Live action remakes are Hollywood’s latest trend, and they are usually a hit or a miss. That was a universal truth that I went into this movie knowing. To that end, I fully expected that Dora and the Lost City of Gold to be on the side of the latter rather than the former, and yet I was unexpectedly wrong. The film even managed to captivate my daughter, and if you guys have been reading my reviews, you know that she has the potential to be a harsher critic than I do. (If you need proof, look no further than her opinion of Missing Link). I wasn’t even sure that my daughter was that a big a Dora the Explorer fan. Well, if she wasn’t before, she most certainly is now after this movie. Isabela Moner (Instant Family) brings the titular character to life in this live action film that has her facing the biggest challenge of her life.
Dora has grown up in the rainforest, the child of two professors (Eva Longeria and Michael Pena) studying an ancient Incan city that legend tells houses an immense treasure. Dora has grown up with the legend, as well as her family creed that they are explorers, not treasure hunters. Eager to prove herself to her parents, she sets out on an adventure that results in her nearly becoming injured, but fortunately, her parents are able to rescue her, which proves to them that she is not quite ready to take part in their latest expedition to discover the lost city of Parraputa.
While her parents embark on this exploration, Dora is sent from the rainforest to California to stay with her aunt and uncle, as well as her childhood best friend and cousin, Diego (Jeff Wahlberg, nephew of Mark and Donnie). Growing up the two were inseparable, but since Diego’s family left the rainforest ten years prior, the two have grown apart. Now teenagers, the two have very little in common, as Dora is wide-eyed and whimsical, and Diego is worried that her peculiar nature will get her eaten alive at high school, as well as sink his social standing. Weeks go by and Dora has not heard from her parents. As she becomes worried, she is abducted by treasure hunters during a school field trip along with Diego and classmates, Randy (Nicholas Coombe) and Sammy (Madeleine Madden) who seek to use her to find her parents.
Arriving in Peru, they are quickly rescued by a friend of Dora’s parents, Dr. Alejandro Gutierrez (Eugenio Derbez). With her family and friends in danger, Dora will have to call upon her own knowledge of the jungle and tracking ability to rescue her parents and find the lost city of Parraputa, all while dodging the treasure hunters who seek the city as well.
I must admit that when I sat down in the theater for this movie, I thought: “Here comes a mountain of suck.” The Dora the Explorer phenomenon was after my time, and I was not expecting to find anything to identify with in the movie. I did not give the film enough credit, as it managed to balance action with family-friendly humor, all while paying homage to the original source material. A great deal of that credit belongs to Isabela Moner, who excellently embodied the character in my opinion. Not only did she have the look of the character, but she was able to portray the upbeat and energizing nature of the character without crossing over to becoming a cheesy knockoff. For me, and especially for my daughter, she become Dora. She made her human. Not just by paying homage to the character’s, “Can you say…” signature catchphrase, but by humanizing her. For example, her struggle to navigate high school while attempting to stay true to herself is a common and universally identifiable complication of being a teenager. In the words of Diego, “High school is life or death”, or least it feels that way when you are going through it. For Nalyce, it was all about how Dora approached problems that she encountered, which was normally through song.
There was great chemistry among the cast, particularly Moner and Wahlberg, who serve as the central relationship for the film. Their dynamic is what grounds the story in reality. People grow apart and people change, especially during the high school period, where social standing is of such importance. If you are lucky, the bond between you and those close to you is strong enough to withstand this pressure. This idea is in full force during the film. In addition to the cast, the film has two significant voiceover cameos for two of its beloved animated characters. Now this I saw as an obstacle given the live-action nature of the film. For it to be truly live-action, I figured you have to nix the thieving fox known as Swiper and Dora’s monkey companion, Boots. Nickelodeon decided that these characters were essential and decided to have them remain animated and provide them with a voice, having Benicio Del Toro voice Swiper and Danny Trejo lend his voice for Boots. I’m glad that they found a way to make it work, because according to my daughter, the movie wouldn’t have been as good without Boots.
Dora and the Lost City of Gold is a fun-filled family adventure and reminded me of a PG Jumanji (the original). It will keep you engaged from the very beginning, and the characters bring tremendous heart to the albeit predictable story. This was the best Nickelodeon film in recent years and probably will serve as the launch point for a live-action television series. It could happen, is all I’m saying. Not only does it have both my and the Nalyce stamp of approval; I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes the number one slot this weekend. I encourage parents to take their kids to see this film. I assure you, you won’t be bored, and they will be quiet. What more can you ask for?