Dora and the Lost City of Gold review: Animated series adaptation has fun with its concept

 Considering a live-action Dora the Explorer had been, for years, thought of only as a joke, it’s impressive how much this film gets right

Clarisse Loughrey
Wednesday 14 August 2019 14:23 BST
Dora And The Lost City Of Gold - Trailer 2

Dir: James Bobin. Starring: Isabela Moner, Eva Longoria, Benicio Del Toro (voice), Danny Trejo (voice), Michael Pena, and Eugenio Derbez. PG, 102 mins

Here’s a rundown for anyone unfamiliar with Dora the Explorer: she’s a small child whose best friends are a monkey and a talking backpack. She loves riddles, arithmetic, and Spanish vocabulary. She also doesn’t believe in the fourth wall. The star of Nickelodeon’s long-running animated series wasn’t exactly an obvious candidate for a live-action adaptation. In fact, it was a ridiculous enough idea that the internet parodied it several times over. But, because it’s 2019 and the line between satire and truth has truly been obliterated, the Dora the Explorer film is now real. And, surprisingly, it’s actually pretty good.

The trick up this film’s sleeve is its creative team, as it reunites both the director and writer of 2011’s The Muppets, James Bobin and Nicholas Stoller (Matthew Robinson is also co-credited as a screenwriter). They take a similar approach here as they did with their semi-reboot of Jim Henson’s creations, allowing the film to be self-aware without getting too tied up in the logistics of it all. They actually have fun with the concept.

Dora and the Lost City of Gold’s conceit is simple: imagine how a grown-up Dora would function. As it turns out, even at 16, she’s just as aggressively energetic. She still loves her nature facts, her motivational tunes (including one to help you build a poop hole in the jungle), and thinks it’s entirely acceptable to bring a giant knife on casual excursions. Dora has spent her entire life so far in the jungle, where her archaeologist parents (Eva Longoria and Michael Pena) are stationed. And so, when they decide to send her to Los Angeles to live with her cousin Diego (Jeff Wahlberg, nephew of Mark), she discovers high school is a far more precarious environment than the one with all the snakes and poisonous frogs. After her parents suddenly go missing, Dora ends up back in the wild, this time with a handful of her terrified classmates in tow.

Dora is believable as a character here entirely because Moner makes her so. While she doesn’t hold back on the character’s bouncy, ever-earnest personality and knows how to sell cheesy lines such as, “You can do it!”, she also finds crucial moments where Dora can still be a (fairly) normal teenager. She still has her moments of doubt and insecurity. Her performance, in a way, ends up propping up the rest of the film, which also tackles the tricky balancing act of combining pure silliness with genuine emotion.

There are plenty of clever, funny nods to the animated series. Dora’s talking backpack and talking map both make an appearance – although in an unexpected way – and the film even integrates her catchphrase, where she’ll ask the audience whether they can repeat a word back to her, then stare blankly into the camera for a good five seconds so everyone can catch up (an example: “Can you say ‘delicioso’? [pause] ‘Delicioso!’). There’s also enough here for those who are clueless when it comes to all things Dora, but feel more comfortable within the worlds Indiana Jones, Tomb Raider, and Pitfall.

In fact, by recognising the genre’s past, Dora and the Lost City of Gold is able to subvert a few of its most troublesome tropes, especially in light of the fact it’s the rare jungle adventure film with a lead who isn’t white. As Dora’s parents make clear, they’re archaeologists, not treasure hunters. That means the prized wares stay where they are. Dora is also quick to realise that her adventures are always in the footsteps of European colonisers, meaning there’s a constant threat that she’ll turn up to her final destination only to discover that the gold has already been taken by Spanish conquistadors (or the British or the French or the Americans, as is noted in the film).

The film, admittedly, does falter in a few places. The main villain from the show, Swiper the Fox (voiced by Benicio del Toro), who does exactly as his name suggests, seems awkwardly crammed in. None of these teenagers seem remotely surprised that a fox can talk (although there is a funny exchange about the mask he wears). But, considering a live-action Dora the Explorer had been, for years, thought of only as a joke concept, it’s impressive how much this film gets right.

Dora and the Lost City of Gold is released in UK cinemas on 16 August

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