When I first heard about the idea of a live action film adaptation of the animated series Dora the Explorer I was skeptical. This is partly due to the poor history of live action adaptations like Smurfs and Yogi Bear (Paddington being the exception to the rule) but also because it was announced originally as a Michael Bay produced project. I am not a fan of Bay’s Transformers or TMNT produced films so that was more than enough to make me nervous. Then I heard they were aging Dora up to be teenager, and I was even more skeptical. However, I always try to keep an open mind when I see a film and to my surprise I found Dora and the Lost City of Gold to be a delightful adventure for the whole family.
I will say I still think it was a mistake to age up Dora. Actress Isabela Moner is good in the role but it adds a layer of awkwardness that isn’t necessary or helpful to the film. There’s an innocence to her character that works with a little girl but feels uncomfortable for a teenager and it looses some of the whimsy the story would otherwise have. That said, the rest of the film works so well, I was able to accept the choice and still enjoy all the good it had to offer.
In retrospect, I should have had more confidence in the project because director James Bobin has done a great job in the past blending live action and fictional characters in subversive ways with The Muppets in 2011 (less said about Alice Through the Looking Glass the better). Also writer Nicholas Stoller has proven himself in witty, creative family films like Storks, Captain Underpants: the First Epic Movie, and The Muppets.
Going into Dora and the Lost City of Gold I felt a good adaptation of the show would include its creative, 4th wall breaking aspect. In the television show Dora will ask the audience where the map is or what Swiper is doing and kids watching will yell back at the screen. To my delight Bobin and team actually integrate these elements into the feature film making something really unique and engaging. Dora talks to the audience and explains her worldview to us and to the other characters she’s with (this is why it would have been better if she had been a little girl)and it’s charming.
The movie takes other risks like incorporating animation in a very creative scene and little jingles Dora sings to accompany the smallest of tasks. It makes for a funny, positive, engaging script that continually surprised me. These subversive elements should entertain older teens and adults while still being sweet and charming enough for small kids.
The adventure Dora and her friends (Nicholas Coombe, Madeleine Madden, and Jeff Wahlberg) go on is also a lot of fun with booby traps that test their heart and intellect and shenanigans escaping bad guys and finding treasure. The supporting cast of adults is a bit underused but still charming with Eugenio Derbez, Michael Pena, Eva Longoria and Adrianna Barraza all giving good performances.
The marketing for Dora and the Lost City of Gold hasn’t done a good job portraying how weird and nutty it is. They are making it look generic and bland but my party, including my friend’s 9 year old niece, all thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s a funny, odd, sweet adventure the whole family will like. It felt like a throwback to adventure movies we got in the 80s and 90s like Goonies, The Wild Thornberrys, Flight of the Navigator, Time Bandits, Adventures in Babysitting or Honey I Shrunk the Kids. The hardest part will probably be getting audiences to give it a chance but once they do I bet they will be entertained.
What do you think about Dora and the Lost City of Gold? Did you watch the show growing up? Will you give this movie a chance?
7.5 out of 10