Given the less than stellar performance of cartoon-turned- movie adaptations, what can one expect from a live-action movie based on the Dora the Explorer kiddy cartoon series? Would it be an extended version of the education animated show that premiered in 2000? Or how about a dark brooding reboot aimed at adults (a common expectation given the parody trailer of a Michael Bay-produced Dora movie from a few years ago)?
Surprise, but what audiences are getting is something else entirely. Actually, the best way to describe it is probably Mean Girls meets Indiana Jones – one part fish out of water story, one part adventure in the jungle. Or maybe Tomb Raider…
Dora and the Lost City of Gold tells the story of a teenage girl who has grown up in the jungle, with parents who are, you guessed it, explorers. Her best friend is a monkey named Boots, and Dora spends her time in imaginary adventures while exploring the jungle and its wildlife but when she moves to the city to study in a regular urban school, she finds herself alone and insecure for the first time.
Everyone laughs at her, and even her once-close cousin is embarrassed by her. But through a turn of events, she and some of her new school acquaintances end up in a jungle where they have to find Dora’s parents and the titular Lost City of Gold, while being chased by treasure hunting mercenaries.
What makes the film really work is Isabela Moner’s performance as an optimistic and enthusiastic Dora. It is reminiscent of Amy Adam’s princess Gisele in Enchanted, in that it is a sincere optimism that comes from within. Dora could’ve come across as just one-dimensionally naive and dorky, but Moner plays it straight with just the right amount of vulnerability showing under the surface.
This optimism, harshly contrasted by the cynicism of urban culture, forms the basis of the movie: can positive thoughts work or is it just idyllic fantasy like Dora’s imaginary adventures? That prompts a quick rethink about your own world view, whether you’re a glass is half-full or half-empty person.
There’s also a sub-message about it being okay to be different and weird. Aside from Dora’s unusual optimism, there’s also her unfailing belief that she’s an explorer, filled with a large amount of jungle-related knowledge. This puts her at a disadvantage at school because the other students ostracize her, but her (not always unwavering) faith in herself eventually pays off, as her companions finally accept her.
There’s also a good supporting cast around Dora, like the aforementioned companions and her cousin Diego, but extra credit goes to Michael Pena and Eva Longoria as Dora’s whacky parents. Their scenes can cause a lot of laughter, and form a nice way to open and end the movie.
There’s a very high likelihood that you’re going to watch this movie with kids, so here’s what you can expect – My older 6-year-old enjoyed it a lot and laughed at the right places, while my younger 4-year-old got a bit scared at some of the action scenes and the treasure hunters. There isn’t much violence at all, but he found the “bad guy” sequences a bit intense. He liked all the other scenes though – especially the scenes involving Boots the monkey.
A lot of family films come packed with silly pop culture references for cheap laughs, but Dora forgoes all that and sticks to a proper story and well-executed action sequences to keep the audience engaged.
For parents (or older kids) who have had to watch more than a few episodes of the Dora cartoons before, here’s what you can expect as a connection to the cartoons. Canonically, it probably sits between the original Dora the Explorer and the newer Dora and Friends, as she is now in school. However, movie Dora is definitely a bit older than Dora and Friends Dora, so you know what? Forget trying to figure out the timeline and canon, and just enjoy.
That said, the opening sequence pays homage to the original cartoon by depicting young Dora and Diego on their adventures, and Dora’s 4th wall-breaking way of addressing the audience to teach them Spanish words. There’s also a cartoon sequence in the middle as well that revisits cartoon Dora, and both are muy entretenido.
All in all, this is an entertaining film that stands on its own (though it’s definitely more enjoyable if you’re familiar with the cartoons), and works as suitable entertainment for the family.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Mean Girls meets Indiana Jones. Bring the fam and enjoy.
Story - 7.5/10
Direction - 8.5/10
Characterisation - 8/10
Geek Satisfaction - 7/10
User Review( votes)
Drew used to be a professional videogame reviewer, then he took an adulthood arrow to the knee. Now he is a content strategist, helping brands tell their stories without resorting to overused videogame memes.