If you were a kid or had kids around the turn of the century then you’re almost certainly familiar with Nickelodeon’s Dora the Explorer cartoon that featured a bilingual child breaking the fourth wall and interacting with viewers (can you say, “viewers?”). Now, director James Bobin (Alice Through the Looking Glass) is giving the series The Brady Bunch treatment and re-imagining it as a live-action film with a teenage Dora in Dora and the Lost City of Gold.
After being raised in the jungle by her explorer parents, Cole (Michael Pena) and Elena (Eva Longoria), Dora (Isabela Moner) is sent to live with her aunt, uncle and cousin Diego (Jeff Wahlberg) in Los Angeles after learning the location of the lost city of Parapata. Knowing nothing of life in the city, Dora’s naivety makes her an easy target for jokes and laughter, much to the chagrin of Diego, who has changed dramatically since they were close as children.
During a field trip to a local museum, Dora and Diego, along with classmates Sammy (Madeleine Madden) and Randy (Nicholas Coombe), are lured into a trap and captured by mercenaries, who then take them to Peru with the intention of forcing Dora to locate Parapata, which is believed to hold untold riches. That plan quickly goes awry, however, when her parents’ friend Alejandro (Eugenio Derbez) shows up and helps them escape.
Back in the jungle, Dora takes charge and decides to find Parapata and her parents with the help of Alejandro and her classmates. The deeper they go into the jungle, the more dangerous it becomes, and the group must work together to survive. The mercenaries haven’t given up, though, and not everything is as it seems.
There’s a fun vibe to the film, which never takes itself seriously yet still delivers some good adventure elements. It’s tame enough to watch with younger children and interesting enough to still enjoy as adults, regardless of whether or not you watched the cartoon. The pacing is solid as well, spending just enough time with the “fish out of water” moments in L.A. before jumping right back into the jungle where Dora feels at home. By jumping between the locations, it never feels stale.
Moner was an excellent choice to play Dora as she really nails the look and feel of a teenage version of the cartoon character, displaying endless optimism and innocence. Derbez is also really good in his role as the de facto chaperone to the high schoolers as he delivers many of the film’s funniest moments. Pena has some fun stuff in a limited turn as Dora’s father as well, highlighted by his explanation of what a rave is. The scene where they encounter the spores is absolutely classic fan service.
We weren’t fans of the CGI for Boots and Swiper, which remains cartoonish and unrealistic, which is in sharp contract to something like The Lion King. It’s just a weird half-step to bring all the other elements into the real world but not really those, and why does the fox speak? It’s not uncommon to cast older actors for high school parts, but Coombe looks way too old to be a teenager (he’ll be 25 this year).
THE BONUS FEATURES
There are more than 10 minutes of deleted and extended scenes included, and though none of them feel necessary they’re worth watching — the CGI stand-ins are good for a chuckle at the least, and it’s funny to see cars driving by in the background of the “jungle camp.” There’s another 30 or so minutes of extras, including a blooper reel and some background about the show and various characters.
Dora and the Lost City of Gold is a lot of fun and one of the more pleasant surprises of what we’ve seen this year. It’s one of those much-appreciated films you can legitimately enjoy along with your kids.