Before this review begins, you and I must travel to the Enchanted Land of Full Disclosure: Dora the Explorer, the children’s show upon which this movie is based, hit Nickelodeon after my time. I don’t know a damn thing about it. If it were Tale Spin or Rescue Rangers, we could talk and laugh for hours. But, when it comes to Dora and her exploring, I’m wandering in as blind as a fruit bat.
Now that we’re on the level about that, it’s time to get rambling: This film takes its title heroine and advances her from a little girl to feisty teenager. Dora (Isabela Moner) is now a little older, a little wiser, and a more agile and durable action hero. She lives in the jungle with her academic parents (Michael Peña and Eva Longoria), who treat her with the banal cheerfulness of camp counselors. When it comes to nature, Dora’s instincts are brilliantly honed. Her social skills? Not so much.
To solve this imbalance, Dora’s parents arrive at a simple conclusion: She will travel to the United States and enter high school with Diego (Jeff Wahlberg), her American cousin. This will also give her mother and father the freedom to pursue a mystical Incan city, buried somewhere deep in the jungle. She soon makes a friend in Randy (Nicholas Coombe), and a frenemy in Sammy (Madeleine Madden). These geeky classmates become Dora’s own Scooby gang when her parents inevitably fall into great danger.
What follows feels like a blend of The Babysitters Club and low-calorie Indiana Jones. We get lots of temples, booby traps, and artifacts with ironic magical properties. The key feature of this Dora is that the filmmakers don’t take any of it too seriously. They go out of their way to wink at adult audiences, as if to remind us that they’re aware of their own silliness. It’s a refreshing trait, one that keeps Dora light and fun throughout.
Moner, who was also excellent in last year’s Instant Family, finds just the right notes as the jungle version of Hermione Granger. She locks right in the vibe of the film, imbuing Dora with the goofy self-awareness that there’s a fourth wall out there somewhere. Wahlberg, Coombe, and Madden do a great job of making their characters funny and relatable–no easy feat in a children’s movie. Keep your ears open for voice cameos by Danny Trejo and Benicio del Toro, as well.
Can I use the word “undemanding” without it sounding like a putdown? I’m just not sure. I do know that Dora and the Lost City of Gold is an uncommonly strong film. You get a sense of humor and a sense of wonder, another rarity in cinema for kids. Dora entertains, without ever weighing down. It’s undemanding, but in the best way possible.
102 min. PG.
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