A FUN, YET DATED EXPLORATION
Back in August of 2000, Nickelodeon debuted the show Dora the Explorer during its Nick Jr. scheduled block. Created by Chris Gifford, Valerie Walsh Valdes, and Eric Weiner, the show followed the adventures of a young seven-year-old Latina girl named Dora, who loves to embark on exploration quest related to activity that she wants to partake or a place she wants to reach; accompanied by her talking purple backpack and an anthropomorphic monkey named Boot). The show, which was aimed at preschoolers was filled with sequences of obstacles and riddles throughout Dora’s adventures / travels as well as breaking the fourth wall in talking with the show’s viewers (in learning words and sayings). Collectively, Dora the Explorer was a big hit and became a popular franchise of success within children’s entertainment. Not only did the show had a lengthy run, which ran from 2000 to 2019 (i.e. 177 episodes in eight seasons), but also had a spin-off TV show called Go, Diego Go!, which featured Dora’s cousin Diego on a series of adventures and ran for five seasons (74 episodes) from 2005 to 2012. Now, Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon Movies, and director James Bobin presents Dora’s first full-length live action feature with the movie Dora and the Lost City of Gold. Does the movie harmonize with the show (and its fanbase) or is it “too little, too late” to investment in Dora’s latest adventure?
Raised in the more jungles of South America, Dora (Isabela Moner) is in-tuned with natural surroundings, joined by her monkey companion, Boots (Danny Trejo), as she goes on her daily routine of searching and adventurous explorations. Raised by her two professor parents, Elena (Eva Longoria) and Cole (Michael Pena), Dora is resourceful, smart, and fearless, riveted by tales of a lost city containing untold treasures. However, while her parents decide to go looking for this ancient city, Dora is sent to Los Angeles for the school year to deal with socialization skills, living with her beloved cousin, Diego (Jeff Wahlberg), who has changed since the last time the two play together many years ago. Unfamiliar to the ways of normal teenage behavior, Dora is hit with the reality of cruelty, eventually making a connection with slightly dim-wit Randy (Nicholas Coombe) and overachiever Sammy (Madeleine Madden). When she loses phone contact with her parent on their expedition, Dora, Diego, Randy, and Sammy are kidnapped by mercenaries searching for the treasure. Rescued by family friend Alejandro (Eugenio Derbez), the teens are stuck in the thick of the jungle, with Dora taking charge as she seeks to rescue her mom and dad and find the lost city before the bad guys do.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Oh, I remember when Dora the Explorer was super popular. It was literally everywhere. Of course, I was quite passed the age of its targeted demographic range (I was a sophomore in high school when the show first aired), but I did catch a few episodes and snippets here and there. Naturally, it wasn’t my thing to watch, but it was definitely something for the kids out there. That being said, Dora literally launched an empire that I saw everywhere I went with books, clothing, games, and other merchandise properties. It really dominated the majority of the 2000s era, but then…. kind of fizzled out. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but Dora the Explorer sort of just vanished or was replaced by the “big thing” in children’s entertainment and became more irrelevant as the years went on (i.e. like every passing popular trend). Still, for what’s its worth, Dora the Explorer (and its spin-off endeavor of Diego) captured the minds and attention of children everywhere during the 2000s. Plus, I’ll admit…. I love swiper!
This brings me back to talking about my review for Dora and the Lost City of Gold, a 2019 feature film that brings the iconic animated cartoon character to the live action cinematic medium. Of course, I remember hearing about this movie online (on social media) and like everyone….my initial thoughts were unimpressive. I mean…. does the world really need a Dora the Explorer movie? I really don’t have an answer for that, which is why I was a bit leery in this feature. The film’s movie trailer really didn’t help my leeriness anymore as it looked like a pretty “bleh” to me. Still, I wanted to see if my suspicion about this movie was wrong (or maybe a bit right), so I decided to check this movie out a few weeks after its release. What did I think of it? To be honest, it wasn’t as terrible as I was expecting it to be. While the movie definitely has its fair share of problems, Dora and the Lost City of Gold holds its own in the family friendly arena. It’s definitely made for kids out there, but not so much for everyone else.
