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Bad Guys, Road to El Dorado, and Sinbad: The Art of the Love Triangle

Dreamworks Animation has made the same movie thrice and they’re getting away with it. Guy has best friend. Guy has best friend related goal. Guy becomes smitten with girl. Best friend gets left by the wayside while guy and girl have their moments. Guy has an instance where they must choose between girl and best friend. They’re all love triangle movies.

You must understand what I mean by that, though. Peeta and Gale. Edward and Jacob. Gatsby and Buchanan. These are not the kind of triangles I’m talking about. I’m not talking about specifically romantic love or specifically monogamous love. Nor am I talking about love that has any particular name in English. I’m talking about the triangle that is formed from having to choose between your loved ones when they represent more than just your loved ones. Though even in Twilight, Edward isn’t Edward. He’s choosing love over life. Jacob isn’t Jacob. He’s familiarity, stability, the known world. Jacob’s comfort, Edward’s, danger, risk. Bella chooses Edward because that’s what she wants. Perhaps all love triangles are a battle of representations, comfort or change, new and old. Perhaps that’s why I see fit to call these films love triangle movies.

Road to El Dorado was released in 2000 with little fanfare and mixed reviews from critics. In fact, it was Dreamworks's only movie to never recover its budget, making it a true box office bomb. Nevertheless (and as you will find is the case for many early Dreamworks films), for many reasons ranging from its surprisingly bawdy nature to its potentially queer subtext, it’s become a cult classic. Notably, this queer subtext is what drives most of the love triangle discourse regarding this film. Tulio and Miguel are the original best friends whose goal together gets compromised by a woman. Tulio falls for Chel and, inexplicably, Migeul feels abandoned. Perhaps it’s because Tulio literally tells her that’ll sail back to Spain and live off their fortune together - "forget Miguel" - and Miguel is left to experience paradise alone. But what’s the point of that? Miguel’s sudden abandonment issues and the way he sits outside the heterosexual couple causes many to take a queer reading to the story. Under the right lens, it looks like unrequited love. And if it is, then the story doesn’t go far enough. The issue with this story is Tulio never has to make a choice. Spoiler alert but by the end of the final battle, Tulio, Chel, and Miguel all end up trapped outside the decision Miguel wanted to make. There’s something severely lacking here.

Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas similarly struggled domestically, though it did fantastic abroad. It too became a VHS cult classic, lauded by many as their ‘bi-awakening’. If El Dorado struggles by not going deep enough into its love triangle, Sinbad shoots itself in the foot by doing the opposite. At least in the beginning, where Sinbad returns for the first time in a decade to his home of Syracuse, only to find his best friend, Proteus, engaged to the love of his life, Marina. But chaos ensues and through a sequence of truly confounding events, Proteus puts his own life on the line for Sinbad’s and Marina ends up on Sinbad’s ship, ready for their enemies-to-lovers ship to set sail. Again, there’s an argument for unrequited love, which the movie's creators vehemently deny. Sure, it turns out Proteus never truly loved Marina and his only lines are his unwavering trust in Sinbad (he’d seem like a doormat if he wasn’t so morally just). But I do think it says something about the motivations of your characters when people have to argue for something as ineffable as love to describe why they did what they did. Proteus’s character must just be incomprehensible to the selfish people of today. In the end, however, the two people still represent a conflict of desire. Proteus, the life Sinbad could never live in Syracuse. He will always go back to the sea. Marina, the fantasy, the ability to have both that Sinbad never thought he deserved. The triangle is interesting here because one of the options was never really a choice. Sinbad’s arc was to realize he was deserving of the life he wanted. A life in Syracuse and at sea. A life with a woman he thinks is far above him. We’re getting better.

The Bad Guys, on the other hand, is entirely too recent of a film, employing the popular style we’d seen in Into the Spiderverse (and now Puss in Boots 2) to give the film an anime and/or comic book like quality of movement only possible with animation. Its recentness is perhaps what puts it light years ahead of its predecessors. There’s a vulnerability to every character here. While in the other’s, it was either just Miguel or Proteus who would show compassion or their pain (causing them to read queercoded), Wolf, Snake, and Diane all have moments when you get to see what they really care about and how it impacts the events of the film. The dichotomy here is very obvious, perfectly so. To Wolf, Diane is choosing goodness and Snake is choosing badness. When he chooses Diane at the emotional climax of the movie, right in front of Snake, Snake takes this as abandonment just as Miguel did. But there’s no queercoding here because it makes sense. That’s his best buddy. Their motto was literally ‘Go bad or go home’. And, like many failed friendships, if they don’t share the same moral code, can they really stay friends?

The Bad Guys understands how to use the love triangle without shoving it into, or requiring it be shoved into, the context of love for it to make sense. It boils the concept down to the conflict and asks the question, ‘Can two people love the same wolf when they believe different things?’ That’s it. That’s the core of the love triangle. That’s either end of the rope. And, apparently, the answer’s ‘no’ because Snake becomes good in the end, a change reminiscent of Miguel’s shift but much more elegantly chosen. You can probably guess The Bad Guys's critical response.

It’s obvious The Bad Guys set out to tackle and subvert the love triangle concept by their choice not to make Diane and Wolf’s relationship obviously romantic. They focused only on the chemistry between the two and showing their growing connection. In fact, it’s only romantic in my head because I’m shipping it. We’ve come a long way from implied blowjobs and stealing your best friend’s fiancee, from romance built primarily on lust to romance that’s deplorable but still shockingly saucy. I for one can’t wait for The Bad Guys 2 to see if there’s even a romance at all.


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