More proof we’re living through some confusing times: The live-action “Dora the Explorer” movie is shockingly good.
It certainly didn’t seem like a viable idea. Rather than make an animated big screen adventure of Nickelodeon’s pint-sized jungle adventurer, Paramount opted for live-action, sending a teenage Dora (Isabela Moner) to high school in the big city. Her backpack and map don’t talk, though Dora’s monkey sidekick, Boots, appears as a clunky CGI creation, as does the mischievous Swiper the Fox.
We’ve seen Hollywood try this approach before, mostly to lousy effect (think “Scooby Doo” back in the early 2000s). But “Dora and the Lost City of Gold” works as both an affectionate goof on the pre-school favorite, as well as a crackling adventure film for young moviegoers. It uses the “Indiana Jones” playbook to deliver several fun sequences involving quicksand, jungle puzzles and ancient booby traps, and the charismatic cast add a good dose of humor along the way.
Director James Bobin and co-writer Nicholas Stoller worked on the recent “Muppet” movies for Disney, so maybe it shouldn’t be surprising they manage to inject comedy into a “kiddie” movie that can be enjoyed by adults without alienating the intended audience. Though “Dora” features high school characters, the movie still caters to a younger set (much like Disney Channel content like “The Descendents,” etc.), and offers the standard messaging about integrity and being yourself.
The movie simply wouldn’t work without Moner. She’s terrific as Dora, especially when the socially-isolated jungle girl applies her energetic confidence to high school. The supporting cast of adult characters, including Eva Longoria and Michael Pena as Dora’s parents and Eugenio Derbez as another adventurer, provide running commentary on the absurdity of Dora’s idealism (she still sings songs to help others through mundane challenges, and all her dance moves are animal inspired).
Eventually, Dora, her cousin Diego (Jeff Wahlberg) and a couple of classmates are kidnapped by mercenaries looking for the titular “City of Gold,” giving Moner the opportunity to play “Peppy Indiana Jones” through a series of kid-friendly danger. Boots appears (he may or may not speak), and a slightly-disturbing CGI Swiper hops around all over the place, though it’s helped by the appropriately bizarre vocal performance of Benicio del Toro.
The movie also incorporates an animated sequence that restores much of the “Dora the Explorer” lore. It’s brief, insane and wonderful.
I watched quite a bit of “Dora the Explorer” with my kids, and I wouldn’t say it’s always been the most enjoyable experience. Still, “Lost City of Gold” strikes a tone that will leave even the most cynical parents feeling nostalgic about all those bilingual treks through the jungle. It goofs on some of the more annoying elements while celebrating what made it so appealing to kids in the first place.
Bonus review: When the movie ended, my four-year-old daughter declared to the entire theater: “I want to watch this movie forever!”
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Tyler Wilson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org