James Bobin's live-action adaptation of the beloved Nickelodeon series proves the cynics wrong.
For many parents planning on taking their kids to the cinema this weekend, the thought of having to endure a live-action Dora the Explorer movie might be enough to see them dip their heads into quicksand just to get out of it. Who wouldn’t when faced with 100 odd minutes being lectured by a hyperactive child, swinging amongst vines, singing awkward songs and constantly breaking the fourth wall? But, what if there was an alternate reality where the Dora film was not an irritating drag, instead providing a fun, thrilling update on the beloved kids’ TV show? Imagine the surprise as Dora and the Lost City of Gold aligns more with the latter statement than the former. It is a delightful family adventure that should please all ages, regardless of whether you are familiar or not with the Nickelodeon series.
The opening introduces a very Dora (Madelyn Miranda), living in woodland Peru with her archaeological parents Elena and Cole (Eva Longoria and Michael Peña) as well as monkey friend Boots (voiced by Danny Trejo). She spends most of her time going on imaginary quests with her cousin Diego (Malachi Barton). Immediately, the film shows how self-aware it is of the silliness of the original set-up as Dora asks if the cinema audience can say “delicioso” along with her – while Cole looks on bewildered. Fast forward ten years, Dora is now a teenager played by Isabela Moner. She has been whisked off to Los Angeles, where Diego (Jeff Wahlberg) also lives, to attend high school while her parents are searching for the lost Inca city of Parapata back home. Soon enough, thanks to ludicrous circumstances, Dora and an unlikely band of classmates are captured by mercenaries whilst on a field trip. Sent into the jungle, they must find her parents and avoid peril with the help of the mysterious Alejandro (Eugenio Derbez).
Director James Bobin and co-writer Nicholas Stoller, who previously collaborated on the The Muppets and Muppets Most Wanted, have backgrounds in comedy. Bobin co-created Flight of the Conchords and worked on Da Ali G Show, whilst Stoller is a disciple of the Apatow era. This shared practice gives Dora a much sharper comic edge in comparison to other kids’ property adaptations. It has plenty of fun playing with the conventions of the original show for laughs. Dora’s nonstop positive energy, always saying “Hi, I’m Dora!” to everyone she meets and singing songs about maps and backpacks, is nicely juxtaposed against the relatable stress of trying to act cool around your new classmates. There’s even a brief sequence that stands next to Booksmart‘s doll scene as one of the most psychedelic of the year.
When Dora and her friends are in the jungle, her relative comfort zone, there is inevitably some poking fun at genre counterparts like Indiana Jones and National Treasure. These references are nothing new for adult audiences, but the performances really convince. The young cast are all likeable in their roles, especially Moner. She’s able to strike a neat balance between inspiring and goofy. The rest of the gang are archetypal on the surface: Sammy (Madeleine Madden) wants to be top of the class and the best at everything, whilst Randy (Nicholas Coombe) has played way too many video games. However, Dora and the Lost City of Gold never treats these characters as unimportant and, thanks to strong performances, each leaves an individual mark.
Of course, at times the humour veers towards the cringeworthy. A literal toilet gag will cause eye rolls, whilst the inclusion of series regular Swiper the Fox, in league with the mercenaries, never quite gels. The CGI is occasionally shoddy, too. This shouldn’t bother a child audience, though, and the film succeeds in not outstaying its welcome. It doesn’t deserve to rub shoulders with the likes of Paddington, but Dora and the Lost City of Gold is a proper kids’ film that all ages can get enjoyment from. Considering how much of a flop this could have been, it’s all the more impressive how much it gets right. As Dora would say at the end of every episode, “we did it!”
Dora and the Lost City of Gold, directed by James Bobin, is distributed in the UK by Paramount Pictures, certificate PG.