Ever since her childhood, Dora (Isabela Moner) has loved life exploring and growing up in the jungle alongside her archaeologist parents Cole (Michael Pena) and Elena (Eva Longoria). However, they fear their latest expedition, to uncover the location of a hidden Inca city called Parapata, is too dangerous to bring their daughter to. Thus Dora gets sent to high school in LA, where her cousin Diego (Jeff Wahlberg) is also a student. When she loses contact with her parents, Dora fears the worst, and thus she embarks on an adventure alongside new friends to save Cole and Elena, and find the Lost City of Gold.
A live-action movie based on the Nickelodeon animated children’s series ‘Dora the Explorer’ is certainly one of the more random movie ideas to come about in decent years. But no one thought a live-action Pokemon movie based on a crime-solving Pikachu voiced by Ryan Reynolds would work either.
‘Dora and the Lost City of Gold’ works even better than ‘Detective Pikachu’ in its balance between referencing the source material (for example, we see a young Dora break the fourth wall, asking the audience “Can you say delicioso?” to which her parents respond by looking around, confused, and later, various trivia is dropped by Dora about the jungle and its wonders) and providing an original, entertaining feature which the whole family can enjoy.
Isabela Moner – who boasts an impressive career already with such credits as ‘Transformers: The Last Knight’, ‘Instant Family’ and ‘Sicario: Day of the Soldado’ to her name – is flawless as the teenaged Dora. She brings the good humoured, apologetic, enthusiastic and energetic character to life effortlessly. Even when she sings her silly songs about backpacking and poo (the latter of which is a particularly fun, silly, catchy number), you’re immediately won over by her.
Pena and Longoria are a great fit as the explorer parents while Eugenio Derbez ably delivers some slapstick comedy that the kids in the audience will love. The young cast members Jeff Wahlberg, Nicholas Coombe and Madeleine Madden are all good too but their characters aren’t anything you haven’t seen a million times already. Moner is certainly a cut above them all and mostly carries the charm of the film alone.
It helps that the director of ‘Dora and the Lost City of Gold’, James Bobin, has previously directed such features as 2011’s ‘The Muppets’, its sequel ‘Muppets Most Wanted’, and ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’, which all proved popular with families. Along with Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement, Bobin also co-created ‘Flight of the Conchords’ and that quirky sense of humour comes out in such scenes as a trippy animated sequence.
In fact, as much as ‘Dora’ will remind you of such jungle-set features as ‘Indiana Jones’ and ‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’, it is far more random than those predecessors. I mean, for crying out loud, they’ve got Danny Trejo and Benicio del Toro voicing two crudely animated CGI animals. But then that’s also the appeal of the movie – it’s unexpected, with far more laugh-out-loud moments than you’d presume it would have.