FILM REVIEW: Dora trades the jungle for a classroom and stays true to her TV origins

Special to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette |From MovieStyle on 08/09/2019 August 9, 2019 at 6:52 a.m.


When my nephews were children, they frequently watched Dora the Explorer and not because they liked it but because they thought it hilarious to mock. They were just a little older than the Nickelodeon series’ target market, so they loved doing the opposite of what Dora told them to do, and they came up with their own words when Dora tried to teach them Spanish. (I can’t quote the lads here.)

Thankfully, I can report that the new live-action, big-screen adaptation of the long-running animated series, Dora and the Lost City of Gold, is unexpectedly delightful. Considering how skillfully James Bobin updated the Muppets for the multiplex, this shouldn’t have been surprising. Screenwriters Nicholas Stoller (Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie) and Matthew Robinson (The Invention of Lying) poke fun at Dora’s small-screen habits. It’s funny when Dora (Isabela Moner) looks into the camera and waits for you to repeat what she has just said.

Thankfully, Stoller and Robinson know better than to wear out the joke.

Dora is now a teenager and has to go to school in Los Angeles when she’d rather be joining her parents (Eva Longoria, Michael Peña) as they search for lost cities hidden in the Peruvian jungle. It’s easy to understand why she wants to stay. It’s hard to say goodbye to the gorgeous scenery and a hyper-intelligent computer-generated monkey named Boots (voiced by Danny Trejo).

Before she can lament that there are no more worlds left to conquer, Dora learns that American high school can be just as treacherous as a river full of piranhas. Her classmates groan at her cheery but awkward attempts at socializing and feel threatened because her college professor parents did a better job of preparing her for academia.

Even her cousin Diego (Jeff Wahlberg) resents how she draws unwanted attention to the family and how she has attracted the ire of a potential rival named Sammy (Madeleine Madden). If negotiating teenage social hierarchies is taxing for Dora, she also discovers that her normally vigilant Mom and Dad haven’t called her in days.

When she returns to Peru with a colleague, Alejandro (Eugenio Derbez), of her parents, she winds up helping less experienced peers like Sammy, Diego and Randy (Nicholas Coombe) negotiate the wild. She’s even better at making her way than Alejandro because she has been in the field, while he claims to have been in the classroom.

To the film’s credit, there’s far more to the situation than that. There are fortune hunters who want to pilfer the historic sites and mysterious guardians who don’t want their treasures disturbed. There’s even a larcenous fox named Swiper (voiced with appropriate sliminess by Benicio Del Toro), who wears a mask despite the fact that he’s the only talking fox in the world and that walking upright already makes him stick out.

Moner is ideally suited for the title role. She projects an effortless enthusiasm and an endearing geekiness that never gets old.

Despite how dense the jungle is, Bobin moves the story briskly and seems to have as much fun telling Dora’s tale without the sarcasm my now-grown nephews had. If they ever have kids, their youngsters would be lucky to follow Dora on this adventure.

-Dan Lybarger

Read this review and more by Dan Lybarger at the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.

Posted in

Leave a Comment

Dan Lybarger is a freelance film critic and writer whose work has appeared in The Kansas City Star, The Pitch, The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Cineaste and other publications.