November 22, 2019
Box Office $60.48 million;
$25.99 DVD, $31.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘PG’ for action and some impolite humor.
Stars Isabela Moner, Eugenio Derbez, Michael Peña, Eva Longoria, Jeff Wahlberg, Nicholas Coombe, Madeleine Madden, Temuera Morrison, Adriana Barraza, Benicio del Toro, Danny Trejo.
It would be easy to assume that a movie based on Nickelodeon’s long-running animated “Dora the Explorer” TV series might be just another sappy, dumbed-down diversion aimed at kids. But in the hands of director James Bobin, Dora and the Lost City of Gold turns out to be a charming, fun adventure that all ages can enjoy, not just fans of the TV series.
Bobin, who has already demonstrated his deft touch with similar material as director of the two most recent “Muppets” movies, and screenwriters Nicholas Stoller and Matthew Robinson bring a slightly subversive sensibility that honors the concept while poking fun at it at the same time.
The cartoon, of course, dealt with the adventures of 7-year-old Dora, her monkey sidekick, Boots, and her cousin, Diego, as they talk and sing to the audience to solve puzzles and learn new facts about the world. And the movie jumps right in with a live-action version of the “Dora” theme that sets up the movie as providing more of the same. But it turns out Dora and Diego are just imaginative youngsters who live in the South American jungle with Dora’s parents (Michael Peña and Eva Longoria), a pair of professors researching ancient civilizations.
After Diego moves away to Los Angeles with his parents, Dora is left to explore on her own, and the movie cuts to 10 years later, with the 16-year-old Dora (Isabela Moner) running through the jungle as if nothing has changed (though, in a bit of meta-humor, she now live-streams her adventures as a means of talking to her audience). As her parents prepare to embark on a search for a lost city, Dora is sent to live with Diego in L.A., much to her chagrin.
Having spent 10 years in the city, Diego is now a more-or-less normal kid trying to survive high school, while Dora continues to be Dora.
The movie mines Dora’s fish-out-of-water adjustments to high school for some good laughs, as she is basically the cartoon character dropped into the real world. The tone brings to mind The Brady Bunch Movie in the way the humor stems from the juxtaposition of the central characters living in their own little world for regular reality to react to.
Things take a turn, however, as Dora, Diego and some of their fellow high schoolers are kidnapped by mercenaries who want to find the same city of gold that Dora’s parents are seeking, putting Dora back in her element and turning the tables on the students who were making fun of her for survivalist skills.
The kids quickly escape into the jungle and set off to find the legendary city and Dora’s parents on their own, pursued by the bad guys, who are aided by Swiper the Fox, lest any of his fans worry he would be left out of the action.
From here the film takes on the vibe of a junior “Indiana Jones” adventure, while also taking some cues from Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, in terms of putting the ensemble into unusual situations.
In addition to the opening sequence, the film’s most direct nod to the cartoon version comes in the form of a clever sequence in which the characters are exposed to jungle spores that make them hallucinate an animated world. The making of this playful scene is the subject of a four-minute featurette on the Blu-ray.
The behind-the-scenes material is pretty standard as far as these things go, with plenty of interviews from the cast and filmmakers. The nine-minute “All About Dora” features the talented Moner offering her insights on playing the character as a teenager. “Can You Say Pelicula?” is a four-and-a-half-minute examination of some of the stunts as well as the comedic sensibilities of Eugenio Derbez. A four-minute “Dora’s Jungle House” video offers a lot of details about Dora’s parents’ house that aren’t readily apparent from the movie.
The latter should please fans looking to live in this world a bit more, as will more than 13 minutes of deleted scenes, extended sequences and alternate takes.
The Blu-ray also includes an amusing two-minute blooper reel.