Dora and the Lost City of Gold

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Paramount;
Family Adventure;
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.

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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.

Aquaman

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 3/26/19;
Warner;
Action;
Box Office $334.52 million;
$28.98 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $44.95 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for language.
Stars Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Ludi Lin, Nicole Kidman, Temuera Morrison.

It’s a bit amazing to think that the Justice League member so often derided as “the one who talks to fish and is useless on land” is now the subject of the highest-grossing movie based on a DC Comics character at the worldwide box office.

Already a regular target of parody shows such as “Robot Chicken,” the Aquaman character was famously used as the centerpiece of a storyline on HBO’s “Entourage” involving a blockbuster movie version directed by James Cameron — poking fun at both Cameron’s penchant for water movies and the idea that anyone would ever make an Aquaman movie.

Well, the real film, directed by James Wan, certainly dispels any notion that Aquaman isn’t suited for the big screen. Coincidentally, with this film and Furious 7, Wan became the only director other than Cameron (with Avatar and Titanic) to guide two films from separate franchises into the global box office’s billion-dollar club.

Jason Momoa takes on the title role, his third film appearing as the character, after a cameo in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and an expanded presence in Justice League. His larger-than-life persona and carefree attitude serve the film well by helping the audience accept the bizarreness of the worlds being created without the need to take it too seriously.

Arthur Curry (Momoa) is the product of the unexpected love of a lighthouse keeper (Temuera Morrison) and the Queen of Atlantis (Nicole Kidman) who ends up at his shore when she escapes an arranged marriage. Arthur’s unique heritage gives him superhuman abilities, such as strength, invulnerability, the ability to swim fast and a telepathic bond with sea creatures.

With his reputation as a hero established in Justice League, Arthur is sought out by the princess Mera (Amber Heard) to claim the throne of Atlantis from his half-brother (Patrick Wilson), who wants to destroy the surface world.

To do that, he and Mera must embark on a quest to locate a mythical weapon that will allow him to assert his claim as the rightful king of Atlantis.

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The story will draw a lot of comparisons with Black Panther in that both deal with heroes introduced in earlier films, with their own films focused on tying their origins into storylines involving taking control of their hidden kingdoms away from maniacal family members who want to conquer the outside world. Tonally, the film is more like Thor: Ragnarok, which also deals with a battle for the throne of a powerful kingdom. These recent superhero movies have certainly embraced that Shakespearean power dynamics motif lately (which may just speak to how most comic books can be reduced to a few fundamental tropes before all the personality and detail that makes them popular are added).

Aquaman

Between the “Game of Thrones”-esque political intrigue and “Indiana Jones”-style adventure subplot, much of the film’s success owes to its sense of fun and its willingness to depict absolutely anything on screen despite how absurd it is while treating it as epic. Wan fills almost every frame with fantastic imagery awash in vibrant color that really shines through in its high-definition Blu-ray presentation. Many of the scenes look as if Wan pulled them directly from a comic book, and even makes Aquaman’s traditional orange and green costume look cool, which should no doubt please fans of the character.

The Blu-ray includes more than an hour-and-a-half of featurettes detailing all the aspects of the production, from Momoa’s casting, to the stunt work, to the development of the depictions of the undersea kingdoms that comprise the Atlantean realms.

One of the more interesting videos in this regard is the “Kingdoms of the Seven Seas,” a profile of underwater politics hosted by Dolph Lundgren, who plays the ruler of one of them. Between this and his recent turn in a “Rocky” retrospective on the Creed II Blu-ray, Lundgren has been pretty busy on the Warner lot hosting bonus videos.

Another interesting tidbit comes during an analysis of the film’s memorable sequence involving the devolved creatures of the Trench, which plays to Wan’s horror roots. At one point, an excited Wan suggests the Trench should be the basis of its own movie. Unsurprisingly, a Trench spinoff has already been announced.

Finally, the disc includes a three-minute scene from the upcoming Shazam! movie.