Synopsis – Dora, a teenage explorer, leads her friends on an adventure to save her parents and solve the mystery behind a lost city of gold.
My Take – We live in a time where everything and anything is being turned into a Hollywood film, and soon there will be no intellectual property left that hasn’t been mined to an adaption. So I guess it makes sense that the makers of this film decided to tap into the nostalgia of Dora before it was a bit too late.
A big hit among the Gen Z audience, who are probably in their 20s now, Dora the Explorer, on which the film is based upon, is a Nick Jr. animated show geared toward very young children, with a mission to teach basic language skills and geographical information through it’s always cheery protagonist, Dora, a seven-year-old Latina girl, and her cadre of anthropomorphized animals and inanimate objects.
Although, the live action adaption sees Dora growing up into a 16 year old winning 21st century heroine, it never forgets who its main target audience is, and credit goes to director James Bobin, for mining everything into turning this film into wholesomely predictable yet enjoyable family fare.
While the film may seem like it was made for the fans of the beloved character only, it also finds its way to cater to the ones who mocked it. In the sense, the film is self-aware of how annoying the adults found the cartoon and takes a gently spoofing tone, getting known gags out of Dora’s bottomless backpack and trademark smiley to-camera questions.
Even though it suffers from tonal and narrative inconsistencies, the film deserves just enough praise for working as a gateway action/adventure exotic exploration film for kids to eventually get into the Indiana Jones series, while sporting a winning central performance from Isabela Moner, that’s effortlessly charming and instantly lovable enough to almost carry the entire project.
The story follows Dora (Madelyn Miranda), who has been living in the South American jungle her entire life, while her explorer parents Elena (Eva Longoria) and Cole (Michael Peña) have been investigating the legendary Parapata, a.k.a. the Lost City of Gold. When she was younger, Dora had her cousin Diego (Malachi Barton) around to play with her, and together they imagined a magical reality that was theirs to explore, a reality where backpacks and maps could talk. But eventually, Diego moves with his parents to the city and Dora is left to grow up alone, with her monkey, Boots (voiced by Danny Trejo).
Ten years later, Dora (Isabela Moner) still continues to love exploring the South American jungle, singing songs to herself and keeping an upbeat spirit about her life. But after a fall, her parents decide that she needs to be around kids her own age and send her to Los Angeles to go live with her now grown up cousin Diego (Jeff Wahlberg) and his family.
Joining Diego’s high school, she immediately finds her jungle skills and knowledge out of place, nevertheless, continues to be herself while trying to get back her friendship she used to have with Diego, who instead seems to have grown out of it, and is constantly embarrassed by her.
However, things take a turn when the two along with fellow students, Sammy (Madeleine Madden), an over achiever, and Randy (Nicholas Coombe) the school nerd, find themselves kidnapped during a school trip, by a bunch of treasure hunters, to be used to find her parents who have gone missing while searching for the Lost City of Gold.
While they are immediately rescued by Alejandro (Eugenio Derbez), an academic friend of Dora’s parents, the group find themselves in the jungle, escaping dangerous ruins, and outwitting a masked talking fox named Swiper (voiced by Benicio Del Toro) with a determination to find Dora’s parents and the lost city themselves first.
To adapt the interactive kiddie show into something a bit more sophisticated to appeal to the preteen set who are no longer the preschool set, the film brings a healthy dose of irony to the format. The narrative is frothy, never taking itself too seriously, yet for its young audience, it may prove satisfying with well-choreographed action sequences and several life lessons that it offers. This is Nickelodeon, not Disney, and it makes a difference; the messages are similar, but the touch is lighter.
Here, director James Bobin, who previously helmed the excellent The Muppets and co-writer Nicholas Stoller, who wrote and directed Storks, an underrated feature-length animated film, celebrate the legacy of Dora while lovingly skewering its clichés. Not only was it genuinely funny, but it kept my interest in a story that seems like a safer version of Goonies.
The film opts for a slapstick vibe, throwing head-scratching Inca puzzles, water-slide tunnels and booby-trapped temples at them. It dares to be dismissed as lame and babyish, which is why it’s cute and refreshing. The jokes are indeed rather lame, yet this may be a film, paradoxically, that receptive adults will enjoy just as much as kids; there’s something almost inspirational about Dora, this relentlessly chirpy, optimistic girl who powers through life armed only with the credo that everyone is good deep down inside, blithely unconcerned with the troubles of the world.
Much of the humor comes from Dora’s encounters with normal people, which can be a little repetitive, but works due to Moner’s fantastic performance. There is also a moment when Dora sings a song to help someone relax to be able to take a dump in the jungle, and it is done in a hilariously wholesome way. While there’s not a big sense of danger to the traps, they are still thrilling, and escaping them requires the explorers to use their mind as well as their muscle, in keeping with the spirit of the TV show.
However, what does hurt the film is its inconsistency in tone. On one end, the film is obviously geared toward younger children, yet the film is also riddled with direct references to the show, which puncture this more serious take to deliver shout-outs to the original preschool entertainment.
For example, the talking map and backpack are too unrealistic for this world, yet somehow Swiper, a talking cartoon fox antagonist from the show, just exists. There are various points where the narrative flow comes to a halt so the film can finds excuses to bring up Dora’s talking monkey friend Boots and other beloved items from the show. It all makes for an uneven experience where younger children could be intimidated even as the show’s preschool roots might bore older kids.
But, what keeps you glued to the screen is Isabela Moner’s unrelentingly and genuinely cheerful energy. Seen in earlier in mature roles in films like Transformers: The Last Knight, Instant Family and Sicario: Day of the Soldado, the talented actor and singer has been around for a while, but I truly hope this performance is the one that propels her to stardom. Here, she is upbeat, natural and provides enough heft to her character to make you invest in her.
And she is aptly supported by Jeff Wahlberg, Madeleine Madden, and Nicholas Coombe. As one would expect, Eugenio Derbez, Michael Peña and Eva Longoria play excellently to their comedic talents. However, Danny Trejo and Benicio del Toro are wasted in underdeveloped voice roles, so are Q’orianka Kilcher and Temuera Morrison in small roles. On the whole, ‘Dora and the Lost City of Gold’ is a fun, silly and engaging adventure which bound to entice the younger audience.
Directed – James Bobin
Rated – PG
Run Time – 102 minutes