Director: James Bobin
Cast: Isabela Moner, Michael Peña, Eva Longoria, Temuera Morrison, Eugenio Derbez, Jeffrey Wahlberg, Nicholas Coombe, Adriana Barraza, Benicio Del Toro, Danny Trejo
Runtime: 1 hr 43 mins
Rating: PG (Some Intense Sequences)
Released By: UIP
Opening Day: 29 August 2019
Synopsis: Having spent most of her life exploring the jungle with her parents, nothing could prepare Dora (Isabela Moner) for her most dangerous adventure ever - high school. Always the explorer, Dora quickly finds herself leading Boots (her best friend, a monkey), Diego (Jeff Wahlberg), a mysterious jungle inhabitant (Eugenio Derbez), and a rag tag group of teens on a live-action adventure to save her parents (Eva Longoria, Michael Peña) and solve the impossible mystery behind a lost city of gold.
Unless you’re accompanying your kids, you probably wouldn’t consider going on an adventure with Dora to discover the ancient Intan city of gold named Parapata; and yet, those who end up doing so will probably find themselves pleasantly surprised by this buoyant live-action remake of the Nickelodeon cartoon, which while retaining its source material’s wholesomeness, is self-aware enough to make fun of itself.
That tongue-in-cheek nature is established right at the start, which lays out what the film could have been if it had literally translated the elements of the cartoon into the real world, including a talking purple backpack and anthropomorphic characters like a monkey who likes to wear red boots as well as a bipedal thieving fox. Most amusingly, it even dares to poke fun of Dora’s habit of talking direct to her audience ("Can you say delicioso? Say delicioso!") by having her dad (Michael Pena) channel our incredulous reaction.
Having demonstrated the merits of taking its own creative liberties with the TV show, director James Bobin and co-writer Nicholas Stoller proceed to age Dora from a young and inquisitive child into a not-so-young but equally inquisitive teenager. Now 16, Dora (Isabela Moner) is sent off to high school in Los Angeles while her parents (Pena and Eva Longoria) go off in search of the eponymous city. As much as she would have loved to join them, Dora greets her exploration of a different kind of jungle with the same irrepressible optimism.
Alas, the indigenous inhabitants of that jungle don’t quite appreciate Dora for just being herself, so much so that she becomes the school’s laughing stock when she dresses up as a star and dances like a peacock during the annual Winter Dance. Her cousin Diego (Jeff Wahlberg), whom she was very close to as a kid, is embarrassed by her; the queen bee Sammy (Madeleine Madden) feels threatened and offended by her presence; and only the school nerd Randy (Nicholas Coombe) is enamoured by her relentlessly good cheer and knack for knowledge.
But like her or dislike her, Diego, Sammy and Randy will have to work with Dora to survive a kidnapping that leaves them pursued by a group of treasure hunters in South America. These do-no-gooders want to use Dora to find her parents and swoop in on the treasure, but their plan is foiled by Alejandro (Mexican superstar Eugenio Derbez), who claims to be an old friend of Dora’s parents. Together, they set off to try to find Parapata before the hunters plunder it, even if it means risking life and limb to overcome a series of booby traps.
Ok, we might have over-exaggerated the part about risking life and limb, but there are still plenty of puzzles to get through, including a field of large flowers that release psychedelic-inducing spores when touched, an aqueduct with several levers to let in water and only one to drain out, and a golden monkey totem which demands a sacrifice of that which is most valuable. Each of these puzzles is milked for the sort of goofy physical comedy you’d be acquainted with from similar genre fare as ‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’ and ‘Indiana Jones’, although the fact that the action is kept decidedly safe does take some of the thrill out of them.
What however will keep you entertained is the constant stream of callbacks to the TV show – there is an animated sequence brought on by hallucinogenic flowers which harks back to Dora’s 2D roots; there is a song about poop which Dora composes and sings for Sammy while helping the latter dig a hole in the ground for some urgent business; and last but not least, there are such supporting characters as Boots (voiced by Danny Trejo) and Swiper (voiced by Benicio del Toro). Oh yes, those firmly acquainted with the Nickelodeon original will find much to love about the film’s meta-smart references.
Though it may care to poke fun of itself, at no point is any of it done in cynicism or irony; instead, “Dora and the Lost City of Gold’ retains a cheery, upbeat and genuine sense of optimism from start to finish, wholeheartedly embracing its titular character’s sunny disposition in a wink-wink kind of way. Like we said, if you happen to end up sitting in this movie, there are much, much worse ways to spend 103 minutes of your life; at the very least, we’re quite sure you (and your kids will be walking out with a spring in your step and a smile on your face.
(More meta-smart than you're probably expecting it to be, this live-action remake of the Nickelodeon cartoon is a fun, funny and wholesome exercise in optimism)
Review by Gabriel Chong