Dora and the Lost City of Gold (2019)
SHOULD I SEE IT?
If you have any experience watching Nickelodeon’s “Dora the Explorer,” I am telling you…this movie far exceeds any expectations you likely have.
Her name is Isabela Moner. She is going to be a big star soon.
Inventive, creative, clever - Dora and the Lost City of Gold is a nice film for the whole family, sharing a message of inner strength and empowerment that kids will likely benefit from.
I mean, if movies geared towards families are not of interest, Dora and the Lost City of Gold isn’t going to change your mind.
Budget restrictions seem apparent, which can prove a distraction when more impressive, robust effects-supported films are playing in front of many of the same eyeballs.
This does deviate from the original series, in that it skews more teenager in its themes and ideas. So, if you are some kind of “Dora the Explorer” purist or something, you may take issue with the harmless changes they have made here.
Having daughters ages 20 and 13, we were absolutely a “Dora the Explorer” house. The mantra of “Grab your backpack, let’s go!…Vamanos!” was frequently heard emanating out of our television almost every day. We must have watched dozens of adventures where Dora turned to the camera and asked viewers to repeat words and help her solve puzzles. She would get advice from her talking backpack, which held a talking map, and traveled with her best friend, Boots, a talking monkey.
Dora often had three tasks she needed to complete on her adventure to wherever she happened to be going. Always, she warned us of the threat of the dastardly, but bumbling villain, Swiper the Fox. All it seemed to take to stop him was to yell, basically in his general direction, “Swiper, no swiping!” He would respond, “Ohhhh, mannnnnnnn….,” drop whatever he was trying to swipe and then scurry off, plotting his revenge to swipe something else in the next episode.
And even as fun as those shows were to watch with our kids, no one really felt that we needed a Dora movie. As a matter of fact, a Dora movie feels years too late. Season 8 of the television series has taken six years (!) to complete, with the final television episode airing on Nickelodeon the same day this movie opens.
When one backpack zips closed, another one opens, I suppose?
To the business at hand, Dora and the Lost City of Gold is actually kind of great. Like, if it had a little more polish, a slightly bigger budget to nail some visual effects down a bit better, and didn’t feel like it was holding a little bit back, this thing would truly be awesome. As it is, this is yet one more great surprise in 2019, a movie we never knew we needed.
Led by a breakout performance by Isabela Moner (Instant Family), as the effervescent and always optimistic teen incarnation of Dora, the super-cool exploradora has lived her life with jungle-exploring adventure parents (Eva Longoria, Michael Peña). They have spent years trying to find a missing Incan city, Parapata, said to have a massive gold reserve.
Fearful of Dora’s safety (and frankly, rather selfishly), Mom and Dad send Dora away from her jungle habitat in South America, to go and stay with cousin Diego (Jeff Wahlberg) and his family in Los Angeles. 16 years old, Dora finds herself launched into the real world, where public high school, metal detectors, saying “Hi!” to everyone she meets, and being “the new girl” has its downsides, no matter how sunny a disposition she puts out into the world.
For awhile, Dora walks through the formulaic scenes of trying to fit in and find her place. Diego, her best friend when they were a decade younger, is embarrassed by Dora, but also wrestling with issues of awkwardness and not quite fitting in himself. By the time she is forced to interact with misfit Randy (Nicholas Coombe) and snobby future valedictorian Sammy (Madeleine Madden) on a school field trip, the four kids find themselves abducted by bad guys, trying to thwart Dora’s parents’ efforts.
Dora and the Lost City of Gold moves from the confines of a high school, and back to the wide open expanse of Dora’s native South America, where her peers find themselves at a similar cultural disadvantage that Dora experienced in L.A. This pivot is a nice way to equalize the ragtag quartet, and allow Dora’s rampant positivity to lead the way.
A friend of Dora’s parents (Eugenio Derbez) joins the teens as they try and figure out where to go and what to do. Directed by James Bobin, and co-written by Nicholas Stoller, this is the duo who worked with Jason Segel to reboot The Muppets in their fantastic 2011 Oscar-winning movie of the same name. The know what they are doing and the script is full of jokes, puns, and silly moments for kids and adults in attendance. Adding to the fun, a rather fearless cast willing to do pretty much whatever is asked of them.
There’s an exuberance on display here that proves infectious. Moner is about as perfect a casting choice as you can find to inhabit a real-life Dora. She brings such a pure, believable, unabashed joy to the role, she instantly becomes one of the most entertaining characters of 2019. Her comedic timing is off the charts and she seemingly can have chemistry with any human or CGI-created co-star with next to no problem.
Unfortunately, the movie’s commitment to the “adventure” portion of the story begins to run out of steam, well before Bobin and Stoller intend to wrap things up. And though it unravels trying to tie up loose ends and finish the adventure effectively, there remains plenty of fun cameos and surprises along the way.
Stumbles aside, Dora and the Lost City of Gold builds up so much goodwill, makes us laugh a lot, wins over those most skeptic of critics in the audience, and gives us a star-making performance from Moner.
What more could you possibly ask for?
CAST & CREW
Starring: Isabela Moner, Eugenio Derbez, Michael Peña, Eva Longoria, Jeff Wahlberg, Nicholas Coombe, Madeleine Madden, Temeura Morrison, Adriana Barraza, Q’orianka Kilcher, Madelyn Miranda, Malachi Barton, Danny Trejo, Benicio del Toro.
Director: James Bobin
Written by: Nicholas Stoller, Matthew Robinson (screenplay); Nicholas Stoller, Tom Wheeler (story)
Based on the television series “Dora the Explorer” created by Chris Gifford, Valerie Walsh, Eric Weiner
Release Date: August 9, 2019