Dora and the Lost City of Gold is directed James Bobin, whose previous directorial works includes movies like The Muppets, Muppets Most Wanted, and Alice Through the Looking Glass. Thus, given his attraction to kid / family friendly movies, Bobin seems like a likely candidate choice for helming a project like this. Despite the age difference of making the character of Dora a teenager and somewhat “updating” the animated cartoon source material in both for a new generation (or even old fans of the show) as well translating into a new live-action medium. Sliding a bit away from the starch and clunky aspect of the original animated show, Bobin presents the movie as a sort of young Indiana Jones; creating more of a young teen adventure through the jungle wilds by being both clever and smart. That’s not to say that the movie captures the spirt of the show, which still provides a semi-savy and guile of education towards its primary target. In that regard, Bobin succeeds in translating the Dora the Explorer material for a live-action cinematic endeavor.
The film’s writers, which include Matthew Robinson and Nicholas Stoller with a story by Tom Wheeler, certainly credits the family friendly nature of the film, which provides plenty of humor and heart that’s quite easy to digest / view throughout the feature’s runtime (a breezy 102 minutes). Again, the whole Indiana Jones feel permeates the feature and gets the job done by providing plenty of wild (albeit slightly cartoonish) adventures for Dora and her friends to face off against. Coinciding with that, the movie does promote the interest of learning / solving challenges along the way, which can be good for the young viewers out there, as well as the ideas of family and friends; a nice fanfare theme / message to promote. All in all, while it’s not exactly the most original story (the movie’s narrative seems quite thin at times), Dora and the Lost City of Gold does prove to be fun lighter-hearted adventure romp for all ages.
The overall presentation of the film is pretty nicely done. As I usually say, nothing really completely stood out, so I don’t thank any of categories will be nominated for any award selections. That being said, Dora and the Lost City of Gold’s presentation is still pleasing to look at and definitely matches a kid’s film of today’s recent releases (gear towards that target audience). Thus, all the main areas of which I usually mention (i.e. costumes, production designs, and set decorations, etc.) are “on par” with the film industry. Some of the visual effect shots are a bit shoddy and jolting in conjunction with the live-action sequences, but it’s not the worst I’ve seeing and certainly gets the job done. Also, the movie’s score, which was composed by Mark Everson, does provide to quite “easy on the ears” (melodically speaking) and does keep the movie’s energetic and whimsical nature of kid’s feature endeavor.
There are several problems with Dora and the Lost City of Gold that really do hold the movie back from being memorable. Perhaps the noticeable one that really comes to mind is how “tardy” the movie is to its own personal popular fanfare. What do I mean? Well, with the film’s release of 2019, the “crazy” of Dora the Explorer has significantly die out. Of course, there’s been plenty of reruns of the show on Nickelodeon as well as continuing the series, which the show’s “heyday” has certainly come and gone. If the movie was released back in mid to late 2000s, the film could’ve had a lot more “pomp and circumstance”. Thus, the movie, despite the family friendly nature of it all, Dora and the Lost City of Gold is very much the saying “too little, too late’.
Additionally, the movie does have plenty of predictability throughout its narrative. I do understand that the movie is gear towards kids, but there’s not a whole lot of creativity or originality being placed in the film, which does create a formulaic narrative from start to finish. It’s all well and good, but I kind of expected something a bit more in terms of story and plot progression, which plays out in a very predictable layout arrangement (i.e. stuff coming / happen miles away). Also, the film’s ending is a bit lackluster; ending the feature on a slapdash conclusion that feels too rushed and thinly written. There’s a ending to be sure, but not just a strong one. This also brings up the subject of the movie being a bit too silly. Yes, the movie does find some meta humor within its self-awareness, but certain scenarios (as well as jokes and gags) come off as a little too much; almost forced with weak landings.
