By: Oberst Von Berauscht (Three Beers) –
Dora lives in the Amazon Rain forest with her parents Cole and Elena, who are explorers and scientists. Growing up in the jungle and being homeschooled has caused her to be incredibly intelligent and skillful in jungle survival. But when her parents embark on a longer than usual expedition to locate lost civilization, they send Dora up to Los Angeles for awhile to live with her cousin Diego. Dora has to come to terms with high school life and learn to conquer social pitfalls instead of actual pitfalls. Until fate intervenes and she finds herself and her classmates kidnapped by villainous treasure hunters trying to locate her parents and exploit their findings…
For her part as Dora, actress Isabela Moner was a wonderful choice. She is easily able to evoke the character’s childlike optimism but never feels like she is stuck in a state of arrested development. It never feels like a seven-year old character played by a teen. The “Dora” of this movie is clearly more educated and developed a person than that of the cartoon, but simply lacks some of the social skills of a seasoned schoolgirl. Moner was apparently accepted into college at the age of 15, and you can easily believe that she brought a bit of that impressive young brilliance to her character here. Not only is she great at representing the intellect of an older Dora, but her confidence and physical daring also manages to make her feel more than up to the task of jungle exploration.
I’d wager this Dora could take Eugenio Derbez in a knife fight.
Director James Bobin did a great deal of good with bringing new life to The Muppets, and he brings the same level of enthusiasm for the subject matter to the Dora the Explorer media franchise. The key to his success with these films is his ability to softly satirize his subject matter while respecting the source material’s agency. Dora and the Lost city of Gold brings the titular character to High School age, but keeps the character essentially the same. That alone creates plenty of humorous moments, as Dora’s positivity and thirst for knowledge puts her at a disadvantage with her classmates, who are steeped in the clique politics of high school life. The film fortunately knows not to linger too long in the torrential soap operas of school life, moving the action back to the jungle as soon as it becomes convenient to switch up the setting again.
The opening scene of the film features all of the more cartoonish elements of Dora the Explorer (the map and backpack, Swiper the talking fox, the talking map, and other surreal stuff). The scene is interrupted when Dora’s parents walk into the adventure and in a sort of “Calvin & Hobbes” style, it is revealed that all these things are figments of the young Dora and Diego’s imagination. This would have been a really fun way to experience the movie, seeing it through the “real” eyes of adults vs the overactive imagination of the youths. Sadly, this premise is quickly jettisoned when the monkey Boots and the fox Swiper both appear in the “real” world with the anthropomorphic elements of their cartoon counterparts fully intact. I understand the reasoning that fans might have complained if the films didn’t contain more of the cartoon’s popular characters. But it felt disappointingly vanilla to see the film introduce a real/imaginary world dichotomy and to abandon it so quickly.
“oh, mannnnnn!” indeed.
The story can’t be accused of originality, aping on familiar adventure film elements that made Indiana Jones, Tomb Raider, The Mummy, and the National Treasure films so popular. Its a fitting choice, but the film never aspires to anything new or unique that would warrant greater notice. It isn’t a criticism that hamstrings the film terribly, as the mere act of inserting the sickeningly sweet positivity of Dora the Explorer into an adventure film feels fun enough to please most audiences. It just keeps the film from receiving recommendation beyond passive viewing.
Hopefully we’ll see that in Dora and the Temple of Doom
Dora and the Lost City of Gold is a solidly entertaining piece of family filmmaking that preserves enough of the charm of the cartoon while remaining accessible for those uninitiated.
Dora and the Lost City of Gold (2019) Movie Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever Boots appears
Do a Shot: for fourth-wall breaking
Do a Shot: for conversational Spanish lessons
Take a Drink: for perky descriptions of dark subjects for comic value.