“Dora and the Lost City of Gold” stars Isabela Moner, Eugenio Derbez, Michael Peña, Eva Longoria, Danny Trejo, and Benicio del Toro. Releasing on August 9, 2019, the film is about a teenager who sets out to rescue her family and solve the mystery behind a lost Inca civilization.
The film is directed by James Bobin, who also directed “The Muppets” and “Alice Through the Looking Glass”. It is based on the Nickelodeon show, “Dora the Explorer”, created by Chris Gifford, Valerie Walsh Valdes, and Eric Weiner. It’s pretty common nowadays that our favorite cartoons get their chance to shine on the big screen, especially the ones that were shown on the Nickelodeon channel. Similar to their journey on television, Nickelodeon has its share of hits and misses in the film industry since it founded Nickelodeon Movies in 1996. In addition to other adaptations and original projects, Nickelodeon has produced several film adaptations of their popular cartoons such as “Rugrats”, “Hey Arnold!”, “The Wild Thornberrys”, and “Spongebob Squarepants”. While some of them were mildly successful in terms of box office and/or critical reception, others were pretty much the opposite, with the live-action adaptation of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” being the prime example. That one still caused a great amount of pain to the “Avatar” fanbase, even to this day. This year, Nickelodeon is taking another crack at turning another animated cartoon from their library into a live-action film. The one I’m talking about is “Dora the Explorer”. I’m not joking. Instead of choosing something like “Ren & Stimpy” or “CatDog” or even “Danny Phantom” out of all things, they decided to turn a preschool show from the early 2000s into a feature-length theatrical film. Better late than never, I guess. For those who haven’t heard of the source material, “Dora the Explorer” is an educational program for preschoolers that premiered on Nickelodeon in August 2000 and chronicles the magical misadventures of a young Latina girl and her monkey companion who likes to wear red boots. Along the way, they enlist the help of the viewing audience to solve puzzles that involve riddles, Spanish, and counting. It became one of the longest-running shows that aired on its Nick Jr. block, running for a total of eight seasons. Its success lead to the creation of multiple merchandises, like toys and video games, as well as a spin-off series that centered on Dora’s cousin Diego (“Go, Diego, Go!”) and a sequel series that followed a 10-year-old Dora (“Dora and Friends: Into the City”). This is another show that I usually watched during my childhood, whether I’m at home or at a friend’s house. Whenever I’m not watching something that involves cartoon violence and slapstick, I turn on some shows that act as teachers and entertainers, and “Dora the Explorer” is one of them. It inspired me to take Spanish class in high school and taught me how to solve challenges and fend off thieving foxes. Isn’t television great, kids? When I first heard that they’re making a film adaptation of the show, the first thing that came to my mind was this: How are they going to make this work? How are they supposed to turn a harmless educational cartoon that involves the main character breaking the fourth wall and talking to the viewers into a full-length film? Well, based on what I saw from the marketing, it looks like I have the answer, but is it worth watching for the “Dora” fanbase and the newcomers? Let’s find out.
The story serves as a continuation of the Nickelodeon series, in which a teenage Dora (Moner) transitions from being a jungle explorer to being an ordinary teen when her parents (played by Peña and Longoria, respectively) send her off to high school. Dora’s new life outside the jungle cuts extremely short when she discovers that a group of baddies are searching for an ancient civilization. It’s up to her and her monkey friend Boots (Trejo), along with a couple of high school teens and her cousin Diego (Jeff Wahlberg), to find the lost city first and protect it from the bad guys. In other words, it’s “Tomb Raider” for kids. I can already tell that the story is almost similar to the concept of “Tomb Raider” based on the trailers alone. Just give Dora some pistols and remove the CGI animals and boom! Nickelodeon’s “Tomb Raider”, coming this fall to your local television. The film combines several elements from the source material with a fish-out-of-water story that represents its message about being yourself, which is respectable for its target audience. For everybody else, it has its moments, but it isn’t something that’s worth exploring again. The most redeeming quality of “Dora” is Isabela Moner’s portrayal as the title character. Dora is always known as someone who displays a positive influence to her fans with her adventurous attitude and her sense of curiosity, and the film recognized that. When I first saw Moner as Dora in the trailer, I had a good feeling that she’s going to be the best part of the film, whether the storyline is good or not. After seeing it for myself, I’m happy to say that I wasn’t disappointed. She perfectly resembled Dora in terms of her look and her mannerisms. The other actors were pretty decent in their roles, especially Peña and Longoria as Dora’s parents and Jeff Wahlberg as Diego. Eugenio Derbez was a bit of a head-scratcher for me. Not just because of his mediocre performance as Alejandro Gutierrez, but also because of his character. He only served as comic relief for the little ones in the most obnoxious way possible, and his big reveal near the third act wasn’t actually that surprising. Either it’s because I saw it coming a mile away or it’s because I didn’t really care about this character that much. It might be both. The film’s plot is obviously harmless, silly, and full of charm, even though it had some pacing issues during a few scenes. The major issue with the story is how overly cliched, bland, and predictable it can get after the first 10 minutes or so. It’s almost like the film took every single page out of several books that deal with fish-out-of-water films and adventure films and plastered them all over the place. I understand that it’s a film for young kids and if they like how it turns out, that’s entirely fine, but I feel that certain people aren’t going to be too happy with a by-the-numbers family film that relies on gags that are aimed towards small kids. Another issue I had was the film’s use of CGI, particularly for Boots (Trejo) and Swiper the Fox (del Toro). I wouldn’t say that it’s “made-for-television” bad, but there were a couple of times where the CGI rendering was very noticeable. I actually didn’t mind the CGI design for Swiper and Boots since they’re somewhat accurate to their 2D counterparts, although I’m not a big fan of the latter when he smiles. My God, it’s like he was staring into my soul with his creepy smile. I might need to sleep with the lights on tonight.
Overall, “Dora and the Lost City of Gold” may serve as a tolerable diversion for young kids, but it offers nothing new to its by-the-numbers exploration trip other than a backpack full of nostalgia. Isabela Moner did a terrific job as the title character and director James Bobin did a respectable job at keeping the film’s kid-friendly charm consistent. However, they’re not enough to make this journey as exciting as they wanted it to be. From its cliched story to its overabundance of obnoxious kid-friendly humor, this latest Nickelodeon film adaptation may have worked best as a made-for-television film for the channel. On the bright side, it didn’t reach the same level of “terrible” as “The Last Airbender”. If you’re one of the people who grew up watching “Dora the Explorer”, I would say it’s worth watching for the nostalgia and Moner’s performance. Otherwise, it’s more of a “rent it” type of film.