miguel jumps onto the boat, opening the sail as he lands, making a decision to come with Tulio rather than stay in the city forever. The three succeed in crashing the boat into the pillars and cutting off the city from the outside world forever, but they lose their ship and all the gold. Cortés approached at that moment, and seeing no entrance, dismisses Tzekel-Kan as a liar and leaves, taking the priest with him. Miguel and Tulio reconcile, and the three of them hop on Altivo (who is wearing gold horseshoes) to set off for the next adventure..