Dora and the Lost City of Gold
On August 9th, the long-running children’s show Dora the Explorer aired its 178th (and final episode) after twenty years on Nickelodeon. That same day, the first live-action adaptation of the famed cartoon premiered in movie theaters around the world. It’s really a clever bit of synergy — an optimistic passing-of-the-torch from animated TV show to a (hopeful) live-action franchise. Nick’s new torchbearer is eighteen-year-old Isabela Moner, an actress who starred on the network’s tween comedy 100 Things to Do Before High School and lent her voice to the 2014 Dora spin-off, Dora and Friends: Into the City! Moner may be best known for voicing Dora’s friend Kate for two seasons of Dora and Friends, but she was born to play Dora. Dora and the Lost City of Gold features a colorful cast of supporting actors and an adorably creepy CGI monkey (move over Abu — Boots has entered the arena), but it’s Moner who carries the entire movie on the strength of her performance and charisma. It’s not an exceptionally nuanced role, but her energy is magnetic, making Dora and the Lost City of Gold undeniably delightful.
As the new Dora, Isabela Moner is observant, optimistic, and a little bit insane… at least compared to her fellow high school colleagues. This film finds Dora plucked from the comfort of jungle life and thrust into the dangerous world of high school. Despite migrating to a new habitat, Dora makes little effort to adapt: she brings her survival gear (weapons) to class, excited introduces herself to every student, and schools just about everybody with her vast knowledge of science and the natural world. Much of the film’s humor is based around Dora’s lack of social awareness and inability to be anything other than her kooky self, which ends up paying off as the film’s themes come into focus. After being kidnapped by treasure hunters, Dora and her new “friends” find themselves in the middle of the jungle, on the run from the bad guys and their talking fox (yes, Swiper is in this movie, and he is voiced by Benicio del Toro). Suddenly, Dora’s quirks don’t seem so stupid anymore, and her friends must reckon with the judgments they’ve made.
Dora and the Lost City of Gold is a movie about fitting in, being kind, and being yourself. Those ideas may seem a bit simple and on-the-nose (they are), but they aren’t stated as empty aphorisms by our favorite precocious survivalist; they are revealed slowly through narrative and action. Anyone over the age of fifteen will probably see it all coming, but this isn’t one of those kid’s movies that is “secretly for adults.” It’s a kid’s movie through and through. That said, it’s an entertaining kid’s movie, and a clear gateway for parents who want to expose their kids to more advanced classics of the explorer genre (Indiana Jones might not seem so scary or confusing after seeing Dora do it). Plus the cast the great — Michael Peña and Eva Longoria are hilarious as Dora’s parents and Eugenio Derbez seems to be having fun as the wacky explorer/professor, Alejandro Gutierrez. Even the other teens are pretty good, despite their characters’ rigid archetypes (up-tight smart girl, dorky smart guy, too-cool-for-school cousin). So as far as children's movies go, this one is a winner. Its plot is predictable and a lot of the jokes rely on meta-humor or just the word “poop,” but Dora and the Lost City of Gold is still a rather amusing and entirely charming romp that should be required viewing for anyone young…or young at heart. ★★★