Review - Dora and the Lost City of Gold
The idea of a live action Dora the Explorer film has been joked about for years. Turning an innocent fluent Spanish child into an epic hunter of treasure and adventure was a frequent parody.
Even CollegeHumour had a crack at this concept with their Destiny Medallion mini-series. So when it was finally announced that Dora and the Lost City of Gold was actually going to be a film, it’s safe to say our reactions were mainly- ‘what?' And 'why?’
The film follows Dora (Isabela Moner) as she’s encouraged by her parents (Eva Longoria and Michael Peña) to move to the city to make friends and discover more about the modern world. Whilst there, a group of mercenaries capture Dora, intent on using her to find the Inca city: Parapata.
A lot of people are going to go into this film with a set of negative feelings, thinking that it’s inherently going to be too immature and that it will make them hate the film. Whilst some of those feelings are true in particular scenes, I’m happy to say that a lot of the writing and jokes are surprisingly intelligent and better yet, utterly hilarious!
It has been a long time since a film has had me genuinely laughing from the first ten seconds, but with its ‘all of the events shown are true’ joke I was laughing from the get go. They make good use of Dora’s educated character for a lot of genuinely strong wit, made even better by the beautifully simple yet enthusiastic delivery of those lines by Isabela Moner.
Her energy throughout is refreshing. At times they give her a really basic story, but she plays the role with such a peppy attitude that it really helps her to stand out and give the film a rather unique feel.
Not all of the humour works however. When the film relies on basic comedic stunts like pratfalls, ridiculously dramatic acting (looking at you Longoria, Peña, and Eugenio Derbez), and fart/poo jokes, it’s really cringe worthy. However the children in my cinema screening were laughing and reacting most to those scenes so at least the target market are happy?
It's a shame because I wish the witty dialogue and Dora's energy was the focus of their attention, not a song about digging a poo hole…
So why is the film clever? Well it’s fair to say that some will forget that the Dora the Explorer cartoon is an educational show for children (just because something is meant for young children doesn’t make it mindless), and this is a theme they work in throughout. They make constant attempts to educate about culture and ideas in fairly natural and non-preachy ways.
The way they address the film’s relationship to the show is also natural, if a little simple and expected. Turns out those adventures were all make believe adventures between Dora and Diego (we even see Diego’s jeep as a cardboard creation). We see funny interactions where young Dora is treating reality as the show, looking at the audience only for others to wonder what’s going on. It’s only when the film goes ten years past those childish exploits do we see something a bit more modern and imaginative. They give Dora a Go-Pro camera and she’s basically recording the show: which is ever so slightly brilliant.
This film definitely has two distinct vibes: adventure exploration and high school drama. The high school scenes feel really at odds with the nature of the film. They set up some conflicts such as ‘will I make friends?’, 'where do I belong?', and the incredibly overblown ‘it is live or die’ scenarios we get from Diego. They do at least give us the previously mentioned comedy and give Dora a fish out of water character.
The friends she makes are interesting. Randy, the nerdy anxious character played by Nicholas Coombe gets by fine. He’s charming but at times annoying (not too much, and he does a lot of useful and entertaining things such as point out various ‘jungle games’ that they have to solve). Madeleine Madden’s Sammy however... Baffling writing choices such as her priorities (she defines herself as basic and she really is) combined with hammy acting choices make her character a chore. She develops a relationship with Diego throughout the film and it is not warranted at all. Oh yeah, Diego is there.
The adventure parts of the film are where things feel more consistent. They make a lot of meta jokes about the genre, claiming that ‘this isn’t like the movies’ which does give a lot of laughs, and contrast to when they actually do start imitating those films. The traps and set pieces they encounter are also fun and imaginative. They use a lot of techniques such as Inca architecture, forced perspective, and astronomy interpretation to add to the educational tone built in.
The only time where things get weird (and in my opinion objectively bad) is when the film starts breaking the rules established already. They make it very clear that Dora’s experiences in the TV show are all make believe, to the point that Boots the monkey cannot talk (even the one scene where he does, it’s left ambiguous as to if it’s real or a hallucination, and I won't even ruin which amazing but distracting actor they use for him!)
On the other hand, Swiper the fox talks throughout. He is even dressed the same (although a funny line does come from this). It also gets weird when you hear one of the mercenaries played by Clone/Jango Fett actor Temeura Morrison ordering Swiper around like a regular henchman. This doesn’t make sense. Although that’s nothing compared to the acid fever dream half way through where the characters inhale pollen and turn into cartoons. Yep. Oh and also one of those cartoons is running around naked. Yep! How did I stay invested in this film again?
Dora and the Lost City of Gold was a genuine surprise, and a good one at that. With incredibly intelligent writing, exciting moments throughout, and a likable lead in Isabela Moner’s Dora, it manages to outweigh the absurdity and inconsistencies of tone. While I can’t say that it’s pure gold, it’s certainly an exciting discovery.