The cast for the movie has several recognizable names that play the various characters in Dora and the Lost City of Gold. At the head of the movie is (of course) the film’s main protagonist lead of Dora, who is played by actress Isabela Moner. Known for her roles in Transformers: The Last Knight, Instant Family, and Sicario: Day of the Soldado, Moner certainly embodies the Dora….right down to the spunky / sprightful attitude she has towards new things and adventures. The character itself walks a fine line between cartoonish and realism teen, but I kind of figured that with this type of a family friendly endeavor. Of course, the character can be a little granting (much like her animated counterpart), but I think the character of Dora is a bit more wholesome that the animated version, with Moner’s performance being a solid one (at least I think so). Behind Moner’s Dora is actor Jeff Wahlberg (Counterpart and Don’t Come Back from the Moon), who plays Dora’s older cousin Diego. Naturally, the character of Diego is a staple of the original Dora the Explorer show (even with his own spin-off show), but the movie does present a different light to the character as a more mature (at least a maturity of American high school teenager), which does create a contrast conflict between him and Diego. This, of course, makes the character interesting, but almost predictable in nature. Still, for what’s its worth, Wahlberg pulls this off (decently) in his portrayal of Diego.
Rounding out the main younger core cast are actress Madeleine Madden (Picnic at Hanging Rock and Mystery Road) as Sammy and actor Nicholas Coombe (Midnight Sun and Cinema Town) as Randy. Collectively, these two (along with Moner and Wahlberg) do make the assemblage of the main quartet of teenagers of which the movie follows. Again, with the exception of the character of Dora, these characters are mostly stock-like characters builds of stereotypical clichés (i.e. the overachiever, the nerdy, the reluctant cousin / sibling). However, given the context of the film (as well as its overall tone), these characters are suitable.
The rest of the cast (mostly the adult cast), including actress Eva Longoria (Desperate Housewives and The Sentinel) as Dora’s mom, actor Michael Pena (The Shield and Ant-Man and the Wasp) as Dora’s dad, actor Eugenio Derbez (How to be a Latin Lover and Overboard) as explorer / professor Alejandro Gutierrez, actor Temuera Morrison (Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones and Moana) as Powell, make for the supporting players of the movie. Like some of the younger cast, these particular characters aren’t exactly well-rounded (with most being stereotypical within their persona and parameters), but they get the job done do lend a sort of “veteran” acting talent credence to the feature. Additionally, actors Danny Trejo (Machete and Con Air) and Benicio del Toro (Escobar and Sicario) as the voices for Boots and Swiper.
Dora the Explorer finally makes the jump to the big-screen in the movie Dora and the Lost City of Gold. Director James Bobin latest project sees the popular Nickelodeon character in her own live-action feature film that’s worthy of the name that it draws inspiration from. While movie can be a bit nonsensical and eye-rolling inducing from viewers outside its target audiences (as well as problematic areas of storytelling and characters), the movie finds its rhythm in a well-meaning way within its Indiana Jones’s style of adventure and within its cast (most notable in Moner’s performance). Personally, I thought that the movie was somewhere between okay and good. It had its moments and kept me interested in the feature’s story, but it wasn’t exactly the best and (much like I said above) felt a bit irrelevant to the times and should’ve been released almost a decade ago. Still, the targeted demographic of youngsters out there will probably like it and that’s all that matters. Plus, I thought it was a little better than what I was expecting it to be. Thus, my recommendation for this movie would be a solid “iffy choice” as today’s kids (and those who grew up watching the show) will probably like it, while others (including non-fans and adults) will probably steer clear of the film altogether. Still, in the end, Dora and the Lost City of Gold eschews straightforward nostalgia kid-friendly adventures romp throughout and, while it may not be the absolute best and sure does stumble along the way, is able to get the job done; never losing sight of the title character’s curiosity and courage.
3.5 Out of 5 (Iffy Choice)
Released On: August 9th, 2019
Reviewed On: September 17th, 2019
Dora and the Lost City of Gold is 102 minutes and is rated PG for action and some impolite humor