As a parent of young kids, I have been subjected to more than my fair share of Dora the Explorer episodes. While I can appreciate the educational value of the show, the initial thought of a feature length film did not have me singing “grab your backpack, let’s go, jump in, vamanos.” Thankfully James Bobin’s Dora and the Lost City of Gold has no interest in journeying down familiar ground. His version of Dora is one that all ages can enjoy.
Within the opening moments, Bobin’s live-action adaptation announces itself as a different beast altogether. Highlighting how Dora and her cousin Diego had lively imaginations as kids, the film jokingly hit on all of the iconic aspects of the Dora cartoon. There are gags about talking inanimate objects, Dora pausing for a response while breaking the fourth wall, and the absurdity of a masked fox stealing things.
By quickly checking off the memorable episode moments, Dora and the Lost City of Gold freely carves its own unique path.
Living entire her life in the jungle with her professor/explorer parents (Michael Peña and Eva Longoria), 16-year-old Dora (Isabela Moner) has become an expert at navigating difficult terrain. Equipped with a GoPro, Dora spends her free time living out her fantasy of hosting an adventure show with her loyal monkey Boots (Danny Trejo). However, her training does not prepare her for the cruel concrete jungle of high school.
Sent to Los Angeles to live with her relatives, while her parents go in search of a lost city, Dora quickly learns that being oneself can be a detriment on the shaky social ladder of high school. Immediately getting on the wrong side of Sammy (Madeleine Madden), an overachiever threatened by Dora’s intelligence, and constantly embarrassing Diego (Jeff Wahlberg), Dora struggles with her outsider status. The only one who seems to appreciate her cheerful demeanor is fellow outcast and astronomy nut Randy (Nicolas Coombe).
When Dora, Diego, Sammy and Randy are abducted while on a field trip, by a rival group of explorers who intend to use Dora’s tracking skills to locate her parents, Dora must user her wits to survive. Fortunately, you can take the girl out of the jungle, but you cannot take the jungle out of the girl. Escaping her captures, eith the aid of Alejandro Gutierrez (Eugenio Derbez), a colleague of her parents, Dora embarks on a quest that will her through a jungle full of ancient traps.
Taking cues from everything from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade to National Treasure, Dora and the Lost City of Gold is an immensely satisfying adventure. Never taking itself too seriously, Bobin’s film creates a fully realized world that offers several life lessons without talking down to the audience. The action sequences are well-suited for its teenage protagonist while the comedic beats will have parents laughing the hardest.
Far more engaging than one would expect, the film is not without its flaws. Considering that the plot follows several familiar beats, one can see many of the twist and turns coming from a mile away. Furthermore, the film aims to keep its feet planted in the realm of reality, but never explains how Swiper (Benicio Del Toro), a kleptomaniac fox, can walk and talk without anyone batting an eye. Thankfully these missteps are softened by an undeniably charming performance by Isabela Moner.
Once again showing her star in the making versatility, Moner is wonderful as the cheerful explorer. She not only sells each comedic beat, but also provides enough genuine heart to make her character feel like a real person. Effortlessly presenting a heroine that young people can get behind, Moner turns an unlikely film into a viable franchise.
One of the most pleasant surprises of the year, Dora and the Lost City of Gold is an adventure worth signing up for.
- Release Date: 8/9/2019