Film

Review: Just Enough Nostalgia—and Plenty of Pluck—in Dora and the Lost City of Gold

Ten or more years ago, I used to babysit friends’ kids when they couldn’t find a teenager to help them out, and as a result, I saw my fair share of “Dora the Explorer” episodes. So when I caught wind that a live-action version of the beloved animated show about a young girl who spends her life exploring for treasure and other hidden curiosities was being made, I was met with a mixture of intrigue and shock. How would Dora, her cousin Diego, her pet monkey Boots and adversaries like a fox named Swiper ever work in a live-action environment? The answer was deceptively simple: age the kids up and put them in high school.

Why didn’t I think of that?

Dora and the Lost City of Gold

Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Before you dismiss the film outright, let me hit you with a few thoughts on Dora and the Lost City of Gold, starring the very capable, rising talent Isabela Moner (Instant Family, Sicario: Day of the Soldado, Transformers: The Last Knight) as the teenage Dora, who still has a fascination with exploring and absolutely no fear when it comes to the unknown. Her confidence levels are through the roof, so she also doesn’t concern herself with fitting in, and she still gets a kick out of teaching those around her about wildlife, ancient cultures, and the benefits of a curious nature.

The film opens with a prologue showing a much younger Dora (Madelyn Miranda) with the familiar animated-show personality, occasionally talking to an unseen camera and making her parents (Michael Peña and Eva Longoria) wonder why their kid is so strange. Dora’s best friend and constant companion at that age is her cousin Diego, whose family movies away, leaving Dora slightly heartbroken. But when her parents ship her off to high school, she moves in with her aunt and uncle, and is reunited with a much older Diego (Jeff Wahlberg), who is very much engrained in high school happenings and is slightly embarrassed by his colorful cousin.

Through a series of contrivances, Dora, Diego and a couple of their new high school friends—Sammy (Madeleine Madden) and Randy (Nicholas Coombe)—end up seeking the long-sought-after Lost City of Gold, the same fabled Incan locale that her parents were searching for just before they shipped Dora off. The group teams up with a fellow explorer (and alleged friend of her parents) Alejandro Gutierrez (Eugenio Derbez), and they head into the jungle, hoping to find the lost city and Dora’s parents, while avoiding treasure hunters such as Powell (Temuera Morrison).

Another reason to give Dora and the Lost City of Gold a second glance is that it is brought to us by two of the main collaborators who brought the Muppets back to the movies, director James Bobin (who helmed both recent Muppets movies as well as Alice Through the Looking Glass and many episodes of “Flight of the Conchords”) and co-writer Nicholas Stoller (who penned The Muppets with Jason Segel, and directed some very funny films of his own, including Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek, and both Neighbors movies), who worked with co-writer Matthew Robinson.

This writer-director pairing brings a certain awareness to Dora, who maintains her perky personality from the animated series, while acknowledging that it doesn’t quite fit in in the real world. She also still has her pet monkey Boots and attempts not to have her finds stolen by Swiper (voiced by Benicio Del Toro, who sounds like he’s having a straight-up ridiculous time playing an insane fox). As someone keenly observes, why does Swiper wear a mask? Is he afraid someone will recognize him? And I’m not even prepared to reveal what role Danny Trejo has in this film.

The end result is something like an Indiana Jones for younger kids, but one that has plenty of humor that adults who grew up being forced to watch the show with their youngsters will appreciate. It’s not exactly a next-level action movie or comedy, but what’s here gets the job done. Moner’s high-energy performance is endearing and captures just enough of the young Dora’s persona to make her recognizable while still showing the ways in which Dora might adjust to make her adventure through her teenage years a little more bearable. I’m not one to fall back on nostalgia, but this movie plucks just enough from the nostalgia tree to make it both a logical next step for our heroine and a throw back to a more innocent time.

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